Indian English Glossary


‘Enter through the backside only!’
‘How often do you take sex?’
‘Just he’s doing timepass.’
‘Dear sir, with reference to your above please see my below.’

Just a few examples of the kind of language you’re likely to hear people using in Delhi. I think my favourite, though, is the application of the words ‘by’ and ‘chance’, which becomes ‘bychance’. It pops up all the time in the middle of Hindi sentences: ‘Aap kay pass bychance pen hai?’

Modern words like ‘airport’ crop up a lot too – but the pronunciation can take a little getting used to. Thus if you want to be understood by a taxi driver you’ll need to tell him to take you to the ‘airportaa’, the noun being considered masculine in Hindi and therefore requiring the hard ‘aa’ at the end.

Keep in mind also that a female teacher is a ‘teacheress’. Family and friends are often referred to as ‘near or dear’. The town, city or village where you were born is your ‘native place’. And if someone is described as being ‘totally tulli’ then don’t be surprised if they’ve got a whiff of IMFL on their breath. That’s Indian Made Foreign Liquor (i.e. hard liquor like whisky, rum and gin) to you.

I make use of a lot of Indian English phrases and words in the books because I find them charming. English is a mongrel language and the English themselves have had no qualms about looting tens of thousands of words from other languages (and often changed the meanings) so why shouldn’t others do the same?

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to keep a straight face. Once, for example, the deputy manager of a five-star Delhi hotel where my wife and I were staying came up to our room to check whether we’d had a comfortable stay. Pointing to the bed, he asked: ‘Your wife, she is satisfied?’ I think he meant with the quality of the mattress, but as I suppressed a laugh I could only reply: ‘I don’t know! You’ll have to ask her.’

Here’s the full glossary from The Case of the Love Commandos.

