The idiosyncrasies of Indians deserve a book, if not a whole library! One billion people squeezed over a relatively small space means a whole lot of jokes… now don’t get pedantic over the ‘small’ bit. Everybody knows that 0.9 of those 1 billion stay in Bombay and half of them stay in Lokhandwala. The Shootout killed only a few.
The last time I wrote about our racism, it elicited an avalanche of comments and clarifications. Everybody from Chennai asked where I found those courteous auto-drivers. Actually, that is the exact answer I received from a cabbie. Auto-drivers, I agree, are a different kettle of fish.
So, I thought that maybe I should take more advantages of my multi-cultural life and talk about the languages of India – and the comedies thereof.
The Bengalis are an erudite and cultured group of people who usually read Kafka by the time they are seven. (I was a moronic wastrel, so I read him much later – Class XI – and I woke up every morning half-expecting to have turned into a bug.)
But since the Bengalis are read out the complete works of Tagore when they are still in their mothers’ wombs, they are born with genetic refusal to speak in any other language. (If you force us, we will speak wrongly – so there!) Basically, you have this large group of people, who discuss Camus and spew Derrida in Bengali till they leave their land for worldly pursuits. And then comes the small matter of communicating in English – and you have Pranab Mukherjee as the Poster Child of Bonglish!
The ‘S’ and the ‘Sh’ are mangled with the same precision that Hannibal Lecter reserves for his victims’ kidneys. Now, most Indian languages have a ‘sa’, a ‘sha’ and sometimes even a ‘sshha’. So, the mangling of the S is not uncommon. What is the inalienable birthright of the Bongs is the juicing-mixing-blending of all similar sounding vowels and consonants! So, ‘we are heart at our uncle’s hurt-attack’ and ‘we sleeped off the bed while we were slipping’…
And then there is the Great Jaw Puzzle. Indians often pronounce ‘z’ as ‘j’. If I am not mistaken, the dot underneath the ‘ja’ to denote ‘za’ is actually a Urdu thing and a lot of Hindi publications don’t use that. So, even Hindi-speaking people say ‘bijness’ and 'joo'. But only Bengalis interchange ‘ja’ and ‘za’ – and Calcutta is the only place on the planet where people get stuck in a ‘traffic zam’.
And we don’t have any V in the Bengali language but any jokes about bhegetables will be shoved up you-know-where.
Now, if I start off on how A is actually O – and Dipta is actually Deep Toe, Amit is actually Aw-meet and Shekhar Suman is actually Shey-khor Shumon – then we are here till end of time! And those of you cannot pronounce Shou-robh correctly, please call him Dada.
Having left my homeland and moved to Madras, I was firstly amazed at the uniform inability/refusal to speak Hindi by all. I mean, Divine Classical Tamil will live long and all but bhaiyya, saamne gate ke paas roko na! Of course, the inability and the refusal can be easily segregated by addressing the gentleman in question with a Hindi expletive (ch***** works just fine).
After a few years in the salubrious climes of TN, I realized something was missing (apart from potatoes in mutton curries). It was the letter H (a.k.a Hech).
Apparently, the Tamil alphabet does not have a ‘H’ equivalent and so Mahesh Deshmukh of Chembur becomes Magesh! So, when I was working with a soft-drink company, a Tamil colleague asked me if ‘Lager’ sales were up and I was left wondering if there is any correlation between beer and cola sales. Of course, there is but he was only asking about Lehar Soda!
A North Indian guy with perfectly normal name like Rohit gets so many variables the moment he crosses the Vindhyas is quite unbelievable. Firstly, he becomes Rogit (see above). Then comes the matter of the T. Down south, ‘Th’ is a soft T and ‘T’ is the hard one. So, Rohit will obviously sound like as if he has written a thesaurus. Before pointing out that the Roget T is actually silent, people should realize that here, we are grappling with umpteen pronunciations of one letter and there in the West, there are not pronouncing it only. What injustice, I say!
Now, add to the attendant problems of how Pa is pronounced as Ba (or is it vice versa?) and how Ka and Ga are interchangeable and you know why they are taking so long to solve the Cauvery water dispute! After all, they are looking for Gaveri… har har!
How do I know all this? Even you would have, if you had spent going around Hotel Kanka (written in Tamil) for half-an-hour looking for Hotel Ganga.
The other parts of South India have their own mild quirks of speaking the Queen’s language.
At a Malayali wedding reception, I was standing right next to the bar and heard lots of requests for ‘Won Whiz-key Smoll". As the ‘smolls’ piled up, the words started merging until it became “Wowekey Smorr”!
My sister and brother-in-law (a Mallu) both speak in impeccable accents and offer no scope for jokes. Though, my brother-in-law’s Hindi knowledge is rather sparse and he occasionally checks out stuff with my sis (“Barah means twelve, no?”)
In the Western parts of the country, the Gujjus have to forever bear the cross of “eating snakes in the hole” and “going to Make Donalds”. In fact, a recent ad announcing a tie-up between TOI and a Gujarati paper used these lines for their headlines. Taxi would be the one word that is recognized in all languages and sound the same as well. Only Gujjus call it Take-si!
What is lesser known is the Gujju thing of phonetically replacing ‘e’ with ‘a’ as well. So, you ask for a ‘pag of rum’ and ‘go on a trak’. I first noticed this in a friend who, is not a Gujju but, spoke like that because all his neighbours were!
Which brings us to my current home – Dyal-hi.
‘Meri toh dyath hi ho gayee’ is the common refrain as our Punjabi brethren speak English the same way they live the rest of their lives – with confidence! They manage to eat up the vowels where they should be – my friend Parag becomes the capital city of Czechoslovakia (Prague) and people dance in a braat. And insert vowels where there shouldn’t be… “Sacooter pe chadke Saw-tate Bank chalte hain.” The funniest twist is when they replace ‘sure’ (at the end of a word) with a ‘yyure’. Why? How? No idea… just a lot of ‘pleayyure beyond meayyure’.
And did I tell you how in Assamese some of the ‘S’-es (in English or other common words) get converted into ‘ch’ and some into ‘h’. All the City Buses on their road are labeled as ‘Chiti Bach’ while Bally Sagoo will never be able to do a show there!
Damn – we ourselves remain so confused with our innumerable languages and accents, it’s a wonder that some non-Indians learn to speak the language as well.
As a recent radio spot asked, “Bangali log panjabi kyon pahente hain?”