Mind Your Lingo

Jon Carroll writes about English as practiced in India, particularly that of the written variety:

English as spoken in India is not a mistranslation; it's a different dialect. Most written Indian English is made for domestic consumption, so it can follow rules that make intuitive sense to the audience. The work below was prepared by a friend of a friend. All the sentences are reported to be actual quotations from one issue of True Crimes magazine

Hmm, sounds like one of those long e-mail chain letters that get circulated amongst desi circles, you know those of the "we're-like-this-only" variety. So, I'm pretty sure what follows is definitely exaggerated, but it's amusing nonetheless. An excerpt:

After beating about the bush for sometime, Vijay touched the focal point. This is how love got on track once again. Geeta got greatly fancied to Vijay's all such maneuvers. When she got fully charged up, she clung to him. On reaching inside the room Vijay took Geeta in his arms and started titillating her body so as to ignite every pore of her body with libidinous urge. This was followed by repetition of frenzied sexual antics to which they had got accustomed. Their bodies were already so much charged up with intense libidinous heat, that when they mated their body heat melted like wax. Geeta was trigger happy to have got her body squeezed by a young man.

Even despite best efforts it is not possible to contain exposure of love affair as its wind spreads all around.

The husband, Pradeep, shows up outside the door unexpectedly!

He fixed his eyes at the slit of the door. The scene made the eyes of Pradeep to google out of his sockets with surprise. He was stunned to witness Geeta and Vijay were freely flowing and indulging in sex stream without any hassles. He opened the door under utter nervousness.

Like I said, I'm pretty sure there's much here that's blown out of proportion (so as to speak) for comic effect. But then again, examples of bad Indian English are not that tough to find - why, I've written about some myself. No, the quoted passages bring up a related point - the poor quality of Indian amorous writing. Desi authors have been getting a lot of attention for that recently:

Aniruddha Bahal's book, "Bunker 13" -- described as a combination of the styles of ex-SAS author Andy McNab and romance novelist Jilly Cooper -- was awarded the prize on Wednesday for the most inept description of sexual intercourse in a novel.

Bahal's winning passage described the book's hero as an "ancient Aryan warlord" when a woman dropped her trousers to expose a strategically placed swastika. Then as the temperature between the two rises, Bahal shifts into top gear:

"Your RPM is hitting a new high. To wait any longer would be to lose prime time...

"She picks up a Bugatti's momentum. You want her more at a Volkswagen's steady trot. Squeeze the maximum mileage out of your gallon of gas. But she's eating up the road with all cylinders blazing. You lift her out. You want to try different kinds of fusion."

This was in 2003. Tarun Tejpal tried his damndest hard to repeat the feat two years later:

"We began to climb peaks and fall off them," Tejpal has written. "We did old things in new ways. And new things in old ways. At times like these we were the work of surrealist masters. Any body part could be joined to any body part. And it would result in a masterpiece. Toe and tongue ... The Last Tango of Labia Minora. Circa 1987. Vasant Kunj. By Salvador DalĂ­."
Classic, indeed. Nilanjana Roy elaborates on the problem further:
Unlike Siddhartha Dhanvant Shanghvi, Tejpal offered no descriptions of 'weasel-like loins clutching and unclutching [his] lovely, long, louche manhood, as though squeezing an orange for its juice'.

And he eschewed toothbrushes all together, unlike Arundhati Roy, who was nominated years ago for a passage from God of Small Things that featured 'nut-brown breasts' that wouldn't support a toothbrush and haunches that would support 'a whole array' thereof.

Rohinton Mistry hasn't featured on the shortlist, but some of his aura lost its sheen when I read a passage in A Fine Balance that referred to a menacing seducer's 'Bhojpuri brinjal'. It made baingan bharta out of that scene.

There are fifty different ways to write bad sex, and Indian writers have explored all of them. There's the Washing Machine Manual variety - bland and overly descriptive, as in the works of Shobha De (move from position Y to position Z, insert body part here) or Khushwant Singh (all women have buttocks like tanpuras) or Abha Dawesar (where gynecology replaces emotion). There's the Lyrical Effusion, as exemplified by Shanghvi, where Mills and Boon prose goes a shade of deep purple: "Aw, Lord, it was only love. Thick as molasses; hungry as a leech."

My personal horrific scene comes from Amitav Ghosh's Circle Of Reason when our anti-hero, Aloo, is described doing the deed with a hideously ugly woman much older than he. As traumatic it is for him, it is even worse for the reader - I have not been able to touch any of Ghosh's other books since! Anyway, theories abound as to the glut of bad hanky panky passages from desi authors. Perhaps it's in the blood - after all England has never had anything like the Kama Sutra or maybe it's because we take it too seriously, and too literally. Whatever it is, it sure as heck makes for laugh out loud reading (as opposed to hot 'n' heavy, which may well have been the orignal intended effect!).

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- July 21, 2006 1:08 AM // Books , Select