Patiala pegs and Adam bashers

I stumbled across this mignon little tome in Barnes & Noble one day a while back.   Along the lines of their phrasebooks, Lonely Planet has published Indian – English Language and Culture, and under that rubric they manage to stuff in all sorts of linguistic notes and cultural explanations.

My ties to the subcontinent began ages ago, heck, this whole filmi obsession dates back 12 years now.   I realized as I skipped around from one chapter to another that if I had had this wee volume back then, it would have put me in the HOV lane to knowing so many little factlets and details about Indian life that I’ve had to amass the hard way (over time and often purely accidentally, as a result of an interaction with someone, or something I saw in a film or read in a book).

Just to be clear, this is not a Hindi-English phrasebook.   Sure, there’s lots of Hindi translated, defined, explained, but there’s also some bits of Tamil, Punjabi, Maithili and Oriya, to name only a handful.

What this 224-page book sets out to do is explore that unique and wonderful variety of the English language that has bloomed in India, starting with the history, and for all you amateur linguists out there, wading into the origins of Indian English, European influences, British influences, Hinglish, pronunciations, grammar, word order (“When they are coming?” “What you would like to eat?”), idioms, and even gestures and body language (e.g. the various accompanying movements when making a promise).

Beyond that, the book explores lifestyles and society (everything from food and clothes to politics, sport and entertainment).   In the latter, of course the writers cover Indian movies and explain the origins of all the different -ollywoods out there, give a brief rundown of terms like “item number” and “picture chalegi” and then a quick (and quirky) list of   10 “household names” of the Indian filmi panthenon.   Amitabh, Shahrukh, Aamir and Ash are all there, and Mira Nair, but so’s Ajit also (illai, not the Tamil movie hero, rather Hamid Ali Khan, born 1922, died 1998) and Padma Lakshmi”¦”¦ ummm, okay”¦”¦er, wha??

In spite of that one dubious sidebar, I’d still recommend the book, because it also explores slang, underworld vocabulary from fillums like Company and Sathya and Sarkar, and does a nice job of covering the gamut of local languages, albeit briefly and succinctly.

As someone who’s been devouring books on India for two decades, watching movies for more than half that, while also dabbling in Hindi and Tamil, and traveling back and forth every year in the new millennium, I still made little discoveries like the poet Nissim Ezekiel, the belief that you should not pick curry leaves after sundown and the origin of the word “pariah.”

For its size (a little wider and thicker than an iPhone) and price (US 8.99/UK 4.99) it is jam-packed with tons of info you’d be hard-pressed to find all in one book elsewhere.

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