June 27, 2005


This is my secret ambition: I want to write photo-stories for Crime & Detective magazine.

(This panel is from a story in the July issue called 'Being Wife of a Gigolo'. The wanton seductress goes on to seal his heart with her burning lips, so that the fish of desire sleeping inside his body becomes alive and fluttering and starts dancing in frenzy. He jumps into the battlefield of passion. She gives him full 100 marks.)

June 23, 2005


An Indian English contraction of the idiom 'to learn by heart' used as a verb, e.g. ‘Miss told us to by-heart the lesson by tomorrow’. If you know something by heart, you understand and remember it perfectly. 'By-hearting', on the other hand, implies learning by rote. It's what you do when you when you’ve bunked classes all year and exams are coming up. It’s cramming, it’s memorizing entire chapters of a textbook, it’s reciting something again and again till it's wired into your brain.

At Alfonsa college I by hearted my way across the university examinations. At St. Thomas I gobbled up Harold Lasky, Ricardo, Keynes, Malthus and Adam Smith and regurgitated them onto the answer sheets. (Alex Paikada, Gitanjaly Express)

I think, she will do well at Oratorical competitions, her answers were at best by-hearted well, it seemed like a vomit out of rote memory. (Anand Viswanathan, The Gemini Home Page, May 27, 2005)
The following citation, I think, demonstrates best the great semantic divide between 'learning by heart' and 'by-hearting'. (It also says a great deal about the Indian education system).

In the course of two days, we got the rhyme by-hearted. We were able to recite it with all its pauses. Then we were told its meaning. (Posted by redivider to Middle Age Blooz, June 8, 2005)
That's how you're taught nursery rhymes in India. In fact, that's how you're taught most things: Mother Goose, Wordsworth, the Geeta, theories of supply and demand, the names of state capitals, they're all meant to be 'by-hearted' and repeated as mindless incantations to the goddess of knowledge.

'By-heart' is usually restricted to the register of education, so it can seem comically inappropriate when used in a general context. It's Babu English in a way, a product of the Macaulayan system, and certainly not as cool as the slangier 'mugging' or 'rattofying'. You're not going to gain any street cred if you insist that 'DJing is not by-hearting tunes and playing them' (DJ Ritesh quoted in the Times of India, Ahmedabad, 22 April 2000). Using the word in poetry is also probably a bad idea.
Stones lost in the flow and falsehood of history;
stones that have by hearted the echoes of those
who thirsted to renew the land

(O N V Kurup, Stones, indianpoetry.org)

June 20, 2005

Speshul Uppi Mix

The Dick & Garlick Award for the Most Innovative Use of Multiple Languages in a Single Line goes to lyricist Kaviraj for this song from the Upendra movie Omkara:
Goli maro ee society-ge
Goli maro rowdyism-ige
Goli maro duniya-ge
Take a closer look at that second line, goli maro rowdyism-ige. That's three words, three languages: Kannada, Hindi slang and Babu English living together in perfect harmony, side by side on a Casio keyboard.

(Found via the NITK Numbskulls page, where this bizarre mix of languages is dubbed Kan-hin-glish. You can listen to the song here.)

June 19, 2005

Area ka Hero

Double-Tongued Word Wrester has a piece on the Nigerian term for a street thug, area boy. Reminds me of our very own area ke heroes.

June 18, 2005

An egg-plant by any other name

Life is hard in Mumbai's underworld, what with all those encounter killings and all. So when insult is added to injury, even the toughest gangster may throw up his hands.
Dreaded gangster Anil Parab ‘Vangya’ filed an application in court stating that he should be strictly called by name, without the ‘demeaning’ suffix, Vangya. (In Marathi, vangya means a brinjal). Said Parab’s lawyer Vivek Sudade. “Since Parab is a diabetic and has high blood pressure, calling him Vangya can be injurious to his health, as he gets extremely upset.”(Mid-Day, June 18, 2005)
On July 15, the court passed an order prohibiting the use of Parab's slang name: I'm sure it was greeted with sniggers from all the Chiknas, Fawdas and Haddis in the courtroom. Perhaps the sessions judge wasn't aware of the Kashmiri story about the persistence of nicknames:

