30 March 2009

Indian Vocabulary Test

A number of you said you enjoyed the vocabulary post, so here's another one for Kendra’s Believe It or Don’t (which I posted some years ago on the Baba-Talk Listserv; I have slightly updated it):

Indian Vocabulary Test

Can you define these words? The definitions below are adapted from a marvelous reference book, Sahibs, Nabobs and Boxwallahs: A Dictionary of the Words of Anglo-India by Ivor Lewis (Oxford Univ. Press, 1998).

1. boxwallah

2. chikan

3. bheestie

4. achcha

5. chello

6. jungli

7. kohinoor

8. kendra

9. goondah

10. baba


1. Boxwallah. Orig. an itinerant peddler or packman; later a shopkeeper, retailer, or businessman. I have been told that a "workingbox" is a typewriter. The late Feram Workingboxwallah was the translator of Bhau Kalchuri's Lord Meher volumes from Hindi into English. And of course wallah (Hindi wala) is a masculine suffix meaning a person who performs any act or job or fulfills any function. The feminine is walli. So, for example, the book walli of the Love Street Bookstore is Kathy Hill.

2. Chikan, or sometimes "chicken" (from Hindi/Persian chikin, “art needlework”). Embroidery, especially the kind from Lucknow. Ever shop at the Lucknow chikan store in the Wonderland shopping mall in Pune? That's where you get those shirts and kameezes (the tunic tops of Punjabi outfits) with the dainty embroidery on the front. Come to think of it, the embroidery looks a little like chicken tracks...what a bizarre coincidence.

3. Bheestie. From Hindi bhisti via Persian bihishti, from bihisht, "paradise." An Indian water-carrier who carried his burden in a goatskin waterbag. This lowly menial was endowed after the Indian fashion with the elevated title of "Man of Paradise," jocularly metamorphosed by the British into "beastie."

4. Achcha. A frequent expression of approval, interrogation, surprise, doubt, wonder, admiration, understanding, etc., often accompanied by an expressive and appropriate shake of the head.

5. Chello. Go speedily! Get on! Let's go! Scram! A useful word to know when traveling in India. You say goodbye—I say chello! Have you ever sung along with the song "Gate Chelo" at Meherabad? (Gate is pronounced "gah-tay.") It means "Let's go singing." In the talk by Jimmy Khan that I posted on 8 Sept. 2007, he described music programs at Guruprasad with Baba and said that the last song was always “Gate Chelo,” which means “Sing His praises and move on.” Jimmy said, "But who would want to move on and leave Baba for the afternoon?"

6. Jungli. An inhabitant of the jungle; uncouth, unrefined. You know who you are!

7. Kohinoor. "Mountain of light," the name of one of the most magnificent diamonds in the world. This gem from India is now one of the British crown jewels. Figuratively, the word means the most superb thing of its kind; hence the name of the Kohinoor department store in Ahmednagar. (That store is quite nice; but have you ever noticed how the shabbiest little hole-in-the-wall shops will have exalted names, like "Chikki Palace" or "Perfection Departmental Store"?)

8. Kendra. Center or circle. The Avatar Meher Baba Kendra is the Baba center of Ahmednagar. Since my name is Kendra, Bhau addresses me as “Center” and sometimes even as “Center of the Universe”! (There's at least one other Kendra Baba-lover, a young Australian, who I believe gets the same honorfic from Bhau.) Dadi Kerawala in Meherabad used to have a board on his wall where keys are hanging on hooks, labeled underneath as to what the key is for. I was startled to see "Kendra" written up there; he said it was the key to an "office." Actually, I first discovered this word when I was about 15 years old and a very cool boyfriend took me to an Indian dance performance; I looked down at the program and was shocked to see my name. It was part of the name of the dance company, the something-Kala Kendra. The word kendra also refers to one of the angular houses in Jyotish, or Vedic astrology. My name, Kendra, is really Anglo-Saxon, and I was told it means "Knowing Woman." (But my wise mother once told me, "You don't have to know everything.")

9. Goondah. A hired rowdy, desperado, hooligan. I wonder if that famous phrase "a lustful desperado" from the three-volume edition of Baba's Discourses ("when one's mother's honour is on the point of being violated by a lustful desperado")might have been a translation of goondah. It was in one of the discourses on violence and nonviolence (the suituation of a lustful desperado ; it was regrettably changed in the 1987 ed. to "a lustful man."

10. Baba. Title of respect for father, grandfather and child. Also, applied to children by Anglo-Indians as a term of endearment. One time a mother and daughter met Baba. The mother introduced her adult daughter, saying, "Baba, this is my baby." The daughter burst out, "Baba, she is more a baby than I am." Baba said, "Baba means baby, so we are all three babies!" The Perfect One always finds the perfect resolution to any conflict!

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All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.