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Khichri language

Gargi Gupta  |  New Delhi 

The Oxford English Dictionary, that holy grail of the Queen’s language, defines chutney as “a spicy condiment of Indian origin”. “Chutnefying English” would thus mean adding chutney, or spicy Indian elements, to English. Playing further with semantics, one could say that by choosing the phrase as this book’s title, the editors answer the very fundamental question that Harish Trivedi poses in his foreword – “what is Hinglish ... is it the use of Hindi words and syntactical elements in English, or the use of English words and syntax in Hindi?” – by implying that it is English that is the principal entrée in Hinglish, with bits of Hindi added on the side for relish.

But is that true? Think of phrases such as “ek chance milega” or “Pyar Impossible” or “side dijiye”. Which is the base language here, English or Hindi? Perhaps a better analogy, continuing with the food metaphor, would have been khichri, that dish so commonly made in India with rice, vegetables, meat and anything you can lay your hands on.

For we speak a khichri language, peppering our Hindi with English, and our English with bits of Hindi, so much that we seem almost incapable of keeping to any one language in the course of a conversation. But this is not a new observation. One half of the phenomenon – that colloquial English in India included many words from Hindi – was charted by Hobson-Jobson back in 1886, and there have been a few recent publications such as Binoo K John’s Entry from the Backside Only (2007) that have detailed the idiosyncracies of Indian English.

This book, of course, has a more academic impetus. It arose out of an eponymous conference held at the Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad, in January 2009, which brought together a glittering cast of scholars of language and literature, journalists, publishers, advertising professionals, film directors, poets and so on. The essays here have been developed from papers read out at the conference.

The result is an incisive, comprehensive and many-pronged look at Much of it is inevitably jargon-filled and uses the dense prose of post-structuralist cultural theory that must obfuscate before it elucidates: “It follows that the differential domain allocation holds a key to the representation and access to languages.” But this is to carp unreasonably and do this book an injustice.

Un-academically-minded readers will find plenty to interest them in this book. There is, for instance, the very interesting dialogue featuring Prasoon Joshi and Prashant Panday in which they talk about how the use of the English “always” instead of the Hindi “hamesha” in the jingle “Mirchi sunne wale always khush” helped allay some of perceived tackiness of the name Radio Mirchi. Advertising copy has, of course, been the prime purveyor of Hinglish, at least since the 1990s – “Yehi hai right choice, baby!” (1990) and “Yeh dil maange more” (1998) are two taglines used even today – and has helped make it more visible and given it a certain legitimacy and credence.

But as Trivedi points out, the interplay of Hindi and English goes back a very long way, to at least 1887, the year the Hindi poet Ayodhya Prasad Khatri wrote this rather entertaining ghazal:

Rent Law ka gham karein ya Bill of Income Tax ka?

Kya karen apna nahiin hai sense right now-a-days.

...Darkess chaaya hua hai Hind men chaaro taraf

Naam ki bhi hai nahiin baaqi light now-a-days

(I will not translate this for, as this book predicates, my readers must be sufficiently proficient in Hinglish to make sense on it.)

Languages aren’t static; if two exist in close proximity, as English and Hindi have for more than 350 years, they will interact. And this leaching has been going on for a long time now, as Devyani Sharma illustrates in her essay “Return of the Native”, through the presence of Hindi words such as sahib and nabob in English dating back to the 1800s. What’s changed now, as essayist after essayist in this book concludes through their investigations of how language is used on TV, on the Internet, in call centres, in films and in daily life, is that the use of Hinglish has become (a) extremely broad-based, (b) a marker of the good life, and (c) a bridge between class and region. Is Hinglish a good thing? Is its ascendance a sign of our shrinking ability to speak exclusively in any one language? And will Hinglish finally consume both Hindi and English? To these questions the essayists don’t have clear answers.

& Rupert Snell, (Editors)
XII + 235 pages; Rs 299

First Published: Mon, May 30 2011. 00:48 IST