Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A terrific tragedy

The other day an uncle of mine said to me, "I hear you have no issues." Now I am a fellow that always has plenty of issues. I have issues with anything and everything. I battle issues on a daily basis. So I said, “No uncle. You are wrong,” to which he pressed on “No, I mean you have no issues, no?” I said, “Believe me, I do; lots of them!” He looked a bit distressed and said, “Arre, I mean, you are issueless no? You do not have any issues that have resulted in good newses for your parents right?” Then it struck me.

But ‘good newses’? Really?

By the by. Myself Mohan.

The topic of “Indianisms” like the one above has been the generous subject of many a blog and newspaper column. Indeed from ‘years back’ many ‘kind authors’ have felt the need to ‘discuss about’ Indianisms and have been ‘doing the needful’. Without 'eating their brains' they have all ‘reverted’ and ‘preponed’ their ‘updations’ of these articles. Examples of such articles are here, here and here. (It was a few hours after the current article was published that I was alerted to this rather delightful post too.)

I would often read these and get upset. What is this compelling need to mock Indian English? Why do these authors attempt to ‘nose cut’ us? Are they our ‘uncles or nephews’ to take so much interest in us and our way of communicating? Why make fun of it all the time? 

Speaking of which, I have no idea why people use ‘ish’ when they talk about time in India. It is not "9.45 ish"; it is either 9.30am or 10am. But I suppose because we are famed for our punctuality in India it can mean anytime around 9.45 and it is used a lot. I sometimes feel that IST, the Indian Standard Time should have been renamed ISH.

I once told my friend’s 12 year-old son I would meet him at 11am to go with him to a book store. The poor kid looked stunned. He was expecting an “ish”. He got a precise time instead. He replied, “Give me a call when you leave home, no?” so that he could be ready when I got to his place. I said, “No. I will be at your gate at 11am” and requested him to be ready at that time. He said, “Come downstairs and give me a ‘missed call’ no?” I said, “No. I will be there at 11am.” The poor kid was confused, all because he could not respond to a time that did not contain an ISH in it.

But that is the way we are.

Is it ok for English folk to say “tata” when they actually want to say bye? Do they not know that TATA is a proud Indian company and brand name? Why can’t they say “Chrysler” or “Leyland” when they want to say goodbye. Instead of that they ‘take the name’ of an Indian company. Do we laugh at them? 

Talking of byes, have you noticed that we seldom end phone conversations with a ‘bye’ or a or a ‘ciao’. It is always “humph” or “ok” or “haan”. I never know when a conversation has ended unless I look at my phone which confirms ended conversations with a red ‘Disconnected’ symbol. This rude form of disengagement is particularly harsh when you talk to people who offer you a service that has gone horribly wrong; say a bank officer, an insurance claims officer, or some such. My neighbour told me of one such incident. He said, “These phone agents act too ‘pricey’. The fellow ‘put the phone’ down rudely and ‘cut the call’. He was acting so funny I wanted to give him a ‘tight slap’.”

Talking of phones, why is it that few Indians have voice mail or a message service on their mobile phones? It is just not done, is it? A colleague thinks that it is 'dicey' to have a phone message, so I do not have one either. 

A few weeks ago, I came across one bank manager who had a strange message on his mobile phone: “I am not at my desk. Leave your good name and your number behind and I will revert forthwith.” I do not wish to delve into references to ‘good name’, ‘revert’ and ‘forthwith’. I do, however, worry about the use of ‘behind’ in a message. The use of ‘not at my desk’ on a mobile phone message seemed to go against the very reason for having a mobile phone! 

Now this bank manager is a typical ‘big shot' in the ‘hurry-burry’ that represents the world of banking today. His was a ‘rags to riches’ story. Legend has it that for a long time he was also ‘under the scanner’ of the headquarters for a few ‘underhand dealings’. The Tax department tried hard to ‘hunt him down’ but still, ‘heads did not roll’ because he did not quite ‘run amok’ nor did he ‘run roughshod’ over procedures and processes. But it was common knowledge that he ‘swindled’ lots of money. 

