Desi English Zindabad

By Dev Nadkarni

There is little doubt that English it is that linguistically binds this country together, much as the anti-English lobby would want to disagree. Even the Maharashtra government has decided to introduce the language in the lowest classes in non-English schools and is running intensive English courses for teachers. English is the language of technology, is the government’s sudden realisation, and students shouldn’t be disadvantaged by the lack of its knowledge.

The government is right. You ignore a language that adds thousands of new words –a whole lot of them technical– to its dictionaries every year at your own peril. I’m glad the government is being practical in accepting (though not officially) English as an Indian language and steering clear of jingoistic reasoning against the instruction of English. It’s not hard to see for anyone who’s been about town that the “Queen’s language” has taken on die-hard Desi hues and is as much Indian as pappadum and pav bhaji. Besides, India’s stake in the English language is steadily growing, what with more than a thousand words of Indian origin in the Oxford dictionary.

Considering that the principal function of language is to get a message across with a fair amount of accuracy in a given milieu, Indian English, Hinglish and their various doses in other Indian languages fits the bill extremely well –and colourfully so. Locally flavoured malapropisms may come in the way of grasping a sentence quite often, but its great fun. I once overheard somewhere, “That boy has completely gone outline. If you don’t take care, he may even become a druggist.” Get it? Well, replace “outline” with “out of hand” and “druggist” with “drug addict”!

Such sparkling examples are to be seen and heard everywhere. In Chennai there is a cold storage shop that is called “Sizzlers Cold Storage” and in rural Tamil Nadu I have seen a huge billboard that advertises a hotel that has baths with attached rooms! When in a southern semi-urban “hotel”, which was not much more than a roadside café, I enquired if they had a chicken dish that was served boneless, the waiter replied, “No boneless saar, but we can give you less bones.” A restaurant in Mangalore describes itself as a “Scandinavian style restaurant serving Moghlai, Chinese, Punjabi and Continental dishes.” Of course it serves the very very Manglorean idli sambar and dosas too!

Then there is that growing genre of delightful desi-English wisecracks that does the rounds of the Net, adding so much more Indian spice to life online. What do you call a ghost with syphilis? STD Bhooth! Stranded at an airport for several hours because of a delayed flight, one co-passenger said, “Now we know why traveling is called ‘suffer’ in Hindi.” And then there are the Mallu, Gujju, Tamil, Bong and Maharashtrian jokes that we have all heard. Where would all these jokes be if it weren’t for Indian English?