In the face of stiff competition from the Labour Party and a resurgent Scottish National Party, British Prime Minister David Cameron appears to have jettisoned Queen’s English and opted for Hindi to connect with Indian-origin voters whose support could turn the tide in his favour.
Ahead of the British general election on May 7, The Conservative Friends of India has launched a music video in Hindi showing some of the Britain’s landmarks in blue and exhorting the people of Indian origin to vote for Cameron and the Tories. On Thursday, the Prime Minister tried to woo the Indian community with a slogan which took off from the Modi campaign: “Phir ek baar Cameron sarkar.”
While this is a measure of the growing influence of the Indian community in the British polity, the Indian languages have for long proved to be a rich quarry for the English vocabulary. A few years back, leading linguist Prof David Crystal had said Hinglish would soon become the most commonly spoken form of the language globally because of the reach of the Internet. The Hindi-English dalliance, however, began much before the Internet, way back in 1608 when the East India Company’s ships first anchored off the Surat coast.
Coolie (from kuli in Hindi), bangle (bangri in Hindi), cheetah (from Hindi chita and Sanskrit citrakaya, an animal with a speckled body), veranda or verandah (from varanda; the Hindi word itself has a Portuguese origin), avatar (from Sanskrit avatara) are some of the innumerable frequently used words in English.
Juggernaut, a word with a negative connotation, comes from Sanskrit term for the Lord of the World or Vishnu, Jagannath. The legend has it that devotees would throw themselves before a huge chariot in which the God was taken for annual procession in Puri, Orissa, to rid themselves of the cycle of life and death. The procession, which exists as an annual ritual even today, caught the imagination of the West and Jagannath gave way to juggernaut in English which means an enormous, ruthlessly crushing force, or a person who acts like one.
Pariah has a Tamil origin. The Pariahs, Tamil for hereditary drummers, performed at relgious festivals. The British incorrectly used the name for low castes throughout India, including those treated as untouchables by upper castes. So, a pariah is one who has been isolated socially or politically.
The all-pervasive Indian curry on British menu is another gift from Tamil kari that refers to a cooked dish flavoured with a mixture of spices.
Cheroot, a cigar with square-cut ends, again comes from Tamil shuruttu — a roll of tobacco used in south India.
Then there is English kedgeree, cooked with rice, eggs and fish. It comes from our very own humble khichri, which is a cooked dish of rice, lentil and spices.
Blighty has an interesting etymology. A slang for England used by English troops serving abroad, it comes from bilayati in Hindi. This is how the Englishmen were referred to by the natives. The Hindi word itself comes from Arabic.