Sunday, 24 June 2012

Lost in Translation!

The problem with us Indians speaking English is that we THINK in our mother tongues, do a quick mental translation, and burst forth in eloquence that would have the Queen reaching for her smelling salts!

My sister in law, who prides herself as being the only `Convent educated’ girl in her family, was trying to get her daughter to hurry up as they were already late for wherever it was they were going. Finally, exasperated at her slovenliness, she burst out “If you want to come, come – otherwise don’t come!”  What she was ACTUALLY saying was “Je tu aana ae te aa, nai ta naa aa!”

Introductions anywhere in India go something like this “Myself Malhotra. Your good name please?” I have long since given up trying to explain that I have only one name, neither good nor bad. But to the rest of India, not adding the `good’ is taken as a sign of disrespect – it has to be your `shubh naam’ and nothing else!

In Delhi, they used to ask me “How many issues do you have?”  Living in the capital, having to commute from Pritampura to South Block daily in a `chartered bus’(a Delhi speciality – it was one up on the ubiquitous DTC!), believe me I had plenty of issues. I was just getting warmed up with my harangue when I realised he was merely enquiring as to how many children I had. “Two”, I replied, “and I have tons of issues with them too!”

The worst of the lot, and I have to shamefully admit this comes straight from the Army, is the totally cringe worthy `lady wife’.  The implication in this tautology being, firstly, that you’re not gay, and secondly that your wife is not a tramp! It gives me smug satisfaction that this term has gained even wider acceptance in Pakistan, with seasoned journos like the late Khalid Hasan (arguably the most outstanding journalist the subcontinent has produced) and Irfan Husain using it quite regularly! When I raised this with KH some years ago, he did offer a sheepish sort of justification, but the word remains on top of my list of capital punishment worthy crimes!

There are plenty more. Anything good or great is actually `decent’. How did you like the movie? Yaar, badi DECENT thi! How is the kulfi-falooda at `Roshan di Kulfi’? Decent!  So when a Delhi-ite asks me how’s the weather at Poona, I merely say DECENT, and he turns green with envy!!

In Delhi, your daughter is never fat, obese or rotund – she is always `healthy’ (pronounced HAL-thee). I remember a typical Punjabi mom in Karol Bagh cribbing that her daughter had been rejected by potential suitors “Hamari beti thodi si hal-thee hai toh kya hua?”  The fact that the girl in question weighed over six stone, give or take, was of little consequence.  

Note books in the capital are called `copies’ (kaapi, plural kaapiyan).  Examinations or tests are called `paper’ (singular as well as plural), and marks are called `number’ (again both singular and plural).  I got very poor number in my paper – what to do, my copy was lost!  

Why can’t English be more like Punjabi? Two more generations of migration from Ludhiana to Southall, and I’ll bet the Concise Oxford Dictionary will appear in Gurmukhi!


  1. Dear Harish, I may also add the story of one episode which foxed me as a young 2/Lt in Dehra Dun. I was officiating as OC Regtl HQ Troop (as it was called in the Arty before it became HQ Bty) while the Adjt went on leave. I must have joined the Regt only a few days on return from YO's course. The senior JCO a Subedar came to me for sanctioning a Jawan's leave with the excuse that uska "family" bimar hai! Not being familiar with the meaning of "family" I immediately had visions of the poor man's entire family being food poisoned or images to that effect so I asked how his "family" became bimar adding "uska pura family" in an amazed and awed voice. This had my Senior JCO foxed for quite sometime till finally it dawned on him that this Angreij ka baccha had got the terminology of family all wrong and caught the Bull literally by the proverbial tail! Anyway I finally discovered many such Army terms such as Bulb "Dis" ho gaya and 'Clerk' is pronounced Kleerk and not Clarke as in the Queen's english. The cream on the custard pudding was when my Sahayak (an Ahir from the Harayana belt) came back from an errand to purchase Mushrooms and announced to my wife that Mush-Ram was not available in the market. I still correct many a Goan from the yes-Man No-Man syndrome so common to my feni-friends from Himmat-land! Also I am "Going-to-Go" instead of "Going" whose response is naturally "coming to come" to show the error of their ways. Enjoyed the Hinglish Freddy

    1. Ha ha Fred, the `family beemar' syndrome has hit all of us at one time or another. In fact, my first reaction was that there had been an epidemic of sorts in his village!

      The quirks of `Finglish' (Fauji English) is a whole new ball game, and deserves a separate post altogether!

      Thanks for writing in..