The other day I was listening to this song about things learnt in school which are useless in real life. The singer asks, ‘Why is b.u.t. but, when p.u.t. is put? Want to listen to it?
One thing led to another and I began thinking of language and its intricacies and variety — not just English, but Hindi too. If one has travelled to different Hindi speaking regions, one would know how different the language is from one place to another. And when one keeps shifting cities, it is hard to keep up with the changing words. Ask me!
I remember the time we had just shifted to Delhi from Mumbai. I had sent my elder son, then 11, to the grocer’s to buy some poha and sugar. He came back empty handed. I was surprised. ‘Did he say that he was out of stock?’ I asked him.
‘No. He said he doesn’t sell them,’ he replied.
Later when I went to the shop, I saw not only poha but also sugar. I asked the shopkeeper why he had not given them to my son.
When I pointed to the sack of poha, he said, ‘Oh, but that is chidwa! Your son asked for poha.’ Surely he had sugar?
‘No one buys shakkar here; I only keep cheeni.’
I was dumbstruck. I later found many grocers who understood what poha was, though shakkar still meant bura shakkar (unrefined sugar) everywhere! We had to learn to say cheeni double quick.
And then the time I went to the weekly market and heard the vendor shouting, ‘Sitaphal! Petha!’
Now, I love both Sitaphal (custard apple) and petha, the lovely sweet famous in Agra, made of ash gourd. I hurried over to his shop curious to see the shop where a fruit and a sweet were being sold along with vegetables. I stood and looked, and looked – really hard. There was neither sitaphal nor petha. Just a lot of ash gourd and yellow pumpkin. I was about to ask where sitaphal was, when a woman asked for half a kilo of it. The shopkeeper began cutting a piece of pumpkin. So that was sitaphal and not my favourite custard apple!
But petha? I got the answer when another customer asked for a kilo of it and he began cutting the huge ash gourd! How on earth could I have known that the raw material and the end product were both called petha? Wonder what it is called in Agra! I soon got to ask for shareefa when I wanted to buy sitaphal.
There were more words to learn. It took me a while to understand that challi was bhutta, jimikand was yam and gola was coconut! The maid was mai and not bai, as the latter refers to a nautch girl. And in Mumbai bai is a respectful form of address for a teacher as well as an older woman. Delhi has a mix of words borrowed from its neighbouring states.
And then we moved to Madhya Pradesh. The maid asked me if I liked bhate ka bharta and I looked blank. She described brinjal in detail before light dawned on me. Likewise when I was offered bihi ki chutney by my neighbour, I didn’t know what to expect till I smelt and tasted guava chutney.
To make a long story short, I had to unlearn my Delhi Hindi and relearn that particular dialect of MP Hindi. Don’t even ask me what happened when we moved back to Mumbai!
I am sure every Indian language has hundreds of dialects that are incomprehensible to those from other parts of the same state. Do you have any such stories to share?
The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard!