Monday, August 07, 2006

On the English topic part deux

Another funny post on the English language I got in an email from a friend..


On the English topic – 2


 I almost turned away from the complex where I have now lived for the last ten years. It was the Diwali of 1994, and a holiday at the company I had recently joined in Delhi. Since my arrival from Mumbai I had been living in the company's guesthouse, and taking advantage of the holiday went hunting for a flat. Living in the company's guesthouse was a constant source of tension since company bigwigs used to haunt it.

On entering the gate of the housing complex, I saw the board 'Trespassers executed'; it was this board that almost turned me away. I had a pretty dim view of residents who seemed to execute people who strayed into the complex. Luckily for me I realized that this was Dinglish.

The British brought with them English, rather the Queen's English, which our patriotic people would not adopt in toto. They modified it, twisted it, turned it, and garnished it, as they have done to Chinese food, and made a new language of it. This Indianized Rani's English is now available in a variety of flavours, specific to different regions.

Every city in our country has its own variety of English. All very innovative and entertaining. After spending most of my adult life in Bombay I had started confusing Binglish for English. In Bombay one speaks the language with a Marathi flavour, and raining is known as 'pausing' (paus meaning 'rain' in Marathi). This language had become my own and I was rather proud of my Binglish (I believe it should be now called Minglish since Bal Thackarey changed the name of Bombay to Mumbai).

Dinglish is very much like Hindi or Punjabi or whatever mixture they speak here. It is a very simple language and one can adapt to it easily. What one needs to do is to sprinkle your conversation with a few 'jis' and a Delhiite will accept you with open arms.

Haaji, you speak very good English ji. Just like my neighbourer Jaspal ji.” Out-of-Delhi people should note that in Delhi, a chap staying nearby is a neighbourer and not a neighbour.

Don't get me wrong; Delhiites just do not corrupt English with Hindi and Punjabi. They also corrupt Hindi and Punjabi with English. When you are introduced to someone, he or she is apt to ask you in chaste Hindi:

Aap kahaa se belong karte hai?” The word 'belong' put in the middle of Hindi words gives you a feeling of comfort, especially if you are poor in Hindi.

Mai to Lucknow se belong karti hu,” or if it is Patiala in place of Lucknow,

Assi Patiale nu belong karta si.”

For a non-Delhiite it is important to remember that speaking a pure language (whichever) is just not done here. After all, this city is a pot pourri of cultures; any pure language stands out like a sore thumb here.

I was once shocked when a colleague Pradeep Wadhwa advised me to take my car to a carpenter.

“Carpenter?” I asked. My car had been badly scratched and I wanted the paint touched up.

Haaji, aur kithe le jaoge?” He was nonplussed. “You wanted to get your car painted, no? Then go to a carpenter.”

“Yes I will,” I told him and slowly walked away. Later I heard that he had cast aspersions on my capabilities as a Medical Advisor, especially since I didn't know where to go to get my car painted.

As days passed, I became immune to Dinglish, but still it retains its capacity to really shock me at times. Different professions in Delhi speak slightly different dialects of Dinglish. Bus conductors, motor mechanics and vegetable vendors have a birthright to commit literary murders; I began to take them in my stride.

“Tire Penchur,” I gradually learnt was a sign for a repair shop for punctured tyres. While 'Denting and Penting' meant that dents from the car could be repaired and repainted. Probably the spelling of 'Painting' had been changed by a poetic mechanic who wanted it to rhyme with denting.

Mechanics freely talk about things like pechkus, which would make most wonder what sort of implement this was. After a few interactions with this breed of fellows I learnt that a pechkus was a screwdriver.

“This is pech,” said Gurpreet holding a screw in hand, “and kus is tightening.”

We will ignore the supercilious comment he subsequently made: “In English this is called a pechkus.”

If I have missed out mentioning restaurant owners in the list of persons who have a birthright to murder English, they should forgive me. For they are the original butcherers (that is the correct word in Dinglish) of the language. Many a time I have entertained myself proofreading menu cards in restaurants, and for this I thank them. A hint to those of you who may have similar interests, check the spelling of 'omelet'; 90% of the time it will be wrong.

As I said some professions are bound to murder the language and one ignores it, but what do you do when school principals do the same?

A colleague had joined my department and he wanted admission in a prestigious school for his twelve-year-old. I accompanied the duo, more for moral support rather than anything else. For the first few minutes the principal tried to tell us that he had no place for the child, but after dropping a few names, he rallied around and pointed out that his school was the best for the child. Among the various plus points of his academy he added:

“We have a rule – no capital punishment for our students,” my colleague and I looked relieved but puzzled, till he clarified…

“Discipline is very good in our school, but we believe in preventing bad behaviour, rather than awarding capital punishment.” Probably someone forgot to teach him the difference between capital and corporal punishment.

Delhi is a strange mixture of many cultures, but the Sikhs and Punjabis believe that they are the only ones who have contributed to this mess in this city. Punjabis are boisterous characters who believe that they are the 'Loins of Punjab'. If you were to correct them
“Lions, not Loins,” they would tell you, “Same thing, ji. Tiger, Tiger.” Now missing the species too.

However, Sikhs do not boast thus. Their names clarify that they are the true 'Loins of Punjab'. Every Sikh is known as Singh, while some are Kaurs, which denotes the female of the species.

Sikhs have their own peculiarities, so far as language is concerned; one is their dislike for joint consonants. They don't appreciate any one joining 's' and 'p' as in the word 'sport'. For the sake of clarity they call it 'sapport'. But it isn't that they cannot pronounce the word 'sport', when they speak of say India's support to Nepal they call it 'sport'.

In Bombay the language is much cleaner. Secretaries speak a prim and proper language, which could be called Queen's English if they stopped using the word 'man' so often.

“What man, Tom Cruise looks so handsome, no man?” Sandwiching Tom Cruise between two 'men' must make him as uncomfortable as it makes me.

Once I heard an airhostess tell her colleague, “The flight is all full, man.”

I casually asked her where she lived in Bombay.

“Bandra,” she said “But how do you know I am from Bombay?” I gave her a mysterious smile.

Secretaries in Delhi would never say 'man'. Neither do they talk about Tom Cruise. Not that they don't know much about films, but they prefer to talk of Jennifer Lopez instead, since most of them happen to be men. But we decided to get a girl in our company. Firstly we had to hire a headhunter to find one for us, then we had to spend days interviewing them till we found one who could speak English as it is spoken.

The best candidate while telling us about her background, family and education, said she spoke good English.

“Queen's English?” I asked.

“No Sir, my own,” she said. “I had learnt it at St. Anne's Sakool, in Delhi.”

I asked her if she was Sikh. She was stunned and till today she tells all who care to listen, how I could guess that she was a Sikh in a few minutes. When I related this to my friend, Tarwinder Singh, he said it was not difficult to recognize a Sikh.

“They have beards!” he grandly declared.

“Sikh girls?”

“No!” he added hastily. “Not girls, usually.”

Neither of them realized it was the word 'sakool', that gave her away. Other Delhiites would have called it St. Anne's Iskool. As stated she was the best and we hired her.

Once I had to send a large parcel to Bombay so I called her and gave her the parcel and the address. She told me that the courier's boy had left and the parcel could go only the next day. I wanted the parcel safe in the meantime, so I told her to keep it safely.

“Don't worry, Sir, I will keep it in my drawers, I don't allow anyone to touch my drawers.”

I wanted to tell her that it was a good policy, but the parcel would not fit in her drawers. I desisted since she probably did not know that 'drawers' was not the plural for drawer.

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