This is as yet a rather small glossary of colloquialisms used in
Thanks to Charles Cave <charles (at) jolt (dot) mpx (dot) com.au>, who came up with
the idea for this page and gave me the first list of terms to include,
to Paul Levesque <levesqp (at) ere (dot) umontreal (dot) ca> who brought so many
of these words to my attention, and to Marijke Emeis
who inspired me to finish adding the
list of terms I'd made while reading the Moor.
Sometimes Rushdie uses words which play on English words. I
haven't included those here. Saying them aloud would usually help you
figure out what's happening.
- Ahura Mazda
- God (or more accurately the embodiment of good) in the dualist Zoroastrian faith
- rings (in reference to Tolkein's 'The lord of the Rings')
- Angra Mainyu
- The devil (or more accurately the embodiment of evil) in the Zoroastrian faith
- An Englishman. angrezi is the adjective, and can also refer to the
- Me, I
- nurse, generally hired to take care of children, there's some
spillover from the "English governess". Perhaps the best
example would be Ms. Braganza.
- Indian herbal medicine
- An exclamation that most closely resembles 'oh my god'. Though baap
is father it conveys the same intonation.
- babu often refers to a clerk/bureaucrat/semi-anglicized
intellectual. ji is a simply a suffix often added to denote a tone of
respect. Babuji is generally used as a mode of polite address
- a little girl
- a person of bad character, sometimes used to refer to a naughty child
- tameez in Urdu means manners, batameez is one without manners
- literally one who can take on many visages/shapes. Rushdie uses it
to refer to a troupe of masked actors in the Moor.
- male goat, the female is called a bakri
- nonsense, bullshit
- A term that is sometimes used to refer to a 'class', alternatively
money-lender or shop-keeper.
- batli is simply bottle, and batliwala is someone who trades in bottles, as a surname it has been adopted by traders of aerated drinks (soda-water).
- shameless; bay (without) + sharam (shame)
- tobacco rolled in tobacoo leaf to make a rudimentary cigarette, very
cheap but quite harsh on your throat
- queen. In colloquial Urdu it is also used to refer to one's (or
- idiot, fool
- an abusive expletive suggesting the addresse has an incestuous
relationship with his sister
- literally mother-India, Bharat is another name for India, mata means
mother but is often used as a term of respectful address
- Bharat Ratna
- literally 'Jewel of India', a civilian award conferred by the
- a snack made with puffed rice, boiled potatoes, tamarind sauce, and chilies (and a few other toppings)
- The rustic Hindi language used in the Bhojpur province of the Indian state of Bihar
- exactly, absolutely
- traditional lyrics, usually only two or three lines long. Folk singers often carry on a contest/conversation as each sings different bol. Perhaps the closest equvalent is some forms of rap.
- A type of salt-water fish
- and baingan, are names for the eggplant.
- closed, used as a synonym for hartal
- Of, or from the region/state of Karnataka in southern India
- Literally "spoon", a wealth of amusing etymological notes
exist on this word. My personal favourite is a derivation from the verb
form that means "to make love by caressing, kissing or talking
amorously" and on better days from the Middle English noun
signifying a chip or splinter. It is generally applied when referring
to a flunky.
- is almost a catch-all for all sorts of roasted nuts and beans
sold by hawkers in India. In particular it refers to certain types of
- a slap. This is real Bombay slang
- peon, a person who does small tasks in an office
- literally umbrella. Also refers to the architectural structure
resembling an umbrella in shape, that is often noticed on North Indian
forts and palaces.
- four annas, a quarter rupee, or 25 paise
- multi-family housing; apartments sharing a common water-source and
toilet facilties. The closest parallel would be turn of the century New
- [As used on pg. 97 of The Moor's Last Sigh] thing
- accompanied with a slight wrinkling of the nose is an expression of
distaste or shock at seeing something dirty (filthy) or obscene
- chhota peg
- Chhota means small and peg refers to a shot of an alcoholic drink.