A man named Wa'sdev had a mulberry tree growing in his courtyard and therefore, he was called Wa'sdev Tul (mulberry). He, in order to get rid of his nick-name, cut down the tree. But a mund (trunk) remained and people began to call him Wa'sdev Mund. He then removed the trunk of the tree but by its removal a khud (depression) was caused and henceforth people called him Wa'sdev Khud. He then filled up the depression and the ground became teng (a little elevated) and he began to be called Wa'sdev Teng. Thus exasperated, he left any further attempt to remove the cause of his nick-name and it continued to be Teng which is now attached to the names of his descendants.

June 16, 2005

The Case of the Birmingham Balti

The BBC and the Oxford English Dictionary are asking logophiles to help rewrite the 'greatest book in the English Language'. Armchair word-detectives have been invited by the BBC Wordhunt to find proof of the origin of fifty mysterious words. Balti and tikka masala are both on the list: if you feel like disputing the claim that these items were concocted in some Bangladeshi restaurant in Birmingham, send in your evidence to the BBC and it might feature in a forthcoming television series.

Personally, I think the British are welcome to their dubious versions of Mughlai and their even more dubious terminology. What more can you say for the people who cooked up curry as a catch-all term for Indian cuisine?

June 13, 2005

Slang Sighting: Pakdu

The Maharashtra government has framed new rules for dance bars in the city which prohibit the serving of alcohol. Today's Mid-Day reports that the state's restrictions have given birth to a new kind of pick-up joint.
With thousands of bargirls desperate for survival, the state could see a huge boom in sleazy pick-up joints, known as pakdu (silent) bars.. They are dimly-lit places with blaring music, where waitresses, usually between 18 and 30 years old, serve customers food and alcohol. But there's more to them than meets the eye, as customers negotiate with the girls for 'favours'. (Mid-Day, June 13, 2005)
I'm not sure why pakdu has been glossed as 'silent' here. I assume it's from pakadna, to catch, implying that the girl is bait, or more likely, that you can 'catch' her unlike the touch-me-not performing girls ('items' in Mumbai parlance).
'Yahan sab milega. Pakdu ke saath full time ke liye room, nahin to item ke saath disco mein dance bhi kar sakte hain,' said the bar's valet attendant.
I'm told by them as knows that 'shorttime' is the Mumbai prostitute's slang for a quickie, which explains the 'short' favours mentioned later in the piece.

June 09, 2005

भारतीय गालियाँ अंग्रेज़ी शब्दकोष में

is Sify's blunt headline for the Collins story.

Burgers & Bun Kababs

The Bezels of Wisdom has an interesting post on the hybrid Urdu-English that is becoming popular in Pakistan. Of course, Urdish or Engdu, or whatever you choose to call it has much in common with Hinglish, but the slang words are uniquely Pakistani.
Some English words have totally localised meanings. Take 'burger' for example. A TV show of the 80s assumed that a burger was the apogee of western sophistication. Today a 'burger' refers to any westernised Pakistani (like me ?) in a derisory but humourous manner. My local radio channel has a show where anyone using an English word becomes a Burger right away.
Check out this forum for an entertaining discussion on the essential differences between abcds, burgers, mummy-daddies, tommies and other breeds. Wannabe burgers are sometimes called bun kababs after the cheap, street version of the burger. The finer nuances of class in Karachi feature in this story from Chowk:
At a party, after two people were introduced:

First: I live in Defence. Where do you live?

Second: I live in Gulistan-e-Jauhar.

First: What? Don't mind but that's a terrible place and you look the elite, you know, burger-sort.

Second: I used to live in Defence when I was young.

First: Oh, that's why!

The second one thinks, 'So, does the shifting turn the burger into a bun kebab?'

