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Glossary and Cultural Aspects of Interest

Every subculture (in this case missionary kids growing up in India in the 50’s and 60’s) has its own vocabulary. Following is an incomplete list of common terms that may mean nothing to non-members of our particular subculture, but perhaps somewhat useful when reading these stories. Many come from the local language; the etymology of the rest could be fodder for some linguist’s Ph.D. dissertation. (Note for you Hindi speakers, transliteration into English is somewhat difficult. I have, at times, dispensed with trying to indicate retroflex and aspiration and nasalization).

ab: abbreviation of absolutely. Ab cool = very cool.

are: (Hindi), pronounced ar-ray: An untranslatable exclamation, like “hey”, as in “are yar!” (“hey, buddy!”)

achcha: (Hindi) OK. Good. Most often said while tilting the head back and forth from shoulder to shoulder. 

ayah: (Hindi) nanny

babu English: English as pronounced and spoken by a mother tongue speaker of Hindi. Carry over of retroflex from Hindi a dominant feature. Also carryover of intonation, rhythm and gestures. Something we all mastered very early on to be able to communicate effectively with Indian English speakers. No we were not making fun of them. 

bag: Mine! As in, “I bag that marble there.”

bania: (Hindi) shopkeeper in the buzz.

bazaar: (Hindi) the buzz, the market place.

bogie: train car, as in “We traveled in a third class bogie the entire way.”

buz: bazaar.

cantonment: British term for the military area in a given locale. Landour, the part of Mussoorie where we lived was in the former cantonment.

cells: Small, jail-sized rooms at the school with a piano in them, usually damp, always cold.

chaprasi: (Hindi): the “go-fer” guy in any office. Chandar and Surat were the two chaprasis in the high school office.

charpai: (Hindi) simple bedframe with woven rope between the framework. Functions as bed and couch in lower-end homes. Same system with “newar” (two inch wide sturdy cotton band) is a grade up, but really no more comfortable.

Chenowyth: The name of the house where we lived. Every house had a name.

chowkidar (Hindi): caretaker (of a house), with a touch of guard duty implied. What was actually done and this definition often bears little resemblance.

cob: to steal. 

Combony eskool (i.e. Company School): Refers to Woodstock School, and was commonly used by the local folk. Refers to the time when it was assumed that the school was started under the aegis of the British East India Company in 1854. It wasn’t. The property it is presently on was purchased by people with connections to that company, but it was not a Company project. It got its name, Woodstock, in 1867. In 1874 it came under the direction of the Presbyterians as an all girls school. In the 1920’s it became co-educational as a consortium under the guidance of the Presbyterians, Methodists, United Church of Canada, Church of the Brethern, Disciples of Christ, Assemblies of God, the American Baptists, and two Mennonite missions.

commode: quaint wooden box seat with cold metal pot in bathroom before the day of the porcelain toilet. The jamidar had to clean it out once a day. Also place to dump night’s collection of urine from your personal thundermug, which was kept under the bed. Fortunately we eventually got flush toilets.

chukkar: (Hindi): Anything that goes round. The road that travels around the top of the hill is the chukkar. A water driven flour mill is a chukki. A round in polo is a chukkar. Not to be confused with the chukor, a variety of hill partridge.

chut: someone a couple grades below you. Usually uttered with a slight sneer.

coolie: a porter, someone who carried a load somewhere.

dak bungalow: (Hindi-English) mail-house, pretty much the same as a forest rest house, reserved for traveling officials in remote areas or in forest preserves. Available to the general public for a small cost with reservations, and, if you tip the chowkidar just right, without. 

derzi: (Hindi) tailor.

dhobi: (Hindi) washer man.

dubbs: Mine! Usually shouted, as in: I said “dubbs” first and its mine!

dudh: (Hindi) milk. Dudhwallah. Milkman.

dudoo: sharp, jabbing punch to the upper arm by knuckles. Painful–as in “ If you do that one more time I am going to give you a dudoo.”

fag: cigarette. Also a wimp (and by extension a homo).

