Now in Injia’s sunny clime,

Where I used to spend my time

A’serving’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,

Of all them black faced crew

The finest man I knew

Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din,

He was ‘Din!Din!Din!

‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!

‘Hi Slippy hitherao!

‘Water get it, Panee lao,

‘You sqiddgy nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’


It was ‘Din!Din!Din!

‘You ‘eathen, where the mischief ‘ave you been?

‘You put some juldee in it

‘Or I’ll marrow you this minute

‘If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!’

The poem ends as follows:

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,

By livin’ Gawd that made you,

You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!


It seems ordained that if one is to examine the use of Hindustani words in Anglo-Indian literature one starts with the first Nobel literature laureate of Indian origin, Rudyard Kipling (born Bombay 1860). From his, and earlier, writings two branches of usage emerge. First, there is a usage that I shall term Anglindi, and another that is Hindlish.

A few things stand out in the above quotation: first, Hindustani is used to order a servant about: “hitherao” ( a combination of the English hither + the Hindi ao!) “Panee lao”, “put some juldee in it”, or to threaten him with “I’ll marrow you this minute” and the admission that the bhisti has been belted and flayed, which is what made him “a better man than I am, Gunga Din”. The relationship of the sahib to “them black-faced crew” (although “for all ‘is dirty hide, ’E was white, clear white, inside”)  is succinctly stated: Carry out my orders or else.

Anglindi is what was, and in many ways continues to be, used by masters to address underlings—“natives”. An offshoot of this is what people who went to the better English-medium schools now speak among themselves. Hindlish on the other hand is increasingly used by the hoi polloi who study English in Hindi-medium schools, use to look linguistically spruced up, posh and with it.

A version of both branches is the universal use of English as the spoken language between Indians in novels written by both Indian and foreign authors. This is fiction in a fictional tongue in which Hindi, Urdu and words from regional languages are thrown in to give colour, or when the word is not translatable or is so different in sound that English just won’t do.

For example, in the series Empire of the Moghul, Jehangir, as I shall quote later, clears matters with Mehrunissa (later Noor Jehan) in English. The language of the Moghul court was Farsi (Persian). And it is simply untrue that in Kerala, people talk to each other in English. Arundhati Roy’s characters in The God of Small Things would speak to each other, largely, in Malayalam. Her only concession is for Comrade Pillai who starts his sentences with the vernacular—“Aujro paiwan” translated at the end of the sentence as ‘Poor fellow.’

Anglindi is what was, and in many ways continues to be, used by masters to address underlings—“natives”. An offshoot of this is what people who went to the better English-medium schools now speak among themselves. Hindlish on the other hand is increasingly used by the hoi polloi who study English in Hindi-medium schools, use to look linguistically spruced up, posh and with it.

Let us go from the 1892 poem to Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies (2008), more than a century after. Coming aboard the Falcon in the Hooghly, the pilot, Mr Doughty, takes command and surveys the situation with “Do none of you halalchores have any wit at all... Where’s the mate? Has he been given the kubber that my bunder-boat has lagowed? Don’t just stand there: jaw! Hop to it! Hop to it, before I give your ganders a taste of my latee. Have you saying your bysmelas before you know it.”

In this Anglindi passage there are eight Hindi words, i.e., (15 per cent), (halalchores, kubber, bunder, lagowed, jaw, ganders, latee and bysmelas) out of 54. The language has been excavated to give historical authenticity while Kipling’s usage was original and spontaneous. The poet uses italics for the vernacular, the later novelist does not. He accepts it as common usage and does not bother to explain the commands or the abuse either.

While explaining the necessity of learning some usage from Indian languages, Mr Doughty explains to the young American second mate, Zachary Reid: “But mind your Oordoo and Hindee doesn’t sound too good: don’t want the world to think you’ve gone native. And don’t mince your words either. Mustn’t be taken for a chee-chee.”

It is noteworthy that Ghosh’s painstaking research throws up a memory of this kind of Anglindi.

There are no colonial masters and knaves now but the language they used and pidginised Hindi remains with us. Its use is spreading in two ways: the English we use has an increasing number of Hindi (and no doubt regionally more vernacular) words; secondly, the Hindi (and vernacular) has an increasing number of English words. And all English literature in India increasingly uses English as the medium for conversation between all non-English speaking people. In The Tainted Throne, Jehangir asks Mehrunissa, conducted to his chamber after being perfumed in the hamam:

‘Take off your veil’ ... ‘I’ve waited a long time for you, but first I must know whether you are willing.’

