Mind your Head

The Punjabi expression “eat your head” is one of the reasons I love my India. Sujata told me the other day that once she completes the semester’s work, she would be in touch. She wants to eat my head.

Whether from the Punjabi, Urdu, or Hindi, such expressions have a way of making your day. We are now using terms like lakh and crore without doing the conversion, I watch my back for miscreants, and find myself less unsettled when someone says something like “I beg the favour of your esteemed perusal” or calls me sir at the end of every sentence, sir. Too, elegant idioms and patterned turns of syntax offer examples of local dialect or thought finding its way in the structures (and strictures) of English expression. Local inflections and metaphors carry the legacy of British English and give new life to Hindi words. There is the “pundit,” or learned man, “shampoo,” from a word for massage, and “caravan,” “bungalow” and “bandana” all taken from the Hindi. There is “Eve-teasing,” or harassment of women. People say, “I stay near Kothrud,” which means I live there. People will ask for your “good name,” another carry over from Hindi, in this case the expression shubh-naam meaning your auspicious name.

Before arriving, Rebecca flaunted her linguistic chops by saying “I’ll be out of station,” which means out of town, a legacy of army officers posted at “stations.” (A “Hill Station,” by the way, is a mountain resort.) The word “shift” refers to a move, as in moving a shop or one’s home. So for example I saw a sign outside an apartment building the other day that said “Dr. Pandit has shifted to Kothrud.” And the word “holiday” means any day off from work, including holidays and vacations, though Somnat exclaimed when we returned from ten days in Tamil Nadu, “A good picnic?”

The other day Rebecca entered a mild mid-life crisis when a group of teens called her “auntie,” a word like “uncle” that is used to address relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, even total strangers significantly older than oneself. (It was the older part that sparked the crisis.) And the older Muslim man at the fruit stand often greets me with “Baba” (father). “Baba! A kg of figs?”

We use the interjection acchha to agree to something or express understanding. “Accha, so we will buy grapes and apples.” We say “chello” to get things moving and, when we need to stop a rickshaw, “bus, bus.” We are also using an interesting homophone of the Hindi phrase theek hai, which means literally “fine is” and is used to mean “okay.” Indians often use T-K instead of O.K. when answering a question. “Do you want to meet in the park this evening?” “T-K, I’ll meet you there at seven.” So theek hai is not unlike the French phrase Ça va, an equivalent to the English “Alright then.”

The word non-veg is an abbreviation for non-vegetarian and is used to refer to food that contains meat, fish, or eggs. (Milk products are considered vegetarian). So there are non-veg restaurants and veg restaurants. Mutton is goat meat not lamb. And though our diet has been about ninety-five percent veg here in India, we had a mutton fry and mutton curry dinner the other night with Aparna and Nikhil in Sadashiv Peth-hands down one of the two or three best meals we’ve eaten in India.

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