A "chhota peg" is a drink made with approximately two fingers of
hard liquor. The term is either Anglicized Hindi, or Indianized English.
- some sort of bird
- a lizard, generally the common house-lizard. The creature is
harmless but there are a considerable number of myths and superstitions
associated with it.
- "boy", quite informal, perhaps closest to "garcon"
- watchman (literly one who inhabits the "chowki", police
station or guard house.
- silence, quiet, and in an emphatic tone 'shut-up'
- a person who is worth more than 1 crore (=1,00,00,000), generally
used to refer to someone who is extremely wealthy
- personal vision. Often used to refer to a meeting with a religious
figure, or a place/idol believed to embody the spirit of a particular
- The term used by B. R. Ambedkar (who was the most significant author of the Indian constitution) for lower-caste Hindus (Ambedkar himself was a Dalit).
- look! an imperative
- a two-sided drum, played with two sticks (one held in each hand); often used as an accompaniment for folk music.
- a ship used by Arab traders through the centuries, superficially resembles a Chinese Junk
- Dil Kush
- Close to, or pleasing the heart
- The Arabic elf in a bottle/lamp, genie to the Disneyized
- doodh is milk, doodhwala = milkman
- a rather large scarf worn by women to compliment a salwar-kameez (a
long shirt and a pair of pants). The dupatta is often used to cover
the head and is a mark of propriety, not unlike the pallu of a
sari which performs the same function.
- One of the two Islamic festivals celebrating the birth of the prophet Muhammed (Big Eid), or requiring a ritual sacrifice (bakri-eid).
- all at once, suddenly
- filmi gana
- a film-song (usually from Hindi films)
- Finished, disappear, excellent, etc..
- slope, hills, the adjective is ghati (also used as a perjorative
reference to people from the hills, sort of like hill-billy). There are
two mountain ranges (on either side of the Deccan plateau) called the
Western and Eastern ghats. When Rushdie uses it, it would generally
refer to the Western Ghats, which are the first thing one encounters on
moving from Bombay to the mainland. shamshan ghat is the equivalent of 'boot hill', a place where the dead are cremated (a reference to the steps leading to the Ganga at Varanasi)
- From the arabic 'to talk with/of women'. The ghazal is a poetic form
with its roots in Persian literature. Ghazals are intended to be sung,
the most famous ghazal singers of this century are probably Jagjit and Chitra Singh.
- clarified butter
- A game played with a stick (danda) and a stone (gilly), the aim is to use the stick to lift the stone and hurl it in a particular direction.
- talk, gossip (when written as gupshup)
- a sweetdish. Comes in many different varieties and can be made of
many different ingredients (carrots, walnuts, pumpkins, etc.) what binds
them together is the manner in which they're cooked, generally by
mashing the fruit/vegetable and cooking it with milk and sugar. My
favourite is the walnut variety as made by one shop in Karachi (never
seen the place, but my brother in law gets me some everytime he's in
- a labourer, especially one who moves heavy goods
- the monkey god who assists Rama rescue his wife Sita from Ravana in most versions of the Ramayana
- literally the people of Hari (Vishnu). A term used by M. K. Gandhi for untouchables
- strike. Popularized by Gandhi as a form of civil disobedience, it's
now common for shops in Bombay to be forcibly shut down by the local
politician's goons at the slightest excuse.
- transsexuals, often castrated males
- literally the land of the Hindus. The word Hindustan was coined by Arab
traders in the 6th century, they used the word 'Hindu' to refer to anyone not of the Muslim faith who resided in India. The Arab traders began to use
the term Hindustan to refer to the sub-continent, it is a combintion of
the word 'Hindu' and the term 'stan' or place.
- A North Indian festival celebrated in spring, where people douse each other in water, and colour each others faces.
