David Gardner

Plain Hinglish

David Gardner on the fractured and stately English spoken by top Indians

A n early-morning phone call the other day alerted me to the news that my midday appointment in New Delhi had been ‘pre-poned’. Could I ‘do the needful’, the voice said, and ‘get my skates on’.

A few months ago, I received an invitation from an Indian ministry. First they sent a fax giving me ‘advance intimation’ of the event, then two more faxes advising me of a ‘formal intimation’. After this, an invitation card arrived with the preamble: ‘Sir, we would like to confirm our intimation….’

Welcome to the wonderful world of Hinglish, a Hindu-inspired dialect that pulsates with energy, invention and humour – not all of it intended. Hinglish is full of cricket terminology and army metaphors, with echoes of P.G. Wodehouse and Dickens. It contains clunky puns and impeccably logical neologisms. In short, it is a delight.

When, for instance, I receive routine requests for ‘intimation 48 hours in advance’ for flight or hotel bookings, I feel not irritated but grateful – my planning skills allow for little more. And when the young lady who runs my local restaurant smiles winningly and says, ‘We like to pander you’ (meaning, I assume, ‘pamper’) a mediocre lunch starts to taste that little bit better.

Like so many good gags, ‘Official intimation’ pops up in P.G. Wodehouse (Heavy Weather, chapter ten), whose books are to be found on every bookshelf of every bookshop in India. It is a safe bet that Wodehouse is the inspiration for many standard Hinglish-isms, viz a ‘quantum’ (never a mere amount), ‘sans’ (as in, he went out ‘sans’ his coat), or, my favourite, ‘for the nonce’. An Indian acquaintance once playfully suggested that Wodehouse has a place in the elastic pantheon of Hindu gods.

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