Kaiku? As mysterious as a Haiku

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Languid in outlook, nonchalant in manner, cryptic in speech, the Hyderabadi is as diverse and unique as the hotchpotch of her language. While modern life has not spared even this most unhurried of species, the Dakhni retains much of her flavour. And it's brinjal-like.

Kahan hai re tu?”

Tere ghar kane, baju meich, do minute me atun.”

If you are a Hyderabadi, you can understand this and also know how many minutes it took for the two friends to actually meet. But Hyderabadi is not just a sing-song lingo which others can copy by adding the suffix ‘un’ like in ' atun', ' jatun' or ' detun'. It is a twang and an attitude which can be imitated but not replicated. To replicate it one has to first absorb the Hyderabadi conception of time. The word that best captures this catch-all ambiguity is ' parsoon'. Now, ' parsoon' would mean “the day after tomorrow” in Delhi, but in Hyderabad, it means: “Everlasting time from day-before-yesterday to eternity, backwards or forward”.

A bona fide Hyderabadi can start the conversation in English, switch to Telugu, pepper it with some Hindi/Urdu and then use choice Marathi cuss words and be perfectly understandable. And in this modern-day antithesis of the Tower of Babel lies the Hyderabadi identity.

Hyderabad is at the heart of the Deccan Plateau and the upshot of this geographical confluence is evident in the language, which is as hotchpotch as the terrain. It’s a meeting ground for Telugu, Kannada, Marathi and Urdu. And as every Hyderabadi has a cousin, niece or nephew in New Jersey, English too is a part of his vocab. Only thing is, some of the English usages have evolved their own meanings in the Hyderabadi's tongue. For instance, ‘ Aisey advance kamaan nakko karo, madam [literally, 'do not perform such advance actions, madam']” actually connotes “don’t act smart, madam”.

Arvind Acharya, a Hyderabadi Kannadiga who lives in New York and is back home on a brief visit, says the city has become very different from when he left it: “The essence of change in Hyderabad cannot be captured in words. The language had grace and politeness. Like, when a beggar would walk near the doorway and we would not shoo him away but say, ' Baba, hamein maaf karnaa [ Baba, forgive us]'. Now, that grace has disappeared, though the language retains its flavour.”

The Hindi comedian Mahmood did a bit for Hyderabadi lingo in his various movies, and in Desh Premee, Amitabh did an imitation of Mahmood with his: “ Baataan nahin karte ham Hyderabadi”. The checkered lungi Amitabh wore in the movie is still a part of the attire in some parts of the city, like Chandrayangutta and Barkas. But it was the Deccani cult classic Angrez that catapulted the lingo into a realm of its own, full with its mannerisms and chutzpah.

The movie’s story is almost a clash of civilisations as a few blokes gabbing and sipping chai near Charminar are photographed by a few techies. The rest of the movie is about how they take offence and plan revenge against the “ angrez [anyone with a camera is an angrez, or 'Englishman']”. It created stars with names like Saleem Pheku, Ismael Bhai and Jehangir. “Now when we walk down the street, nobody calls us by our real names. The hail us with the names of those characters we played. And they always want to hear the dialogues,” says Mast Ali aka Saleem Pheku, 10 years after the movie hit the big screen. The three gentlemen even have shops named after them in many small towns and villages that formed part of the erstwhile Nizam’s territory, like Latur, Gulbarga and Bidar.

Now, when you step out of the spanking futuristic glass-and-chrome Hyderabad Airport, you are more likely to hear: “ Saab, mein D point pe wait karoon, aap iddhari aa jana,” delivered in typical Hyderabadi, even if the GPS and geolocation of the destination is plotted out on the cabbie's smartphone. According to a study, nearly 40 per cent of cab-drivers in the city live on the other side of Musi. These young men, when they cross the river, bring their lovable accent and modulation and release it like a fragrance in the global village.

