'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.
Your daughter is lucky to be part of two such different cultures.
A message from Fergus Nicoll
My Dad used to use "peelywally" to mean "poorly" (and my sisters in Scotland still do). Mind you, as someone who spent his first army years in India (44-47), he had plenty of "Hindustani"-isms - even in Germany he always went to the Daftar etc.
Traci Nagle at Indiana
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