fans: signifies a negative, as in “Fans taking any shot over.”

godam (Hindi–pronounced go-dahm): storage area. Usually spelt godown, but this is wrong. The way I have spelled it simply looks too close to a cuss word so I surmise the spelling has been modified to avoid any misunderstanding.

jalebee, burfi, gulab jaman, peta, etc.: (Hindi) candy. The most delectable and unique candy in the world is made in India. At least 37 varieties, all delicious. Salty savories are a whole different category of items made in these sweet shops, including sao, fried channa, chevra, samosas and so on.

going down day: Usually late November, early December, when all those who did not live on the hillside were driven down to Dehra Doon to catch the trains and travel to wherever their parents were working. Clumps of students traveled together to a certain general geographic area with a parent escort. Usually a very festive event. Similar to “coming up day” in early March (in those years). Occasioned the making of various types of propellers that could be held out the train window.

jamidar: (Hindi) sweeper, about the lowest rung possible in the lowest caste of the caste system, and as a result, the poorest of the poorest of the poor. 

Jim Corbett: the most famous man-eating tiger hunter of all time. Lived about a hundred miles to our east in the same foothills, died 1956 in Kenya. His books made us look over our shoulders for weeks after reading them in spite of the fact that the last known tiger sighted in our town was in 1922. Famous game park and tiger sanctuary outside of Ramnagar, U.P. named after him.

kabardiwalah: (Hindi) junkman, dealer in second hand goods. 

kipe: to steal (but one never stole anything, he “kiped” it).

khud: (Hindi) the steep hillside below the narrow path you are standing on, as in: I forgot my flashlight and about fell down the khud.

khansama: (Hindi) cook.

lorry: truck. Great for hanging on the back of when bicycling down in Dehra.

lota: The innocuous and ubiquitous little brass water container that Indians use to, ah, well, ah, to use after they go to the toilet, ah, #2. Must start using this process from the time you begin to walk to be proficient at it. Most who try to learn later end up with lots of wet clothing.

khanna: (Hindi): food.

machaan (Hindi): usually up in a tree, a place for a hunter to perch with a modicum of comfort while waiting to shoot an animal, often a leopard or tiger. Often composed of a charpai up in the fork of a tree branch (if you are going to try this, may I suggest it be higher than you think a leopard can leap…and then make it a bit higher than that).

monsoon: heavy rains from 3rd week of June through to second week of September. Up side: pleasant pitter-patter on corrugated roofs, walking in the clouds. Down side: landslides, mildew, scorpions and leeches. 

Names: We boys seldom called another boy by their first name. It was always the last name, or a nickname. As in, “Hey, Jantzen!” Or “Hey Peanut.”

nanga-panga: (Hindi…kind of) You show me yours and I will show you mine. Chief form of sex education, mostly at a younger age. Mostly.

nut-cut (Hindi): mischievous kid, a cut up. 

plusies: boyfriend-girlfriend.

put-putty: three wheel scooter-taxi. Cheap. Thrilling.

po: Toilet: as in, “Where’s the po? I have really got to go.” 

po pad: Toilet paper. When hiking, the vibernum bush makes the best po pad.

pukka: (Hindi) strong, real. “He was a pukka nutcut.” 

roops: short for rupees, the local currency (5 rupees to the dollar at the time).

sala: (Hindi): brother-in-law, literally, but seldom used that way. The most common Hindi cuss word (and pretty vile–has incestuous overtones). Often used in conjunction with other cuss words to give them the proper potency.

sahib: (Hindi) sir (pronounced sah-hib, not sah-heeb as many think). Memsahib: wife of sahib.

shugs: If you borrow something, and lose it or break it you have to replace it or repair if the guy you borrowed it from said “shugs”. If he didn’t say it and something happens…you are lucky (“you never said ‘shugs’”).

wallah: (Hindi) catchall term for people of a certain class or occupation such as dudhwallah(milkman) subziwallah (vegetable man), etc.

WNHS: Woodstock Natural History Society. A hiking and camping club.