- idli and sambar
- a light south indian dish; an idli is a light steamed rice cake
(when eaten alone, it's easy to choke on, quite dry); sambar is a
vegetable gravy often just a little spicy
- very pure fragrance/perfume
- literally an endearment translated as 'my life'
- something that tinkles, or a tinkling sound
- a ramshackle collection of huts in an urban environment, perhaps
- A Dark Age (that lasts about 10 millenia) in Hindu astrology
- The Sanskrit term for the art of love (of which sex or sexual attraction is only a part)
- Coarse cotton, generally home-spun
- finished. Bombay slang, or Bambaiya
- the Hindi/Urdu term for a cook.
- khattam shudd
- khattam is hindi for finished, shudd may be "shut", over with
- fate, luck. Yup, this is the word the epitomizes the famed Indian
- koi hai
- 'someone's there', or 'is someone there?'
- The avaatar of Vishnu who appears in the Mahabharata. He is Arjun's charioteer in the great battle, and reveals the Bhagvat Gita to him, in part to convince him he must fight and kill his own cousins (the Kurus).
- a form of yoga (often associated with tantric rituals) that lays emphasis on the spine, sometimes imagined as a serpent to be tamed.
- long shirt worn by both men and women in the northern sub-continent,
over a pajama (men) or salwar (women)
- The one hundred sons of Dithrashtra in the epic poem Mahabharata. Sometimes refered to as the Kauravs, they are cousins to the Pandavas and conspire to steal their kingdom.
- when two children have an argument, and are no longer friends, they are 'kutti'
- round sweets, laddoos come in a dazzling array of varieties and can
be made of corn, flour, wheat. Just about anything round and sweet can
be called a ladoo.
- idler, shiftless, good for nothing. An adjective that rolls off
Indian tounges nicely, and often accompanies lafangah, is
- Rama's younger brother in the epic poem Ramayana
- a "lathi" is a stick, typically longer than a person's
forearm. In this case it refers to the rather long truncheon carried by
Indian police. A lathi-charge is an offense mounted against an unruly
crowd by a group of police (or army) personell armed with
- a garment for the lower body, like a dhoti but worn differently. In
Southern India lungis are sometimes doubled up and worn as high as
- ground, playfield
- a white woman. Usually spelt as 'mem', the term refers to any
European/North American woman and was commonly used to refer to English
women. Memsahib is derived from or related to this word and has now come
to mean the more generic 'mistress'.
- hit! an imperative that conjures up images of a crowd of people
beating a pick-pocket.
- is the Hindi word for spices. In informal phrases it generally
refers to a hodge-podge of elements mixed together to add spice to
the final product.
- Entertainment of the sort Bombay excels at producing, a
pot-pourri of action, sexual innuendos and comic relief, as they say, a
masala movie has "something for everyone"
- chilli, sometimes even spice
- literally, the fat one-dark one
- mother's sister. Another of the endless precise names for various
- No. From Marathi
- a greeting, almost similar to namaste. Often accompanied with a
gesture of holding the palms against each other in front of one's
chest, this is a HIndi term.
- a flat bread baked in a tandoor
- literally 'Lord of the Dance', the avaatar of Shiva who ritually
destroys the world by dancing furiosly. A Natraja statue features a
four-armed avaatar of Shiva standing on one foot.
- literally dancing-girl; nautch is a corruption of the Hindi/Urdu
word for dance
- literally 'new birth', a Zoroastrian (Parsi) ritual after undergoing
which, Parsi girls and boys are considered full-fledged members of the
- lemonade, made with real lemons, water, sugar and spiked with pepper
- a civilian award conferred by the Indian government
- Yudhistra, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakul, and Sahadev (and the
abandoned-at-birth Karan), the sons of Kunti (each conceived through
immaculate unions with different gods) who represent the wronged,
strong, and right side in tha struggle that is the central plot of the
epic poem Mahabharata
- a very soft, light wool made from the hair around a goat's neck,
often used to make shawls
- a flat, many layered bread, made of flour and butter
- also called a chapati, a light flat bread, made from flour that does
- soul, life-breath
- Hindu priest
- refering to the Puranas (literally old), ancient sanskrit texts
- an person to sings qawaali, sufi devotional songs often sung at the
tomb of a sufi saint.
