November 16, 2004

Something black in the lentils

'Something black in the lentils' is a facetiously literal translation of the Hindi idiom 'daal mein kuchh kaala hai', which is the Indian way of saying there's something fishy going on. The earliest use of the phrase I remember is from the 1975 film Prem Kahani, which featured an Anglicized character (did he play Mumtaz's father?) who was fond of pointing out that there was 'something black in the doll'. The phrase is sometimes rendered in English as 'something black in the lentil soup', as in the title of this book by Reshma S. Ruia: an inaccurate translation, since it assumes that the daal is of the cooked variety. As any cook will tell you, there's always a lot of black stuff in lentil soup.

The lover is so afflicted with envy/jealousy that he's convinced that 'there's something black in the daal' [that is, there's some cause for suspicion].(A Desertful of Roses: website by Frances W. Pritchett, Columbia University)

Methinks there is something wrong in the state of denmark, something black in the daal, etc. (Post to Spoon Collective mailing list Seminar 13,10 Jan 1996)

Definitely something black in the lentils, here. And that my dear Elysa Gardner is a synonym for jealousy in Hindi. (Shobha De, Outsourcing dreams, The Times of India,May 23, 2004)

There must be some catch, some red herring, some blue oyster or something black in the lentils that would thwart my dreams.(Rohit Gupta,The Rs 5,00,000 blank cheque, Mid-day, January 2003)

At one point Shekhar is left behind on a school trip, but using his super-speed, Shekhar actually manages to beat Verma and Gita to their destination. Seeing Shekhar there, Verma comments, "There is something black in my lentils." (Review of Superman [India, 1987],Stomp Tokyo)

The black in this lentil soup is represented by Pran who has designs on her fortune and on her person. (Jerry Pinto, Time Out Mumbai, November 5-18, 2004)
The original Hindi phrase is also commonly used in Hinglish, especially in gossip columns and filmi magazines.

All I can say is that there seems to be kuch kala in the dal. Some black in the lentil, as they say at home.(Pamela Philipose, Indian Express, November 26, 2001)

Dal mein kala in mid-day meal scheme (Headline in Indian Express, April 28, 1999)

Amid picturesque background and marvelous camera work, the two fall in love. Now comes the daal mein kaala. Enter Sonali Kulkarni, who is Khan’s wife..(Review of Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya by sonia,


Unknown said...

Interesting, as always... Enjoyed it greatly . You should do a post on polygot writings.

Anonymous said...

I heard this phrase in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun... !

In the first wedding scene, the character Lallu says to the character Prem, "daal mein kuchh kaala hai, bhaiyyaji" and Prem replies in turn, "mujhe kaali daal to pasand hai." This basically translates to "something is black in the lentils, brother" and "black daal is a favored dish of mine". But the subtitles smartly say "something seems fishy" and "I love fish".