(Ayesha Hoda Ahmad, Illiteracy After Education - Part I)

June 08, 2005

Everything's changa for uncle-ji and auntie-ji

Yes, it's time to balle balle all the way from Amritsar to LA - a whole new bunch of Indian words like filmi, desi and chuddie have entered the English language, via the Collins English Dictionary. Yahoo India News reports that the latest edition of Collins, to be published Thursday, is 'full of unusual and unexpected Indian words, thanks to popular Asian culture'.

Many of the new words have a distinct Punjabi flavour - changa (fine) is on the list, and uncle-ji and auntie-ji made it past the gora (white) bouncers as well. (I wonder if Collins provides Punju definitions for Punju words - if they did, the entry for changa would read 'A-1, Tip-Top, Best Quality, Hit-o-Hit'). Other Indian words appearing in the dictionary include badmash, kutta (dog), kutti (bitch), haramzada and haramzadi (described as bastards or obnoxious/despicable). Looks like those guys at Collins have been watching way too many Dharmendra movies.

Bollywood Flashback

Just when did ‘Bollywood’ become a synonym for the Hindi film industry? The word entered common parlance sometime in the 90s, though of course it was in use earlier than that. The standard explanation of the word's origins attributes its creation to an apocryphal film journalist who is said to have coined the term in the late 70s: many people assume this refers to Shobha De, then editor of Stardust, but I don't think she's ever staked her claim to the invention of Bollywood. Among those who have claimed this dubious achievement are the producer (and frequent columnist) Amit Khanna, and an erstwhile Cine Blitz journalist, Bevinda Collaco.
Amit Khanna, who claims to have coined the word in one of his columns way back in the late seventies, says it arose from a certain situation. The new wave or parallel cinema was emerging those days and it would have been wrong to group this kind of cinema with the prevalent popular cinema which the Bombay film industry represented... Hence Bollywood emerged as a term to describe popular cinema. (Nandita Puri, 'Is Bollywood an imitation of Hollywood?', Mid-Day, Nov 8, 2002)

I was given a studio beat to do. I was not happy with the name of the column Studio Roundup and thought of `Flipping around Follywood', but it sounded too harsh. I settled for `On the Bollywood Beat' instead... While I worked at Cine Blitz in 1978, 79 and 80, I used the word prolifically, but I never thought it would get official international usage. Actually I don't know whether to laugh or to cry when I see my word become common usage. (Bevinda Collaco quoted in 'On the Bollywood Beat', The Hindu, Mar 7, 2004)
Turns out you don't need to believe either claim, because the Oxford English Dictionary, which included an entry for ‘Bollywood’ for the first time in 2001, provides an earlier citation:
Soon after she had given up the role of Rani Maqbet..she left Ravi Kumar to go to Dhartiraj. My revelation she had done that was the greatest sensation ever to come out of Bollywood. (H.R.F. Keating, Filmi, Filmi, Inspector Ghote, 1976)
So did Keating coin the word? I doubt it. He wrote many of the Inspector Ghote mysteries before he'd ever visited India: lacking first-hand experience, he studied newspapers and magazines to construct the background of his stories. So it seems more likely that he came across the word in print somewhere.

Perhaps it's worth mentioning here that 'Tollywood', as a name for the Calcutta film industry was in circulation long before anyone had ever heard of Bollywood. The term is a portmanteau, Hollywood and Tollygunge (the area in Calcutta where many film studios were located) packed up into one word. JS magazine used it liberally in the late 60s and early 70s, so it isn’t unlikely that someone thought up ‘Bollywood’ as a variation on the joke about the same time.

