Salman Rushdie: Glossary

This is as yet a rather small glossary of colloquialisms used in Rushdie’s books.

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.

agni
fire
Ahura Mazda
God (or more accurately the embodiment of good) in the dualist Zoroastrian faith
Angootiyan
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
angrez
An Englishman. angrezi is the adjective, and can also refer to the language English
Apun
Me, I
arre
hey!
asli
real
ayah
nurse, generally hired to take care of children, there’s some spillover from the “English governess”. Perhaps the best example would be Ms. Braganza.
ayurveda
Indian herbal medicine
baap-re
An exclamation that most closely resembles ‘oh my god’. Though baap is father it conveys the same intonation.
babuji
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
bachchi
a little girl
badmash
a person of bad character, sometimes used to refer to a naughty child
bad-tameez
tameez in Urdu means manners, batameez is one without manners
bahurupia
literally one who can take on many visages/shapes. Rushdie uses it to refer to a troupe of masked actors in the Moor.
bakra
male goat, the female is called a bakri
bakvaas
nonsense, bullshit
bania
A term that is sometimes used to refer to a ‘class’, alternatively money-lender or shop-keeper.
barsaat
rain
batliwala
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).
baysharam
shameless; bay (without) + sharam (shame)
beedi
tobacco rolled in tobacoo leaf to make a rudimentary cigarette, very cheap but quite harsh on your throat
begum
queen. In colloquial Urdu it is also used to refer to one’s (or another’s) wife
bewaqoof
idiot, fool
bhaenchod
an abusive expletive suggesting the addresse has an incestuous relationship with his sister
Bharat-mata
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 Indian government
bhel
a snack made with puffed rice, boiled potatoes, tamarind sauce, and chilies (and a few other toppings)
Bhojpuri
The rustic Hindi language used in the Bhojpur province of the Indian state of Bihar
bilkul
exactly, absolutely
bol
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.
Bombay-duck/bombil
A type of salt-water fish
brinjal
and baingan, are names for the eggplant.
bulbul
nightingale
bumboo
bamboo
Bund
closed, used as a synonym for hartal
Carnatic
Of, or from the region/state of Karnataka in southern India
chamcha
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.
channa
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 gram.
chapat
a slap. This is real Bombay slang
chaprasi
peon, a person who does small tasks in an office
chattri
literally umbrella. Also refers to the architectural structure resembling an umbrella in shape, that is often noticed on North Indian forts and palaces.
chavanni
four annas, a quarter rupee, or 25 paise
chawls
multi-family housing; apartments sharing a common water-source and toilet facilties. The closest parallel would be turn of the century New York tenements.
cheese
[As used on pg. 97 of The Moor’s Last Sigh] thing
chhi-chhi
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.
chils
some sort of bird
chipkali
a lizard, generally the common house-lizard. The creature is harmless but there are a considerable number of myths and superstitions associated with it.
chokra
“boy”, quite informal, perhaps closest to “garcon”
chor
thief
chowkidar
watchman (literly one who inhabits the “chowki”, police station or guard house.
chup
silence, quiet, and in an emphatic tone ‘shut-up’
crorepati
a person who is worth more than 1 crore (=1,00,00,000), generally used to refer to someone who is extremely wealthy
darshan
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 figure.
dalit
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).
dekho
look! an imperative
dhobi
laundryman
dhol
a two-sided drum, played with two sticks (one held in each hand); often used as an accompaniment for folk music.
dhow
a ship used by Arab traders through the centuries, superficially resembles a Chinese Junk
Dil Kush
Close to, or pleasing the heart
djinn
The Arabic elf in a bottle/lamp, genie to the Disneyized Alladin
Doodhwala
doodh is milk, doodhwala = milkman
do-teen
two-three
dupatta
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.
Eid
One of the two Islamic festivals celebrating the birth of the prophet Muhammed (Big Eid), or requiring a ritual sacrifice (bakri-eid).
ek-dum
all at once, suddenly
filmi gana
a film-song (usually from Hindi films)
funtoosh
Finished, disappear, excellent, etc..
galis
curses
gaon
village
ghats
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)
ghazal
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.
ghee
clarified butter
gilly-danda
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.
Golmatol
round
gup
talk, gossip (when written as gupshup)
halva
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 Pakistan).
hamal
a labourer, especially one who moves heavy goods
hamara
ours
Hanuman
the monkey god who assists Rama rescue his wife Sita from Ravana in most versions of the Ramayana
Harijan
literally the people of Hari (Vishnu). A term used by M. K. Gandhi for untouchables
hartal
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.
hijras
transsexuals, often castrated males
Hindustan
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.
Holi
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
itr
very pure fragrance/perfume
jadoo
magic
janum
literally an endearment translated as ‘my life’
jhunjhunna
something that tinkles, or a tinkling sound
jopadpatti
a ramshackle collection of huts in an urban environment, perhaps even slum.
Jua
gambling
Kaliyug
A Dark Age (that lasts about 10 millenia) in Hindu astrology
Kama
The Sanskrit term for the art of love (of which sex or sexual attraction is only a part)
