Delhi Djinns

I flew into Delhi and joined up with a small group tour. We visited the Red Fort and had a tour inside one of the Sikh temples, including a look inside the temple kitchens.


Elsewhere, we encountered some tasty Indian snacks.


Delhi is a crowded, dirty city and at times the traffic can be chaotic.


In City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi, William Dalrymple talks about how much he enjoys reading the Times of India and its interesting use of English such as government ministers air-dashing to scenes of tragedy.

My favorite item is, however, the daily condoling.  If the Times is to be believed, Indian politicians like nothing better than a quick condole; and certainly barely a day passes without a picture of, say, the Chief Minister of Haryana condoling Mrs Parvati Chaduhuri over the death of Mr Devi Chaudhuri, the director-general of All-India Widgets.  Indeed, condoling shows every sign of becoming a growth industry.  If a businessman has died but is not considered important enough to be condoled by the Chief Minister, it is becoming fashionable for his business colleagues to take out an illustrated advertisement and condole him themselves.  The language of these advertisements tends to be even more inspired than that of the Times news columns.  In my diary, I copied down this example from a November 1989 issue:

Sad Demise
With profound grief we have to condole the untimely passing of our beloved general manager MISTER DEEPAK MEHTA, thirty four years, who left us for heavenly abode in tragic circumstances (beaten to death with bedpost).  Condole presented by bereft of Mehta Agencies (Private) Limited.

Perhaps the most striking testament to the sea-change in Indian English in the forty years since Independence lies not in what has survived – and been strangely, wonderfully mutated – but in what has died and completely disappeared.
The best guide to such linguistic dodos is Hobson Jobson: A Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases, originally published by John Murray in 1903. The book was written as a guide to those words which had passed from Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian and Arabic into English, and the list is certainly extraordinary: every time you wear pyjamas or a cummerbund; if ever you sit on the veranda of your bungalow reading the pundits in the newspapers or eat a stick of candy; indeed even if you are haunted by ghouls or have you cash stolen by thugs – then you are using a branch of English that could never have developed but for the trading and colonizing activities of the East India Company.
Yet perhaps the most interesting aspect of Hobson Jobson is how many of its words and phrases are stone cold dead, now utterly incomprehensible to a modern reader.  In 1903 an Englishman could praise a cheroot as "being the real cheese" (from the Hindi chiz, meaning thing) or claim his horse was the "best goont in Tibet" (from the Hindi gunth, meaning a pony); and whether he was in the middle of some shikar (sport) relaxing with his friends in their chummery (bachelor quarters) or whoring with his rum-johny (mistress, from the Hindi ramjani, a dancing girl) he might reasonably expect to be understood.

We then took the train to Agra, India’s tourist hub, and home to the Taj Mahal.
Photos don’t do it justice, it is an amazing building.



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5 comments on “Delhi Djinns
  1. mike silk says:

    would that have been the delhi city tour that happens aboard a regular non-luxe at all public transit bus? it’s been a long time but i remember being impressed at the driver-guide’s english and detailed understanding of the history and significance of various landmarks. probably half the group was indians touring their own country.

  2. Aidan says:

    No, I was on a Delhi to Kathmandu tour.

  3. Adam Murray says:

    The reference to a certain John Murray bears no relation to me. At least…..I don’t think so.

  4. Phil P says:

    Hi Aidan: try not to fly Air Nepal … hope you’re enjoying yourself as much as that squirrel was. Same s**t here so you’re definitely not missing anything.

    Swannies by 10pts over Hawks in a thriller. Storm defeated Canterbury – like you care, but I felt compelled to tell you.

    And Alan Jones announcing on air that Julia’s dad “probably died of shame over having such a liar as a daughter.” Great standards being maintained here in your absence!

  5. Aidan says:

    Hi Phil.

    I did my Everest flight the same morning of the recent plane crash in Kathmandu. Lucky to avoid that. Flew with Druk Air into Bhutan.

    I did hear about the Alan Jones scandal. He is getting soft in his old age.

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