Glossary of Weird Indian Terms [en]

At last! Lots of you have been waiting for this, I know… Indian English sometimes comes up with weird Hindi words or simply refers to objects that are unknown in the West. Maybe I’ll write a little essay some day on Indian English, but for the moment I hope that you will be able to satisfy your curiosity with the present glossary.

The words are in alphabetical order (er… at least that’s how it’s supposed to be!).

Air-conditioned. Generally set on “very cold”. A great way to fall ill when the temperature reaches 40 C outside…
beauty parlour
Place where women go to get their legs (whole legs, plus arms as well!!) waxed, facial hair removed, eyebrows trimmed, hair cut, nails polished… Very common middle-class thingy. Affordable.
A sleeping bunk on a train.
A slum. Houses, electricity, fans, tv, but no sewerage system.
Very common – and safe – mineral water. Synonymous of “bottled water”. Ask for a bisleri and you are almost certain to get another brand.
coconut oil
Indians put coconut oil in their hair. It’s supposed to make it healthy and shiny. It smells horrible when rancid.
1 crore = 10’000’000.
Washerman. He washes, dry-cleans, starches and irons your clothes. Very very cheap by western standards. Very widely used. Often comes to your house to pick up and deposit clothes. A few nasty stories about expensive saris and dhobis’ wives’ clothing.
Read notes under salwaar kameez
The biggest “beauty” compliment you can make in India. Hence fairness creams, sunblock creams (so that you don’t become less fair!) and bleaching.
Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Where I live.
1 lakh = 100’000. A lot of money even if it is in roupies.
Gardener. Lots of them (contract workers) in IUCAA.
Sheep or goat. Usually the latter.
Lots of strange-tasting stuff (including betel nut) wrapped up in a betel leaf. Red teeth and betel addiction for those who abuse. A mitha paan is sweet and usually not too toxic.
Read notes under sari.
A rickshaw is a three-wheeled taxi, very widely used in Pune to go from one place to another. Rickshaws are equipped with meters, a bit like taxis in the West. You need a conversion card to translate the amount indicated on the meter into the price of your trip (unless you decide to trust the driver – a risky choice at times).
salwaar kameez
Very popular form of women’s clothing. The salwaar is a very, very baggy sort of pants held up by a string around the waist. The kameez (or kurta is a long blouse (almost a dress), usually split up the sides (today’s fashion) and with pretty embroidery on the front, if you are lucky. The set isn’t complete without the dupatta, a kind of long scarf initially supposed to cover breasts (but worn in a variety of ways). They are often flowing and quite pretty.
“A-frame” kameez are shaped like a capital “A” (thus, not very pretty and a little sac-like), and that is usually what you get when you buy ready-mades. If you want something that suits you a little better, it doesn’t cost much to have one stitched . Sets of “dress material” (enough cloth for top and bottom part of the suit, plus separate dupatta) are for sale everywhere.
Traditional woman’s dress. A piece of cloth usually 6 yards long by a bit more than a metre wide. It is tucked into the petticoat around the body, pleats are made on the front to allow walking, and the remainder of the sari comes up over the front of the blouse and is “thrown” (delicately arranged, in fact) over the left shoulder. The part that hangs behind the back is called the pallu. It is often prettily decorated, but if you are unlucky it may be a colour that yells with the rest of the sari. Loud contrasts are appreciated here in a way that baffles western colour-taste.
The blouse worn under the sari (tight-fitting and short) and the petticoat are underwear (not fit to be seen in). Hence the problem of unsuspecting foreign women who wear petticoats as skirts…
In some regions (Maharashtra is one) the traditional dress is the nine-yard sari. It is worn without a petticoat, and the bottom of the pleats are pulled up through the legs (front to back and back to front), making it almost a member of the trouser family.
No meat. No fish. No eggs. Just veggies.
-wallah (rickshawallah, paanwallah…)
Person who is connected to whatever comes before the “-wallah”. A rickshawallah is a rickshaw driver, a paanwallah sells paan…