‘I am, Majesty,’ he heard her say.

If language is universal, put these words in the mouth of his contemporary James I of England in Farsi when asking a newly desired mistress the leading question!

The author Alex Rutherford is British but much, much earlier, Chaman Nihal in Azadi, 1974, has, surely Punjabi-speaking Lala Kashi Ram trying to get his, certainly, Punjabi-speaking, obdurate grand mother to flee the slaughter and leave her house for refugee camp in Sialkot in 1947. All in English. This is a way making writing Anglindi-Hindlish neutral, but it is so phika.

All of us who write fiction in English have a common problem that is well explained in a letter I received from the late Air Chief Marshal Denis La Fontaine about my second novel A Twisted Cue: “Firstly, the way you use English appealed to me. Practically every sentence was structured in a way that demanded attentive reading. I certainly couldn’t zip along and felt pleasure in the finding of expressive words, unfailing good grammar and some purpose in the sentences. The occasional insertion of common Indian words was entertaining. Use of the equivalent English word would have left the statement trite and phika.”

And this is the point; the use of the equivalent English word leaves the statement trite and phika (Italics mine!): would it be correct to translate this word as tasteless? No. Or without taste? No.

La Fontaine was a Tamil Anglo-Indian though brought up in the north. Both because of this and having served in the armed force he could appreciate the colour that a whole range of the vernacular gives (as does the use of French). So, as he points out, do most Indians.

I’m engaged in a work that has Hindi-speaking characters and am very uncomfortable about inventing fictional English for their conversations. I have begun to appreciate the predicament that Arundhati Roy and, say, Amitav Ghosh have faced. It is for me an exercise in soul-searching that has almost got me to the point of asking, in a Benglish interrogative (in which only the English word is not italicised) aapne ki aye baypare ek kay bare sanguine? (Are you sure or optimistic about this?) I hope readers will answer this question for themselves at the end of this piece.

Ghosh, in Sea of Poppies, attempts a compromise. Whereas the landed zamindars speak to each other in English (remember we are talking about the opium trade mid-1800 era), they use Hindlish with the serfs:

“Kalua fell suddenly to his knees, clutching the thakurs’ feet: Mai-bap, hamke maf karelu ... forgive me, master the fault wasn’t mine... This earned him a volley of kicks and curses:

...“You lost on purpose didn’t you, dogla bastard?

... Do you know how much you cost us?...”

Kalua uttered a cry that was almost indistinguishable in tone from the whinnying of the horse. This amused the landlords:

“..See the b’henchod even sounds like a horse...

“... Tetua daba de ... wring his balls...”

No italics for some words, then their use for others. It is obvious that b’henchod is common Anglindi-Hindlish usage and does not need to be explained as presumably all Indians know the meaning of this expletive: and so do colonial Englishmen like Doughty, though as barnshoot; but Tetua daba de is colloquial Bihari Hindi and has to be explained immediately for a wider readership.

Ghosh and I had a common publisher, Ravi Dayal, who earlier headed the Oxford University Press. When I asked him whether he would like me to italicise the vernacular in A Twisted Cue, he forbade it. His explanation was that the English may do so as they are using a foreign language but we are not.

Recently, a friend of mine who employed a durban who’d been only 15 days out of Bihar, was overheard telling the cook as he was going out (obviously for “better prospects”): ‘Main zara decorate ho kar bahar ja raha hun.’ On his return he was overheard replying to the cook’s query on his outing ‘ Un ka to approach hi kuch aur tha.’ In return he was assured: ‘Tension mat lo, sab fit ho jaayega.’

Even as we Anglindi-wallahs crack up with laughter (as did our Hindi-speaking maid from Jharkhand), we must wonder which part we italicise, the Hindi or the English? And how will this pan out? Will we have a language in which the English becomes heavier in the use of Hindi/vernacular words or a kind of Hindi—a la TV and Bollywood—that is decorated by lots of English? Will the two languages remain apart? Or will they swim atop the real thing. Will the real thing remain real?