Anyway, after leaving a message on the bank manager’s mobile, I called the deputy manager who informed me that his boss was ‘not at his desk’ because he ‘used his connections’ and ‘greased many palms’ to go ‘out of station’. The manager’s grandfather had ‘kicked the bucket’ recently. So he and his children had to ‘leave in a huff’ by the ‘shortest cut’ to Sholapur, which also happened to be his ‘native place’. The kids were the ‘worst hit’. One of them was ‘mugging’ for his ‘class twelve and IIT Entrance’. Note that if the phrases ‘class twelve’ and ‘IIT Entrance’ are not used in unison, it means your kids are doing some ‘useless’ commerce or arts or worse, home-science course that will do nothing for their careers. Anyway, as the bank manager was unable to ‘join duty’ for another week, I had no option other than ‘leaving my good name and number behind’. I did. I wasn't expecting to hear from the manager for a while.

I was, therefore, surprised when the bank manager returned my call just five minutes after I had left my number behind. “I am on my way to Sholapur sir. I got tickets with a lot of pull. But on my way to the train station, my car was met with an accident,” he said, as I choked on my lunch. The manager did not meet with an accident; his car did not meet with an accident. But the car was met with an accident. How quaint, I thought.

He then said, “You know, everything was going spic and span. Even my son, Sriram’s class-12 exam got over yesterday. As a max person you will be very happy to know that his best subject is max. But he will not get centum. His max paper was out of portions, but that was also ok. At least I am glad he will be passing out as a proper convent educated now. He never bunked school. You know he got into this school without any pull. His IIT entrance, next week. Full pressure. Suddenly grandfather was off. I don’t know what happened. He was always in tip-top condition. But he became suddenly off. So we have to leave immediate to Sholapur. I have enough leaves. So that is ok. But everyone was hither thither. But I was calm. We have large joint-family. The whole jing-bang wanted to go to Sholapur. ‘No fierce’ I said. But everyone said this-that-a­­ll-that. They wanted to go to pay respects. All logistics were in place. I wanted to make a bus, but my family made me take the Sholapur passenger train instead. The car was to ply us to the station. My car was reported at sharp 10am. And then we left. Suddenly, bang. My car was met with an accident. Now everything has gone for a toss. Try and understand my position. I need your kind help. Everything has gone for a six now. But I must ignore this accident hocus-pocus and I must make a move now. Can you send me your vehicle for a few hours? I can send someone to pick it up also. Where are you put up?”

Every line was a gem. The son had got into a good non-government convent school without the need to exploit the father’s networks and connection (commonly referred to as 'pull'). His son would not max ('centum') his maths ('max') paper since some of the questions were out of syllabus ('out of portions’). The son had no need to make the maths paper a portion of a meal, although he may well have 'passed out' had he done that. Quite like the sons’ great grandfather who was recently “off” – or, in other words, had recently passed away. The manager wasn’t a tree that grew shoots and leaves. He was talking there about the number of holidays he had accrued ('leaves'). Nor was the manager also an automobile assembly line production manager to physically 'make a bus'. He implied that he had gathered enough family members to hire a bus. Moreover, the manager’s car wasn’t 'reported' like a petty thief. The car turned up at the appointed time.

But rather than admire and decode his English, I had a more pressing problem. I had to respond immediately to the managers’ request. I muttered, “Sir, I am sorry I 'cannot able to help you' especially when you are facing 'commute-shammute conveyance difficulty'. Also what a 'terrific tragedy' you are facing right now. I am going to 'hill station' myself. The time is 10am already and 'my car hasn’t reported' yet although my driver said he will be here 9.30-ISH.”

-- Mohan (@mohank)


  1. Colonialism is gone but Indian English is here to stay!
    One funny use I heard was from our former landlady, who lived in England after the war. She had dinner with an Indian student, who when asked "Are you finished eating?" replied "Yes, I am quite fed up!".

    Nice post. Enjoyed :)

  2. The book, "Indlish" written by a Prof of English, had a good compilation of unique phrases/words in Indian English.

  3. @Sita: Thanks a lot.

    Raj: Thanks for the pointer. I found it on flipkart. Here: http://www.flipkart.com/indlish-8130902818/p/itmdytqqfccfe4nk

  4. Jayashri8:02 pm

    Loved this blog. Really tickled my fancy & luckily you explained the phrases as I didn't quite understand Indlish. (different matter if it was Singlish). The use of ‘not at my desk’ on a mobile phone message seemed to go against the very reason for having a mobile phone!' was esecially hilarious as it is so true. Keep up the blog!

  5. I wonder why we pay too much importance to correctness of language. Ultimately purpose of language is communication and as long as that purpose is solved, why linger on its correctness. My south indian colleague speaks in hindi with me and despite his incorrect usage of the same, he is able to convey the needful. Should I then insist that he uses correct hindi or should I spend more time on the thought that has already been conveyed?