I checked on Google to see if anyone else had come up with this theory, and discovered this article by Madhava Prasad in Seminar, which voices the suspicion ‘that it was the trendy and smart young JS journalists who first adopted this way of slotting Hindi cinema into their otherwise largely Eurocentric cultural world’. Wade through the petulant jargon of the piece, and you’ll find this passage which traces an unlikely origin for Tollywood:
In 1932, Wilford E. Deming, an American engineer who claims that ‘under my supervision was produced India’s first sound and talking picture’, writing in American Cinematographer (12.11, March 1932), mentions a telegram he received as he was leaving India after his assignment: Tollywood sends best wishes happy new year to Lubill film doing wonderfully records broken. In explanation, he adds, ‘In passing it might be explained that our Calcutta studio was located in the suburb of Tollygunge… Tolly being a proper name and Gunge meaning locality. After studying the advantages of Hollygunge we decided on Tollywood. There being two studios at present in that locality, and several more projected, the name seems appropriate.
Deming was a sound technician who worked on the earliest song-and-dance movies made in India, including the first talkie, Alam Ara, so I guess we should conclude our archaeological dig right here... till the time someone turns up evidence of Phalke in Phollywood.

June 03, 2005

A Posteriori

To the Google user who landed up here searching for a definition of 'gandu': I'm sorry you didn't find what you were looking for, but allow me to make amends. This is what my Hindi dictionary (Brihat Hindi Kosh, Gyan Mandal) has to offer:
Gandu, adj. One who is addicted to being sodomized (the original reads 'jise gudabhanjan karane ki lat ho'); weak-hearted; good-for-nothing; cowardly.
By the way, in your search did you come across this passage from Richard Burton's translation of the Arabian Nights?
Yet the Hindus, I repeat, hold pederasty in abhorrence and are as much scandalized by being called Gand-mara (anus-beater) or Gandu (anuser) as Englishmen would be.
Anuser? Tell me that's not a real word.

Chapel Road English

Eunice De’Souza provides an example of mack talk (Chapel Road is located in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra):

We speak a khichdi English. Just how khichdish it can get can be seen in this example which a friend’s brother gave me of what he called Chapel Road English. It’s a line expressing admiration for a young woman, Peter’s sister. The first word is an abbreviation of a Marathi obscenity, the rest recognizable: Che bugger! Pitu sas asli chick, men! (Eunice De’Souza, English Pedigree, Mumbai Mirror, June 2, 2005)

June 01, 2005

Vitamin M

An Indian English colloquialism in which the M stands for money. It can be used as a nudge-nudge-hint-hint euphemism for bribes and speed money, or to cynically acknowledge the factor that makes the world go round. A phrase for greasy babus and elderly Uncles.
Every political leader needs Vitamin M (money) to run a party. If they refuse bribes, where will they raise party funds from! said a police inspector from North Mumbai. (Mid-Day, Dec 27, 2003)
'Sponsorship is very crucial to any sport. It is the very soul,' he emphasised. With the sponsors comes the all important vitamin M, making the sport more commercial to attract more youngsters. (The Hindu, April 15, 2000)
Finally, for practicing pediatrician, aim should be to achieve work satisfaction, peer acceptance, community respect, healthy life and happy family. It may sound philosophical but it is futile to be after 'vitamin M' without achieving other goals. After all we know that storable vitamins are toxic and this is one of them. (Indian Pediatrics, 2005)
Public healthcare needs dose of Vitamin 'M' (Headline in the Times of India, Sep 26, 2001)
As everything is eventually an economic fallout, changing attitudes of the young is a result of that. "We are all craving too much for Vitamin M," says a bright, cool kid. `M'? Money of course! (The Hindu, Jan 6, 2003)

Slang Sighting: Mamme

Beware of the Blog (May 25, 2005) finds a reason to sit through 'Bride and Prejudice':
The film's sole claim to fame is in affording mainstream exposure to a word that has long languished in the realm of domestic slang, when Nadira Babbar admonishes Lakhi about her revealing outfit saying 'We want Balraj to look into Jaya's eyes not your mammes'.

Bonjour maa

'Bonjour maa' is a hybrid French-Tamil expression that translates as 'Good day, dear lady'. It is 'one of the most frequently heard greetings in Pondichery' and also the title of a linguistic study by Leena Kelkar-Stephan that describes the results of the encounter between French and Tamil in the erstwhile colony.