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Lanky Hankin has a taste for Delhi Belly

New Delhi, Sept. 18 (Reuters): To the lament of many who treasure the quirky richness of Indian English, Indian newspapers now rarely carry reports of cabinet ministers “airdashing” to a crucial meeting.

Also, most Indians no longer “prepone” an appointment — they just schedule it earlier. And thinkers are not “thoughters” any more.

But there are still some quaint words and mutations from the collision of languages in the once brightest jewel of Britain’s imperial crown that have escaped the flattening reach of “universal English”.

They have been recorded by Nigel Hankin, a lanky Englishman who has lived in India for half a century, in his book Hanklyn-Janklin.

Just published in a fourth edition, it is a modern-day successor to the English classic Hobson-Jobson, Sir Henry Yule’s dictionary of Anglo-Indian words that first appeared in 1886.

Hankin, a still vigorous 83, first came to India as a soldier en route to the Burmese front. But before he reached his destination, World War II ended and he returned to India to do “odd jobs” for the British high commission. It was there in the 1960s that he got his idea for what became his life’s work.

“A doctor at the British high commission in Delhi gave me a list of 20 Indian words he’d read in his newspaper and asked me what they meant,” Hankin recalls.

“I suddenly thought if he wants to know, others might, too.”

Two decades after he began collecting “Hindostanee” words, the first edition of Hanklyn was published, a collection of terms of Indian and English origin and their hybrids.

The book presents a world in which criminals are”miscreants” who “abscond” rather than evade capture, young men who whistle at women are “eve-teasers”, drivers put suitcases in the car “dicky” rather than the trunk and plans “fructify”.

The title, Hanklyn-Janklin, is a play on words similar to the rhyming phrases popular in Hindi. One may sip a cup of chai-wai (tea), read a kitab-witab (book) or go to a party-warty.

The book is more than a mere glossary. It is also an insider’s guide to the Indian way of life, past and rituals that make the country so intriguing to foreigners. “I didn’t want the book to be just a dictionary. I wanted people to learn about India, its people — to give meaning to facets of life which otherwise might seem perplexing,” said Hankin.

Heard of Delhi Belly' While it’s “a stomach disorder sometimes afflicting newcomers to the capital, akin to the Rangoon Runs of Burma and Montezuma’s Revenge of Mexico”, it’s also a cocktail circuit quip.

“Delhi Belly can be the increase of girth observed on a diplomat after a year of the capital’s social whirl,” writes Hankin.

With no pension, Hankin lives on earnings from guiding walking tours through the teeming streets of Old Delhi. A bachelor, he has been looked after by the same servant since arriving in India.

“We’ve grown old together,” said Hankin, whose bony frame was a familiar sight as he darted through Delhi’s chaotic traffic on a battered scooter recently retired due to his failing eyesight.

Now he sticks to buses and auto-rickshaws.

The Sussex native says he could not live in Britain again. “I returned for three months in 1982 to visit my brother but it was so dull I went home after a few weeks,” he said. “I missed the chaos. Besides, it’s too expensive now to live in Britain. I can’t afford it.”

And where else could I get a cup of tea brought to me in bed every morning' “I’d miss these little comforts.”

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