khaddar
Coarse cotton, generally home-spun
khalaas
finished. Bombay slang, or Bambaiya
khana
food
khansama
the Hindi/Urdu term for a cook.
khattam shudd
khattam is hindi for finished, shudd may be “shut”, over with
kismet
fate, luck. Yup, this is the word the epitomizes the famed Indian fatalism.
koi hai
‘someone’s there’, or ‘is someone there?’
Koli
fisherfolk
Krishna
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).
kundalini
a form of yoga (often associated with tantric rituals) that lays emphasis on the spine, sometimes imagined as a serpent to be tamed.
kurta
long shirt worn by both men and women in the northern sub-continent, over a pajama (men) or salwar (women)
Kurus
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.
kutti
when two children have an argument, and are no longer friends, they are ‘kutti’
laddoo
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.
lafangah
idler, shiftless, good for nothing. An adjective that rolls off Indian tounges nicely, and often accompanieslafangah, is loafer.
Lakshmana
Rama’s younger brother in the epic poem Ramayana
lathi-charge
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 truncheons.
lungi
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 mid-thigh.
maidan
ground, playfield
mala
necklace
mame
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’.
maro
hit! an imperative that conjures up images of a crowd of people beating a pick-pocket.
masala
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.
masala-movie
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”
mirch
chilli, sometimes even spice
motu-kalu
literally, the fat one-dark one
mausi
mother’s sister. Another of the endless precise names for various relations.
nakko
No. From Marathi
namaskar
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.
nan
a flat bread baked in a tandoor
Nataraja
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.
nautch-girl
literally dancing-girl; nautch is a corruption of the Hindi/Urdu word for dance
Navjote
literally ‘new birth’, a Zoroastrian (Parsi) ritual after undergoing which, Parsi girls and boys are considered full-fledged members of the community.
nimbu-pani
lemonade, made with real lemons, water, sugar and spiked with pepper & ice
padmashri
a civilian award conferred by the Indian government
pagalpan
madness
Pandavas
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
pashmina
a very soft, light wool made from the hair around a goat’s neck, often used to make shawls
paratha
a flat, many layered bread, made of flour and butter
phulka
also called a chapati, a light flat bread, made from flour that does not rise
pice
paise
prana
soul, life-breath
pundit
Hindu priest
Puranic
refering to the Puranas (literally old), ancient sanskrit texts
qawaal
an person to sings qawaali, sufi devotional songs often sung at the tomb of a sufi saint.
raga
literally colour/mood, more commonly one of seven Indian melodic forms on each of which there are numerous variations
Raja
king
rakshasa
goblin, demon, evil spirit
Rama
the protagonist of the Indian epic poem Ramayana (the story of Rama), sometimes considered a Hindu god and an avatar of Vishnu
rasgulla
A Bengali sweet, made primarily from cream
rishi
Wise man/woman, ascetic. The constellation Ursa Major (Great Bear/Plough) is refered to as the Sapt Rishi (seven wise men) in Indian astronomy
saag
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 vegetables
sahib
sir. Sometimes used to refer to an employer, the word carries a lot of class/racial baggage. It is commonly used to stroke bureaucratic egos.
sahibzada
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.
salaam
A contraction of the arabic salaam-alaikum. An informal Urdu greeting
salah
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.
samjao
to make another understand, to help someone look at things in another light; sometimes used as a mild threat.
Sarangi
a stringed instrument, rather like a fiddle. A more detailed explanation is available from SPICMACAY at RPI
saregama padanisa, sanidapa magaresa
A musical scale, equivalent to ‘do re mi fa so la ti’
sari
a 6 yard long piece of cloth worn by Indian women
sati
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 (self-immolation). [suttee]
Seth
boss
shamiana
a tent especially erected for a function/party
Shiv-lingam
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.
Shri
Mister. Shrimati = Mrs.
sitar
a stringed instrument (get a Ravi Shankar album to hear one)
siti-bajana
to whistle
soo-soo
a childish term for penis/vagina; soo-soo generally means to urinate.
takalluf
formality, ceremony or elaborate courtesy, generally towards a guest
tamasha
literally a performance, particularly that of a play, but in a perjorative sense has come to denote a farce, or a domestic quarrel.
tandoori
adjective, anything made in a tandoor (clay-oven)
tikka-kabab
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 skewer.
tiffin-carriers
tiffin = a packed lunch, so a tiffin-carrier is a luch-box
titli-begum
butterfly-queen
vanaspati
hydrogenated vegetable oil
vilayet
a foreign country, often used to refer colorfully to the U.K.
wallah
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”.
waugh-waugh
also written as wah-wah, an appreciative exclamation, sort of like wow, but without the suggestion of awe. Often used satirically.
yaar
mate, buddy, friend. Sometimes used to refer to one’s lover, and in that context has a tinge of scandal.
yahoody
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 from 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”.
yatra
journey or pilgrimage
Yellow Hats
a reference to Tibetan priests who wear tall yellow hats

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