AARTI   Hindu fire ritual, often performed daily, in which a plate holding a flame and offerings is circled in front of a deity or guru while devotional songs are sung.
“ACHCHA”    Hindi for “OK,” “good” or “got it.” Can also be used to indicate surprise and as a form of reproof.
AFRIDI    Pashtun tribe of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
ALMIRAH    cupboard, most commonly made of steel.
ALOO    potato.
“ARREY!”   Hindi expression of surprise, like “hey!”
ATTA   flour, mostly milled from wheat.
AUR    Hindi for “and”; also used to ask “what’s new?” or “what else?”
AWADHI   a dialect of the Hindi dialect continuum, spoken chiefly in the Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh and Nepal.
BAARISH   rain.
BALTI   bucket.
BANYAN   Ficus benghalensis, the national tree of India. Older banyans are characterized by their aerial prop roots.
BARAAT   wedding procession that leads the groom to his marriage venue.
BARFI   sweetmeat made from condensed milk and sugar.
BATCHMATE    former student who attended the same school, college or military or administrative academy.
BAUL    minstrels from Bengal, eastern India. Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition.
BETA   “son” or “child” used in endearment.
BHAI   brother.
BIDI   Indian cigarette made of strong tobacco hand-rolled in a leaf from the ebony tree.
BIHARI    a person from the state of Bihar in eastern India.
BIRYANI   a rice-based dish made with spices, rice and a choice of either chicken, mutton, fish, eggs or vegetables. !e name is derived from the Persian berry. Biryani is believed to have been invented during the Mughal period.
BOGIE  Indian English for a train carriage.
BONG   slang for a Bengali.
CASTE   English word that derives from the Spanish and Portuguese casta, meaning “race,lineage or breed.” !e Indian word is Varna.
CHAI   tea.
CHALLO   Hindi for “Let’s go.”
CHAPPALS   sandals usually made of leather or rubber.
CHARGE SHEETER   a person with a criminal record.
CHARPAI   literally “four feet.” A charpai is a woven string bed used throughout northern India and Pakistan.
CHART   a train passenger manifest.
CHHATRI   an elevated, dome-shaped pavilion. Common in Rajasthani and Mughal architecture.
CHICKAN   traditional embroidery style from Luck-now, Uttar Pradesh.
CHICKEN FRANKIES   India’s answer to a burrito, a parantha stuffed with spicy chicken.
CHOWKIDAR   guard.
CHUDDIES   Punjabi for underpants.
CHUNNI   Punjabi word for a long scarf worn by South Asian women. “Dupatta” in Hindi.
CHUP   Hindi for “shut up.”
CREAMY LAYER   the elite.
CRIB   Indian English for “complain,” “moan.”
CRORE   a unit in the Indian numbering system, equal to 10 million.
DAALMAKHANI    rich Punjabi dish of spiced black lentils, red kidney beans and cream.
DACOIT/DAKU   a member of an armed band.
DALIT   a designation for a group of people traditionally regarded as untouchable. Dalits are a mixed population, consisting of numerous social groups from all over South Asia.
DARSHAN   generally used to mean worship before an idol or guru.
DESI SHARAB    Indian-made liquor, usually cheaper and of lower quality than imported or foreign liquor.
DHABA   roadside restaurant, popular in northern India.
DHARMA   Sanskrit term used to refer to a person’s righteous duty or any virtuous path.
DHOTI   traditional men’s garment, a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth, usually around seven yards long, wrapped around the waist and legs and knotted at the waist.
DICKIE   a car trunk or boot.
DIPPERS   headlights.
DISHOOM   sound effect when someone lands a punch in a Bollywood movie, like “pow” or “bam.”
DIYA   a lamp usually made of clay with a cotton wick dipped in vegetable oil.
DOUBLE ROTI   Indian English for sliced white bread.
DURGA PUJA    an annual two-week festival in South Asia that celebrates the goddess Durga.
FARMHOUSE   a large house with grounds, more often than not built on agricultural land illegally. Owners often list their occupation as “farmer” despite deriving their income from other means.
FIR   a First Information Report is a written document prepared by the police when a complaint is lodged with them by the victim of a cognizable offense or by someone on his or her behalf.
GALAUTI or GILAWAT   flat spicy mutton kebab.
GALLI   Indian English for a narrow street.
GHAZAL   a poetic form consisting of rhyming cou-plets and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter.
GHEE  clarified butter.
GOLGUPPA   a thin fried shell used to hold spicy tam-arind water; very popular north Indian street snack.
GOONDA   thug or miscreant.
GORA   a light-skinned person; the term is often used in reference to Westerners.
GOTRA   a term that broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor.
GULAB JAMUNS    a dessert made of dough consisting mainly of milk solids in a sugar syrup. It is usually flavored with cardamom seeds and rosewater or saffron.
GURKHA   Nepali hill tribesmen who serve as sol-diers, mostly in British and Indian army Gurkha regiments.
GUTKA   a preparation of mostly crushed betel nut, tobacco, slaked lime and sweet or savory flavorings. A mild stimulant, it is sold across India in small, individual-size packets. It’s consumed much like chewing tobacco.
HAAN   Hindi for “yes.”
HALVA   a sweet dessert (see recipes).
HAVELI   private mansion, sometimes with archi-tectural or historical significance, much like a Moroccan riad.
HOLI   spring Hindu festival.
HOWZAT!   the cry of a fielding cricket team when appealing to the umpire for a ruling following the delivery of a ball on whether a batsman is out.
IDLI   a South Indian savory cake popular throughout India. !e cakes are usually two to three inches in diameter and are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils and rice. Most often eaten at breakfast or as a snack.
JAI!   Hindi for “hail!”
JALEBI   a sweet made from batter fried in swirls and then soaked in sugar syrup.
JALLAD   a designation in Uttar Pradesh for the men who do the work of cutting open dead bodies and removing organs so they can be inspected by doctors or surgeons to analyze the means of death.
JASOOS   spy or private detective.
JAT  originally a pastoral or agricultural caste in the Punjab region. Jats can be Hindu, Sikh or Muslim. Today, the term Jat has become synonymous with “peasant.”
JAWAN   a male constable or soldier.
JHARU   a broom made of reeds.
JI   honorific suffix.
JUGAAD   an improvised arrangement or work-around that has to be used because of a lack of resources. Jugaad tractors are essentially wooden carts powered by agricultural water pump engines or cus-tomized motorbikes.