But even a laid-back city like Hyderabad is prey to the rapidity of modern life. Teheran cafe stands as a time capsule, revealing the metamorphosis of the Hyderabadi in the behaviour of its clientelle. For the nostalgic Hyderabadi, life is all about chai and chatting. Some years back, each cup of tea would cost Rs. 2 and 45 minutes. Now it costs Rs. 10 and 30 minutes. “People now don’t have time to spend to sit and sip chai for hours. They are in a hurry and our business has declined,” says the owner of Teheran cafe, which used to be in front of the State Secretariat, but is now behind for reasons of vaastu-compliance. Venkatesh Goteti, a techie who is as comfortable saying ‘man’ as he is ‘ miyan’, remembers the huge photograph of Ayotallah Khomeini that used to cover nearly 20 feet of the café. Now, the stronghold of chatters-over- chai has shrunk to a fifth of the size in its heyday.

An Irani café would imply a Parsi joint in Mumbai. But in Hyderabad, these are mostly Shia establishments run by the close-knit Iranian community. The love for their ancient land remains, with Persian names like Seheran, Teheran, Bahar, Shadab, Nayaab, Nimrah. Of course there are American names as well: Skylabs (built during the scare about the falling American spacecraft), Chicago, Manhattan and Nebraska.

Outside the cafés, you can see signboards of American soft-drinks, with photos of Iranian Ayatollahs and people asking for “ kadak garam chai”. They slurp it so it cools. And by the time the final sip is had, the chai has to be really frigid.

Hyderabad has two Hydergudas. Directions to either will be worded as “ woh MLA quarters ke paas” for one and for the other “ woh flyover ke paas”. Incidentally, both the Hydergudas happen to be near flyovers. Banjara Hills Road No. 1 is a main road that connects to Road No. 3, which is also Road No. 2. All the other roads branch off and merge with one another. And Jubilee Hills Road No. 86 is near Toli Chowki. Confused? You shouldn’t be. Hyderabadis are never confused.

If you are a Hyderabadi, you would get into the autorickshaw, say “ numaish chalo”, and expect to hear the ‘tring’ of the auto-meter. If you have landed in Hyderabad more recently — say 10 to 25 years ago — you ask the autowallahnumaish jaane kaa kitnaa letey” and then bargain. Numaish is another Persian loanword for 'exhibition', the annual shopping carnival held in January, which is being held next week for the 76th time.

' Numaish' is not the only Persian word that has been nativised, there are others too. And some are quite the mondegreens (words that have been twisted into phonetically similar-sounding words that have a completely different meaning). Gulzar Hauz (fountain) becomes Gulzar House. Iram Manzil (mansion of paradise) becomes Erra Manzil (red mansion). Others have been renamed altogether. Sehr-e-Batil Kaman (arch of magic) becomes Mitti Ka Sher (clay tiger). Erramnuma (Palace in Paradise) becomes Erragadda (red lump). Then, there is Champapet. Most folks think it is named after the Plumeria flower, but is actually named after one of the aseels (wet nurses) in the Nizam’s household called Mama Champa, whose estate it was.

Bambaiwallahs talk about locals, Hyderabadis talk biryani. We eat biryani every second day and say how we miss the old food: chakna, shikampur, lukmi, khichdi, dalcha, baghara, khatti dal, chigar ka gosht, nargisi koftay, and the list goes on. Then we come back to the point: about the best biryani we ever had and at whose home or wedding we had it in. Food is so important to the Hyderabadi that according to lore, the Nizam’s flag had a square loaf of bread, a kulcha. But now, if Hyderabad were to have a flag it would have a brinjal in the middle, or as they would say it in Hyderabad ‘ beech mein baingan’.

The Baingan (brinjal) is the most versatile vegetable in the Hyderabadi’s vocabulary. It can mean anything from bumpkin to rotten or rubbish. It is the favourite word to use on the streets; one which offends but doesn’t hurt. On the road, Hyderabadis are in a tearing hurry, but nobody ever turns up on time for any meeting or event. Ever.


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