This brings us to our long history: any clues to the future of this trend over the next 20-30 years? Supposing we wondered about the effect of Greek after a satrapy was left behind by Alexander in 327 BCE? It ruled parts of the northern—as the Hindu-gaurav wallahs like to term it, Akhand Bharat—till 10 CE. Are there any distinct traces today in everyday languages even in the region north of the Chenab? Or has it been completely subsumed in daily speech?

There have been many invasions since (and overpowering migrations before). Each has led to the imposing of a court and judicial language. Some say not, but even Sanskrit could be an example of one. Do Indian languages float on it? In fact not. Classical Sanskirt remains apart on its own and modern languages have carved out their own stream.

But not quite asunder. I have discovered that there was a style in Indian literature and theatre to render themes in Sanskrit + Prakrit (which means any language other than Sanskrit). Later there was a genre called karambhg kavyh or maniprkl with texts in three or four languages. The inference is that there was a layer of writing and drama appreciated and enjoyed by a layer of people that was polyglot and not chauvinist about a regional mother toungue. When did this form sink into oblivion? I haven’t been able find out, perhaps urban drama with the Muslim ban on it and literature with the advent of British India. The subject deserves a thesis.

Against this background, will the two branches, Anglindi and Hindlish, disappear in time? Or will they merge into one? Will they be homogenised into Hindi and vernacular languages? Much depends on the New Politics that is emerging. The fact is that “natives” are becoming assertive and although the UP election shows that there is no more resistance to English, the hope that 120 crore people will become fluent and job-ready  in it is a pipe dream.

Anglindi is what was, and in many ways continues to be, used by masters to address underlings—“natives”. An offshoot of this is what people who went to the better English-medium schools now speak among themselves. Hindlish on the other hand is increasingly used by the hoi polloi who study English in Hindi-medium schools, use to look linguistically spruced up, posh and with it.

In the next decade the child brought up in his mother tongue would begin to rework the power structure in which his place now is  that of a courier boy,  driver, shop help, waiter or a sort of general assistant, i.e., a non-executive or non-professional while that of his contemporary English-medium product is among the higher orders.

In China all science is done in Mandarin. So is Shakespeare. The space researcher or engineer doesn’t have to know English. Technical education comes in his own language. International knowledge is rapidly translated as  in Japan, Korea and European countries. Will the aam admi allow the system to remain loaded against him?

The fate of Farsi tells us a story. It was the court language in Delhi from about 1250 CE to 1857. Six centuries. When I was a child the legal Farsi terms used in Mughal courts and administration continued to be current over a hundred years after Macaulay’s famous minute. Arzi, naveez, peshi, bahas, sifarish, hazari, badly, mohal, etc, were lingua franca, but as terms. They were/are a part of the composite Hindustani/Urdu world.

The court language vanished. The viceroy’s Indian courtiers switched to English. It is apparent that this too is being replaced by a kind of Hindlish officialise that may develop as the language solely of the Central Government and the Supreme Court with even High Courts asking to use the state’s language. It would be a question of what the politically-ascended desire. I saw a forceful argument in The Hindu for allowing Tamil in the Madras High Court.

Tied to this will be the question of script. The Latin alphabet (26 letters) is a sub-standard technology for writing and pronouncing both English and Indian languages. This a part of the continuance of Briatin’s colonial subjugation. The Romans ruled it for more than four centuries and imposed the script.

It is so inadequate that even today, 16 centuries later, U.K.’s children have learn the spelling and pronunciation as the written word is misleading. For India it is a double whammy. Latin imposed on English and through it on our languages. (In school I had a class for English pronunciation for a whole term.)

It completely distorts our own. Some people who read the Hindi in the Latin script now need lessons in its pronunciation! Devnagri (56 letters) and almost all other Indian scripts are phonetic and far superior even to read and write English in.

Why would we be slavish enough to accept this imposition? Consider this: in Urdu/Hindustani there is a word, an adjective that is used  with other words to mean excess, abundance e.g., ay mussarat (an excess of happiness) or ... ay gam (of sadness) etc.

In Anglindi this would be written as “in a fart of happiness (or sorrow)”—should we guess that in a decade or two in a “fart” of good sense  we may blow the Latin script away and gain deliverance? As they say in Mumbai: phikar kaay ko Mister, baju?