Columnist and screenwriter Farrukh Dhondy explores the knotty history of words that looks into the origins of vocabulary integral to the Indian subcontinent. Here are the ones that will interest the Mumbaikar
Bombay Duck: This duck, considered and consumed as a fish, is an eel to be accurate. The cause for much curiosity, the etymology of the name, bombil — the local name for Bombay Duck — lies with the British. The officers labelled cargos of eel travelling to Bombay (a staple for the city) as Bombay Dak.
A birds' eye view of Bombay Gymkhana. Pic/Suresh KK
Dak being the Hindustani word for traveling post, went through some confusion among the British and in a manner of Chinese Whisper, changed to duck.
Tension: Some English abstract nouns, Dhondy writes, have fascinatingly entered regular Indian speech. A common example is tension. Used in its psychological sense, it implies mental stress or worry. Picked up by Bollywood, it has been incorporated in the dialogue line, "tension leyne ka nahin, tension deyne ka" which means "don't accept tension, dish it out!"
Cafe Colony at Dadar East. PIC/Sayeed Sameer Abedi
Irani café talk: The curious language of Irani Cafes, he writes, is their language of service that is an amalgam of transformed Hindustani and English.
> Half-a-cup of brewed tea — singal cha.
> Full cup - dubbul cha Maska slice —bread with butter.
> Rice plate chalu ahey — rice, dal and a side vegetable.
> Lemon batli parsull — A parcel of a fizzy lemon drink.
Bombay duck fry. Pic/Atul Kamble
Aiee Shuddup, Yaar: This, Dhondy asserts, must have been invented in some north Indian university, probably Delhi. Clearly, this goes beyond the tame 'shut up' and competes in its assertiveness with 'shut the f*** up.' This refrain can be closely clubbed with, 'I'll give you two slaps,' used mostly by women and meaning an expression of disbelief with no physical assault intended.
Alphonso Mango (Hapoos): The Alphonso mango is said to be named after Nicola Alphonso, a Jesuit monk who took varieties of mango to Brazil and cross-bred them till he came up with the most exquisite of hybrids. Dhondy's Maharashtrian ayah would sing English lullabies transforming them, and Rabbit skin became Ratna baby in her songs. It is following her lullabies that he realised how Alphonso came to be called Hapoos locally.
Gymkhana: This word, a mix of the Greek word for 'exercise' and the Hindustani Khana for a room, has an interesting history with the city. In the early 20th century, Lord Willingdon, the Governor of Bombay, attempted to take his Indian guests to the Bombay Gymkhana. His guests were refused admission on racial grounds.
He was powerless to defy or change the rules of the gymkhana and instead, in a liberal rage, is reputed to have founded the rival, Willingdon Club, which was proud to be multicultural, writes Dhondy.
Words, Farrukh Dhondy, Harper Collins, Rs 299. Available at leading bookstores and estores.
Mumbai: The current name of the city is derived from the temple of Mumba Devi. The first term is a conglomerate of 'Maha Amba', great mother. The second term is simply 'goddess'. The temple, from the 16th century dedicated to Mumba Devi, still stands in Zaveri Bazaar and is a functional temple.
Ali Da Pehla Number: This line from the very popular qawwali, was a tribute to the Sufi mystic Shahbaaz Qalandar. The word, number, he writes, integrates completely and seamlessly into the song but remains a foreign intrusion. The question as to when the lyrics were composed and if the English word was later incorporated in the Sufi tributes for a 13th century saint remains a mystery.