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'Why you always talk in the middle?'

Forget school learning a la Wren and Martin. English as she is spoke becomes English as she is broke, in Mumbai mouths. Meher Marfatia listens in on local lingo...

india Updated: Jan 14, 2009 13:49 IST
Meher Marfatia

Forget school learning a la Wren and Martin. English as she is spoke becomes English as she is broke, in Mumbai mouths. Why?


, like that only.

If kids speak staccato-style, put it down to impatience of the young and restless. Now go figure how many adults too have the same shrinking attention spans.

Why, through the interval chatter of late night shows, has one reeled from repeated snatches of “Damn good, no?” Less of “Are you enjoying the film?”

Then again, “Side please” isn’t just used by urchins wending their way between crowds. Nouveau riche matrons in malls throw you the phrase, to clear jammed aisles. Inexplicable, when “Side please” could be easier replaced by two equally short, much more polite, words — “Excuse me.”

Class is no bar for carelessly tossed phrases. Neither is pronunciation. People not known to be born lispers simply drop ‘x’. They are ‘escused’ because this can even sound endearing. It comes nowhere near the annoying ‘aaks’ instead of ‘ask’. Single words suffer similar alphabet inversions. So teenagers order Expresso, not Espresso, yaar, at the neighbourhood coffee outlet.

Question time
Questions invited after a public lecture throw up cringe-worthy queries. An English teacher we know walks out when Q & A is announced. She wants to dive for cover rather than listen to language ruined beyond recognition.

Blame her not. A savvy speaker once had a Smart Alec cheekily counter her with, “Don’t mind, that is wrong please. Can I correct you, okay?”

And part-questioning, part-exclamatory examples like, “What you’re saying!” and “Why you always talk in the middle?” are amusing pleasantries audience members exchange, each eager to outshine the other.

City bytes
Assertion and aggression — common reactions to Mumbai menace — fire forth in sharp verbal salvos.

Thinly veiled road rage explodes: “Why I must move only?” or “What goes of yours if I’m parked here?” The thrifty housewife’s daily defence against a grocer’s wily ways is, “What he thinks of himself? I’m no less!”

Harried adults warn children: “Stop eating my head!” and “You have no brains or what?”
Trading trenchant for tender, some easygoing souls hold up better. Rallying to help family and friends, they assure: “For what you worrying? We are there no.” Bring on those big city blues. Load shedding, water shortage, traffic gridlock? The standard response: “No problems.”

In a city forever fielding hope after hellish times, these twin words prove touchingly peppy. Can we drop that straggly “s” at the end, though?

No problem. Thanks.

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