May 18, 2009

Convent/convented/convent english

Convent, n. In north India, a generic term for an English-medium school, usually a girls' school. The usage derives from the fact that schools run by missionaries were the first to use English as a medium of instruction, and they are still considered by many to be superior in this respect. A convent education is a status symbol, something that improves a girl's chances on the marriage market. Hence, convented, an adjective for someone who has studied at an English-medium school, found frequently in Indian matrimonial advertisements. (A Google search should turn up several ads seeking matches for 'beautiful Brahmin convented girls' - there is, of course, no such thing as a Brahmin convent). Convent English describes the affected manner of speech adopted by the 'convented', replete with schoolgirl slang and anglicizations of Indian words.

In modern India, where children were bought and sold for marriage through the newspaper, a girl's chance of a wealthy match improved sharply if she had been to a convent. The scramble gave a new word to the language. A matrimonial ad in the Sunday papers, after describing the bride-to-be as very fair, beautiful and homely (meaning house-trained), clinched the business with convented. Naturally, convents multiplied across the country, most without the trace of a nun, and one of them named, memorably, BLONDIE CONVENT (I. Allan Sealy, Trotternama)

It’s one of the most fabled lines in LSR history, passed down from batch to batch and teacher to student. The matrimonial ads, which after asking for a ‘homely, convented girl’ state categorically and firmly: LSR girls need not apply. That line has been quoted with pride by several women, glorying in the fact that their minds are considered too unconventional to fit in with the typical Indian bride mentality. (Article about Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi in the Indian Express, November 12, 2005)

Now we all know, in most parts of our country, particularly the north, a “convent” is just a general way to describe an English-medium school. In Punjab, you can often find a St Kabir Convent, a Guru Gobind Singh Convent, or some place else, a Maharishi Dayanand Convent. But a Lohia Convent? You name an English-medium school after a man who dedicated his life to throwing English-medium schooling, an instrument of colonialism, out of this country? And you do it in the heart of Lohia-land? (Shekhar Gupta, Indian Express, May 15, 2009)

We are against foreign missionaries but we open money-minting schools with such names as St. John Convent and even Durga Charan Convent. A few years ago a young lady gravely said to my late aunt Hamida Begum, "You have such a large house lying vacant in the country. Why don't you open St. Hamida Convent in it?" (Qurratulain Hyder,'Ignorance is not bliss', The Times of India Sunday Review, July 6 1997)

May 10, 2009

After Ayaram

The Indian Express compiles a lexicon of political jargon for this year's Indian general election. Excerpts:
108 kuien kuien kuien: A phrase popularised by Chief Minister YSR Reddy to remind people of his Rajiv Gandhi Arogyasri Scheme, which involves participation by private sector hospitals to bring medical care to the poor. The numbers 108 and 104 (for cities and rural areas) are what you need to dial for an ambulance which carts the patient to the nearest hospital. The ‘kuein kuein kuein’ was used effectively by YSR to mimic the siren.

Ruler: When Punjab politicians say ‘ruler’, what they mean is ‘rural’. Call it a Freudian slip or a malapropism, but most of the prominent leaders of the state, including the chief minister, say: “Aaj ruler areas vich rally haigi (today there is a rally in rural areas).” The word has caught on: people in these ‘ruler areas’ think ‘ruler’ means village.

Cover: This elections, ‘cover’ means a variety of gifts distributed to voters either early in the morning or late in the night—when it’s safe from election observers and rival party cadres. The word was coloured to mean bribe after voters in some areas received crisp Rs 500 notes recently. Even when the gift becomes saris or tokens for liquor, the question now is: “Did you get the cover?”

Mahal factor: The phrase is often used to underline the importance of the Scindia family in the electoral politics of the Gwalior-Guna-Shivpuri region. When a representative of the erstwhile royal family is contesting, the mahal (palace) factor comes into play directly. When a Scindia is not in the fray, a representative backed by the family, irrespective of the political divide, is believed to benefit from the M factor.

Yeddy-Reddy-Cheddy: This is a reference to the power triumvirate within the BJP in Karnataka—Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, the Reddys (mining barons from Bellary) and the khaki shorts (cheddy or chaddi) of the RSS. The phrase emerged in the opposition Congress camp and was used by former chief minister S. Bangarappa (now in the Congress) in the course of his electoral battle with Yeddyurappa’s son B.Y. Raghavendra.