Binglish and Engada

Don't mistake me. I'm feeling somewhat…so I'll do one thing

This being the Rajyotsava season, when practically every neighbourhood erects a celebratory pandal than spans the breadth of November and quite possibly December as well, let us pay homage to our city's distinctive brands of Kannada, English, and what lies in between.

As unique as the gojju in your grandmother's puliyogre is the flavour of the Kannada spoken in Bengaluru. Do you see the migrant labourers, the men in their too-tight shirts with too-short sleeves, the women in their worn cottons that haven't yet yielded to synthetic, hastening at sundown towards what passes for their homes? The Kannada they speak among themselves contains none of the English that peppers the local lingo (which should, I sometimes think, be rightfully called Engada). It will be months, if not years, before they can make sense of everything an average shopkeeper or bus driver tells them. Besides having to overcome the hurdle of dialect, they have to survive the bombardment of cross, main, signal, stop, door, open, close, ticket, pass, change, fine, duty, shift, circle, junction, dead-end, footboard, reverse, customer, double meter, one-and-a-half, and hundreds of other English words that rain down upon them.

On a winter's night I asked an autodriver (in Kannada) whether he wasn't feeling chill since he wasn't wearing a sweater, even a sleeveless one. His secret was ragi mudde. Eat one in the morning, he said, and you can withstand the coldest night because it makes you “rough and tough”. He pronounced the English phrase as though it were one word. I have heard this expression, on a couple of other occasions, being used by working class men. Ruffentuff. I like it.

The unimaginative person, when asked to come up with a typical admixture of English and Kannada, trots out the stale “swalpa adjust maadi”. Believe me, the expression has gone out of currency. I haven't heard anyone use it in the past 10 years except journalists who think they're being clever by working it into a headline. Pay attention to the speech of the man on the street and you'll find streaks of English colouring the tresses of Kannada. “Full jam” is a word beloved of bus drivers, and you are bound to hear it as you wait for the lights to change three times before the bus crawls past the signal. When a pharmacist tells you a medicine will arrive “mostly naale”, he means most probably tomorrow.

Sometimes, English words are used because of their potential for emphasis. It is possible to stress “dina” but the vowels in “daily” (pronounced “die-lee”) lend themselves to an even greater degree of stretching. You are familiar with “just” as in “jushtu”, I'm sure. (Did you see him? Oh, he went out jush-tu. Or a double whammy: “Ee-gle jushtu”.) But are you aware of the usage of “silent”? To mean that you caused no trouble, or were minding your own business, you would say you were going “silent aagi”.

If you were slightly higher on the social scale you would bypass Engada and plunge straight into English, which is extremely likely to be transformed into Binglish. I'm not talking of the classic Cantonment English with its ‘ra' and ‘da' and word-that-rhymes-with-mugger, but a kind of Bangalore English that adopts the Kannada idiom, sometimes in direct translation. For example, when the bus conductor, fooled by my shirt and trousers, calls me “yejamaanru”, he quickly apologises with “Yenu thilkond-bedi.” If he were middle class he might have uttered, in English, the literal translation of this expression: “Don't think anything.” Swap the first word for “thappu” and its Binglish counterpart would be “Don't mistake me.” Other classics are the scornfully stated “No other work or what?” and “I'll do one thing…” which is a preface to an explanation of what you plan to do.

I overheard two government school students discuss exams. One said she was sure of getting “out of out” — full marks, an abbreviation of 100 out of 100. They gossiped about a classmate who had been “acting somewhat”. Snooty, perhaps? Anyway, the sentence is not supposed to have an ending. It's like saying you are “feeling somewhat”, which could mean embarrassed, hurt, whatever — you fill in the appropriate emotion. When the actress proclaims, “I don't like to expose”, the listener supplies the missing words.

Another fragrance in the language potpourri is pronunciation. If you want your autodriver to turn right, it would be wiser to use the Kannada word, for he might hear your “right” as “strite” and go straight ahead. Ask him to stop at the “kafe” (rhymes with safe) if you mean café and “creech” if you mean crèche. I am aware of the Kannada-speaker's habit of interchanging p and f, just as the Tamil-speaker interchanges g and h, but when someone at my local kirana store asked me whether I did “shelf cooking”, it took me a second or two to figure it out. I gave a Kannada response to the Engada question, but if I'd used Binglish I would have answered, “Yes, I cook myself.”

Duty over? Had your lunch? Let us sip some coffee. That coffee-vendor used to sell from a flask on his cycle-carrier but now he has a van. He is making money like anything. He has really come up in life.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 2:15:03 AM |

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