It's funny how some things recur across the generations. Like mangoes. OK - bear with me ...
Fully twenty-five years ago, when I was new as a BBC correspondent in Delhi and seeking to impress my colleagues with my Hindi, I declared: मैं आम हूं (me aam hoo). The response was smirks, giggles and at least in one case derisive laughter. I had intended to say that I was an ordinary guy - not someone from a privileged background. Instead I had declared: I'm a mango!
OK, so fast forward ... my daughter, a really good linguist, has started Hindi lessons. Well, her first proper Hindi lesson was yesterday - though she is already fairly OK in the language. This evening she asked me to give her a quick run down on Indian politics as we enter what will be an election year there.
I mentioned the Aam Admi Party
आम आदमी पार्टी - the insurgent anti-corruption party which won a startling landslide victory in local elections in Delhi a few years back. Aam Admi means 'common man' - a phrase made famous by the cartoonist R.K, Laxman. But as we have discovered. Aam also has another meaning -
"Um, the 'mango man' party? Really?" my daughter enquired.
It seems we have more in common than I thought.
I've blogged before about the Hindi-derived Scottish term 'peeli wali' meaning weak, washed out, off colour. Here's a slightly different nuance from A.A. Gill in today's 'Sunday Times':
'Apparently some Fifa honchos are terrified of the British press digging up scandals and skeletons;' he writes, 'makes them come over all peely-wally.'
This suggests losing colour, or going yellow, because they are fearful or weak-kneed rather than unwell (to recap, peela or peeli is yellow in Hindi). But it feels an entirely appopriate usage. Over to you!
LATER: And another reference - in the Guardian's g2, 4th October 2010, as an example of Dundee dialect. '"Yer lookin' affy peely-wally th' day" (translation: "You're looking terribly pale today.")'
'Peeli Wali' has re-entered my life - bringing back a keen and warm memory of my mother and my daughter together. Let me explain. 'Peeli wali' in colloquial Hindi means the yellow one. When my daughter was a baby, and we were all living in Nizamuddin East in Delhi, Hindi was her language. On one occasion, when my parents were over visiting, I told Samira to look at the yellow ball, the 'peeli wali' ball.
'Andrew, surely that's not Hindi', my mother said. 'Peeli wali, I haven't heard that since I was growing up in Glasgow'. And she told the remarkable story of how in the working class corner of Glasgow where she lived until she was about nine, 'peeli wali' meant someone who was off colour. As I recall, she told me it also had a second meaning - a very weak cup of tea (which was also known as 'Jenny PC', or 'Jenny pee clear', though my mother would not wish to be associated with such vulgarity, at least not in print).
This sense of connect between popular Glaswegian dialect and my daughter's very basic Hindi fascinated and delighted me. I wrote about it at the time in an Indian news magazine. And in the past week I recounted the story to a friend, and Indian-born US academic, when we met for a drink. His wife is a student of language, and a specialist on the collision between English and India. And that's how the issue has all come to life again.
There is a fantastic book from the Victorian era, a dictionary of sorts, which captures Hindi and other Indian language loan words which became used in Indian English. It's got the unforgettable title of Hobson Jobson. But 'peeli wali' isn't there - I suspect too informal and plebeian for this rather grand project.
What I probably said to Samira all those years ago was: 'Peeli wali ball dekko!' Look at the yellow ball. Dekko, of course, is another Hindi word which has found a place in vernacular, but not formal, English. 'Have a dekko', meaning 'have a peek', was a phrase I grew up with in Yorkshire, without having any sense of the word's origins.
This is in Hobson Jobson, after a fashion. Not 'dekko', but the much more stylised 'deck' - from the same root and with the same meaning. It makes me wonder, though, how much of the Hindi that (I imagine) British soldiers and seafarers brought back with them from India still has to be find a chronicler.
And thinking back to the 'peeli wali' incident, it makes me realise just how inter-connected the world was long before the current era of globalisation.
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