- literally colour/mood, more commonly one of seven Indian melodic
forms on each of which there are numerous variations
- goblin, demon, evil spirit
- the protagonist of the Indian epic poem Ramayana (the story of
Rama), sometimes considered a Hindu god and an avatar of Vishnu
- A Bengali sweet, made primarily from cream
- Wise man/woman, ascetic. The constellation Ursa Major (Great
Bear/Plough) is refered to as the Sapt Rishi (seven wise men) in Indian
- Most often a dish made out of spinach which has been boiled for
a long time, till it's only a paste. saag can also be made from other
- sir. Sometimes used to refer to an employer, the word carries a lot
of class/racial baggage. It is commonly used to stroke bureaucratic
- alternatively used as son, successor or heir. At times sahibzada is
used as a disparaging term to refer to the pampered and less than
energetic heir of a particularly distinguished family.
- A contraction of the arabic salaam-alaikum. An informal Urdu
- advice or thoughts on a particular matter. Not to be confused with
sala, a perjorative term which literally means brother-in-law but
suggests an intimate relationship with someone's sister.
- to make another understand, to help someone look at things in
another light; sometimes used as a mild threat.
- a stringed instrument, rather like a fiddle. A
detailed explanation is available from SPICMACAY at RPI
- saregama padanisa, sanidapa magaresa
- A musical scale, equivalent to 'do re mi fa so la ti'
- a 6 yard long piece of cloth worn by Indian women
- a woman who immolates herself on her husbands pyre becomes sati. The
word is sometimes used to refer to the act, or practise of sati
- a tent especially erected for a function/party
- Shiva is one of the gods in the Hindu trinity (Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva),
in the divine division of labor Shiva is sometimes the destroyer,
sometimes the creator. A Shiv-lingam is black rock representing Shiva's
penis, worshiped as the source of his creativity.
- Mister. Shrimati = Mrs.
- a stringed instrument (get a Ravi Shankar album to hear one)
- to whistle
- a childish term for penis/vagina; soo-soo generally means to
- formality, ceremony or elaborate courtesy, generally towards a
- literally a performance, particularly that of a play, but in a
perjorative sense has come to denote a farce, or a domestic
- adjective, anything made in a tandoor (clay-oven)
- kabab should be familiar, a tikke is just a little piece. Generally
tikka kabas are made entirely of meat that has been barbecued on a
- tiffin = a packed lunch, so a tiffin-carrier is a luch-box
- hydrogenated vegetable oil
- a foreign country, often used to refer colorfully to the U.K.
- is almost like the word "smith" as used in English
last-names. It can sometimes be appended to one's last name to reflect
the hereditary profession, in common parlance it simply means "one
who is engaged in".
- also written as wah-wah, an appreciative exclamation, sort of like
wow, but without the suggestion of awe. Often used satirically.
- mate, buddy, friend. Sometimes used to refer to one's lover, and in
that context has a tinge of scandal.
- literally Jew, this word has Hebrew origins. "Biblical
scholars use 'Israelite' (as distinguished from 'Israeli', meaning a
citizen of the post-1947 state of Israel) to refer to the people of
ancient Israel down to the Return from Babylonian Exile. 'Jew' comes
the Hebrew yehudi, meaning a Judahite, or Judean, a descendant of
Judah, who was Jacob's (Israel's) fourth son and heir, the historical
carries of the Blessing of Yahweh, first given to Abram (Abraham).
'Hebrews' tends not to be used anymore for the ancient Israelites;
'Hebrew' refers to what is now the language of contemporary Israel, and
to what was, in its ancient form, the Old Canaanite language of the
Bible". from Harold Bloom's "The Book of J".
- journey or pilgrimage
- Yellow Hats
- a reference to Tibetan priests who wear tall yellow hats