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Last Updated: Monday, 28 July, 2003, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
Making sense of Indian English
By Nyay Bhushan
BBC correspondent in Delhi

A new edition of a guide to Indian English is being launched in India.

Some new words
Hanklyn-Janklyn guide
Kismet - fate
Mistri - artisan
Moolah - money

Called the Hanklyn-Janklyn guide, its name is derived from that of its author, Nigel Hankin.

He has been living in Delhi since 1945 when he was sent to India as a British soldier during World War II.

The war ended just when he got there and two years later India gained independence from British rule, but Hankin stayed on.

In his over five decades in India, Hankin worked for many years with the British High Commission in Delhi and as a freelance guide for foreign visitors.

"Hanklyn-Janklin" started off when a newly arrived doctor at the High Commission gave Hankin a list of 20 Indian words he said he had read in an Indian English-language newspaper but couldn't comprehend.

"I explained the words to him and that set me thinking that if he wanted it, so would others. That's how the first edition came out in 1992 as a take off on "Hobson Jobson," Hankin said, referring to the famous book published over a century ago.

'Common roots'

The latest edition is the fourth in the series, with some 2,000 words such as "Akademi" (an association of like-minded persons), "Kismet" (fate or que sera sera), "Mistri" (artisan), "Aageywala" (man in front, also slang for a penis), "Moolah" (colloquial word for money) and so on.

As Hankin explains, "Some of the words come from an Indo-European heritage since we have common roots in Sanskrit.

"Even the numbers like 'do' [two] in Hindi sound familiar in English."

Hankin also recalls that around 600 words, including "Bollywood", in the latest Oxford Concise Dictionary are from India.

Nigel Hanklyn
The author has lived in India since 1945
So which words might come in handy for the first-time traveler to India?

"For starters, I think travelers should learn the word "chalo" which means "go".

"This comes in handy every time beggars harass foreigners for "bakshish" or alms," says Hankin.

Changing Delhi

Over the years, Nigel Hankin has seen Delhi change dramatically.

"Of course, the increase in population is staggering as is the lack of space. Back in my day, I remember the area near the British High Commission [in the diplomatic enclave] was all scrub jungle - 'jungle', that's another Indian word!

"Every Brit with a gun would go out and shoot something, like partridges, but that's all gone now, and a good job too."

Among some of the well-known guests he has shown around Delhi was the late Princess Margaret Rose.

"I showed her the grounds in Old Delhi where the Coronation Durbar took place in 1919 with King George V, where Delhi was announced the new capital of Imperial India instead of Calcutta," he reminiscences.

As for the Queen herself, Hankin remembers that during her India visit in 1973, she gave a brief thankyou speech in Hindi at the same place. It "went down well like a bomb".

So how good is Hankin's Hindi?

"Well I get by having picked up so many phrases walking around Delhi. I must say my Hindi is nowhere near that of [former BBC correspondent] Mark Tully."

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