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Lost in translation

punjab Updated: Jun 27, 2013 09:43 IST
Mahesh Grover
Mahesh Grover
Hindustan Times
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Courtrooms are known to be drab places. Occasionally, however, humour does puncture the prevailing solemnity. This is often because of language gaffes that can force even a poker-faced judge to smile. Some such anecdotes come to mind but first allow me to offer my views about the English language.


Our forefathers were faced with the challenging task of uniting India when they chose English as the language to weave a common thread amid diverse languages and dialects that bound different regions. The choice may have had its roots in our colonial past.

English was believed to be the language of the world. Our nation builders, especially teachers, went hammer and tongs working on the grammar of their pupils; teaching them perfect Queen's English that even writer PG Woodhouse would be proud of. The accent, however, remained distinctively brown. This puritan breed frowned and sneered at those speaking 'Hinglish', inviting a retaliatory disdain and charge of snobbery.

English with its unique regional flavours gave way to a mongrel language, far distanced from its original version. Today, Queen's English is non-existent in its country of origin as well. "There are places where English completely disappears; In America, they have not used it for years! Why cannot the English teach their children how to speak?" remarked an essayist.

Meanwhile, we, in India, have perfected the art of translating sentences and phrases in regional lingo to English and have managed to communicate effectively though "the original has been unfaithful to the translation".

Now a few gems, some encountered during court proceedings.

Explaining a house trespass in court, a lawyer said, "Men were sleeping on the top with women underneath"; actually meaning to say that men were sleeping on the rooftops, while women were sleeping below in the courtyard (as revealed by the text in vernacular).

The following is a translation in a case of assault: "I (the victim) ran and he (the accused) chased my backside." (In vernacular, 'peecha kiya').

A gentleman referred to his busy schedule saying: "I am very tight lipped today".

"Very judgmental," said a person about a judge known for quick disposal of cases. His remark invited the client's concern, "Judge mental? Oh!"

Then somebody once said, "With naked eyes, you can make out foul smell." It was the literal translation of "gadbad saaf dikhta hai".

Equally amusing was a gentleman, who was unable to reach a function due to a storm, apology when he said, "I couldn't come because of the call of nature. Sorry."

Well, there is no need to be sorry because a wise man once said, "Translations (like wives) are seldom strictly faithful, if they are in the least attractive."

So do not fret over incorrect English, just continue with the English-Vinglish. To hell with the bloopers!