Delightful Indian English

The accent of one’s birth place persists in the mind and heart as much as in speech

La Rochefoucauld  (Maxims 1665)

People say I write just like I talk. Now is that a compliment? I’m not sure. I get teased and imitated all the time. More than my accent, it’s the way I talk–my gestures, expressions etc. The cross-pollination of several cultures, I believe– Indian, British-colonial and American.

We Indians are probably the most imitated people in the world. I don’t find that offensive. I think our funny English endears us. An Indian accent can break up tension, pretty quick. Take a stressful situation, say in a courtroom or workplace. Throw in someone like Appu from The Simpsons (now that’s a gross exaggeration, but you get the idea) and before you know it, smiles will start peeping out of people. This may not work for every situation. Like when your computer is on the blink, the last thing you want to hear on the customer service line is an Indian trying not to sound like one. Speaking of which, who’s seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie? Great movie. Deeply human and touching in parts, I thought.

Indian words have added color and variety to the English language. Most date back to  the colonial days. Especially delightful are the double-barrelled rhyming words that are so essentially Indian such as: hurdy-gurdytip-tophiggledy-piggledyhocus-pocustit-for-tattopsy-turvyharum-scarumroly-poly ,slip-slop…”

A friend of our family’s (a well-known glutton) would over-stuff himself at our dinner table and refuse another helping saying, “Thank you but I am fully fed-up!”

Another time an Indian student explained her absence in my design class saying she had “the loose motions” (A common Indian term for ‘the runs’). “Oh wow,” exclaimed this American girl, looking impressed. Later the American girl told me she thought “loose motion” was some kind of exotic dance. Like “Do the locomotion“.


Don’t you just love it!!!

If we Indians mess up English, the Brits mess up our language too. “Theek hai Babu” (“alright clerk” in Hindi) becomes “Ticketyboo” for the English. (Thank you Larry Brown for that little gem!)

Consider these British-Indian words which have become mainstream.

  • A – atoll, avatar
  • B – bandana, bangle, bazaar, Blighty, bungalow
  • C– cashmere, catamaran, char, cheroot, cheetah, chintz, chit, chokey, chutney, cot, cummerbund, curry
  • D – dinghy, doolally, dungarees
  • A modern rubber inflatable dinghy

    Dinghy: a type of small boat, often carried or towed for use as a ship’s boat by a larger vessel. It is a loanword from either Bengali or Urdu.

  • G– guru, gymkhana

    The Jorhat Gymkhana Club in Assam famous for its polo matches and other sporting events.

    Gymkhana: “It is applied to a place of public resort at a station, where the needful facilities for athletics and games of sorts are provided.”

  • H – hullabaloo
  • J – jodhpur, jungle, juggernaut, jute
  • K– khaki, kedgeree
  • L – loot
  • N – nirvana
  • P – pariah, pashmina, polo, pukka, pundit, purdah, pyjamas
  • S – sari, shampoo, shawl, swastika
  • T – teak, thug, toddy, typhoon
  • V – veranda: An open pillared gallery round a house.

    A typical tea garden bungalow with wrap-around verandah
  • Y – yoga
Sources: Hobson-Jobson, Oxford English Dictionary
Click these links for some delightful sampling of Indian English:
PS: If you are a huffy Indian who gets offended by stereotypes please go read some other blog. This is not meant to offend  anyone but to revel in our rich cultural uniqueness. I love being Indian.
I love accents – all kinds.  French, Scottish, Cockney and Ghetto. They sure give me the jollies. Do you get a kick out of accents? Do you speak with one? Please share.
Cheers, dear friends!
My debut novel “Teatime for the Firefly”  (MIRA/HARLEQUIN) is slated for publication in 2013.  You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me your comments. Thank you!