KABARI WALLAH   an individual who collects recyclable refuse from households; most are Dalits.
KACHALOO CHAAT   a spicy, sour snack made with the taro root.
KATHAK   one of the eight forms of Indian classical dance. Traces its origins to the nomadic bards of northern India known as Katha-kars or storytellers.
KATHI ROLL    a type of street food similar to a wrap, usually stuffed with chicken tikka or lamb, onion and green chutney.
KHANA   Hindi for food.
KHEER   milky pudding often made with rice vermicelli and raisins.
KHUKURI   a Nepalese knife with an inwardly curved edge.
KOHL   a type of eyeliner smeared around the rim of the eyes.
KSHATRIYA   the military and ruling order of the traditional Vedic-Hindu social system as outlined by the Vedas; the warrior caste.
KURTA PYJAMA   long shirt with fitted pajamas.
KYA?   Hindi for “what?”
LADOO   a sweet often prepared to celebrate festivals or household events such as weddings. Essentially, ladoos are sugar and flour balls.
LAKH   a unit in the Indian numbering system, equal to a hundred thousand.
“MAADERCHOD”   motherfucker in Punjabi.
MANDALA   a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the verse. !e basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point.
MANDIR   a place of worship for followers of Hinduism.
MASALA   a mixture of spices.
METRO   a city or big town.
MOTU   slang for fatty.
NA   meaning “no?” or “isn’t it?”
NAMASTE   traditional Hindu greeting said with hands pressed together.
NAMAZ   Muslim prayer.
NAUTANKI   drama queen, fool.
NAWAB   an honorific title ratified and bestowed by the reigning Mughal emperor to semi-autonomous Muslim rulers of princely states.
NAZAR LAG GAYI      evil eye in northern India is known as Buri Nazar, or often just Nazar.
NETA   politician.
NIMBOO PANI   lemonade, salty or sweet or both.
ODISHA   Indian state formerly known as Orissa.
“OM NIMAH SHIVAYAH”   a popular mantra in Hinduism.
PAAN   betel leaf, stuffed with betel nut, lime and other condiments and used as a stimulant.
PAGAL  literally crazy, but generally understood as “idiot.”
PAISA   one hundredth of a rupee.
PAKORA   fried snack, one of Vish Puri’s favorites (see recipes).
PALLU   the loose end of a sari.
PANDIT   Hindu priest.
PAPAD   a thin, discshaped crunchy snack or appetizer usually made of ground lentils or chickpeas and cooked with dry heat.
PAPRI CHAAT    a popular snack found in northern Pakistan. Papris are crisp dough wafers cooked in oil. !ey’re filled with potato, chickpeas, chillies, yogurt, and tamarind chutney and topped with chaat masala and crunchy noodles.
PARANTHAS   flat Indian wheat bread pan-fried and served with yogurt and pickle. Often stuffed with spiced potatoes, cauliflower or cottage cheese and eaten for  breakfast.
PATIALA PEG    measure of liquor equivalent to 90 milliliters—that is to say, about 50 percent larger than a shot glass. Originated in the Punjabi city of Patiala.
PHAT-A-PHAT   “hurry.”
POORI   puffy wheat bread deep fried in oil.
PRASAD   offerings of fruit or sweetmeats sanctified in front of deities during prayer and then passed to devotees to consume as blessings.
PUJA   prayer.
PUKKA   Hindi word meaning solid, well made. Also means definitely.
PURSE   Indian English for handbag.
RAAT KI RAANI   night-blooming jasmine.
RAJMA CHAWAL    red kidney beans cooked with onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and spices. A much-loved Punjabi dish eaten with chawal, rice. See recipes in !e Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken.
“RAM! RAM!”    a form of greeting in Hinduism, Ram being an avatar of the god Vishnu and considered by many as a deity in his own right. ROTIS  an unleavened bread made from stone-ground wholemeal flour known as atta.
RUDRAKSHA BEADS   a large broadleaf evergreen tree whose seed is traditionally used for prayer beads in Hinduism.
SAAB   “sahib” meaning “sir.”
SAFARI SUIT    a square-cut short-sleeved jacket with a broad collar unbuttoned at the top, epaulettes and four pockets, worn with long pants; usually khaki or sky blue and popular in India until the late 1990s.
SAHIB   an Urdu honorific now used across South Asia as a term of respect, equivalent to the English “sir.”
SALLA   derogatory term, expression of disgust.
SALWARKAMEEZ   baggy cotton trousers and long shorts.
SANYASSI   a Hindu who has renounced all his material possessions and adopted the life of begging for survival.
SCOOTIE   a scooter or motorbike.
SHAADI  Hindi  for “wedding.”
SHATABDI   Shatabdi trains are known in India as being “superfast,” but that’s a relative term. They do, however, offer the fastest service between the country’s major cities.
SHIKHARA   this term, which in Sanskrit means “mountain peak,” refers to the rising tower in the Hindu temple architecture of north India.
SHIVA   a Hindu god.
SHLOKA   a verse from the Hindu holy scriptures.
SHUDRA  fourth in the pecking order of castes, traditionally ordained to serve the Vaishyas (agriculturalists), Kshatriyas (warriors) and Brahmins (priests) above.
SHUSHU   peepee, go to the toilet.
SIGRI   rudimentary stove often fueled with cow dung.
SINDOOR   a red powder used by married Hindu women and some Sikh women. During the marriage ceremony, the groom applies some to the parting of the bride’s hair to show that she is now a married woman. Subsequently, sindoor is plied by the wife as part of her dressing routine.
SONF   fennel.
SUBZI   vegetables.
TAMASHA   a form of theater in western India, but in
colloquial  Hindi it means a public spectacle.
TARKARI   a spicy vegetable curry.
TEEN PATTI    “three cards,” also called flash, a gambling card game popular in South Asia.
THANDA   cold.
THARRA   cheap country-made booze.
TIFFIN   a lunch box, invariably made of stainless steel and consisting of a number of round containers that stack on top of one another.
TIMEPASS   Indian English for lazing about, doing something trivial to pass the time of day.
TRIBALS   term used to describe indigenous tribal people of India.
TULLI   drunk.
UTTARPRADESH   the most populous state in India, with a population of more than 200 million people, it is also the most populous country subdivision in the world.
VISHNU   in almost all Hindu denominations, Vishnu is either worshipped directly or in the form of one of his ten avatars. The most famous of these are Ram and Krishna.
WALLAH     generic terms in Hindi meaning “the one.” Hence “auto wallah,” “phool (flower) wallah,” “chai wallah,” etc.
YAAR   equivalent to “pal,” “mate” or “dude.”
ZEBU   a type of cattle that originated in South Asia; characterized by a fatty hump on the shoulders.