Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Indian talks

Colourful, naïf, often funny. But also, sometime, delicate and poetic. That’s the ‘Indian-English’. Talking with Indians may look somehow disorienting at the beginning, but with time and experience we learnt to get by. In a way, discussing with an Indian is like playing a crossword puzzle or solving a rebus…

As in many other Asian cultures, Indians seem to have difficulties in saying ‘no’. The first rule to get by in a conversation with an Indian is thus not to forget that a ‘yes’ does not always mean ‘yes’. Our first months in India are rich of examples…

At the UNDP cafeteria, discussing about sport with one of the guards of the compound while watching a cricket match on TV:

- Do you like cricket?

- Yes

- Do you also like football?

- Yes

- What is your favourite football team?

- Yes

Or in my office, with the guy that brings us coffee and tea in the morning:

- Can I have sugar please?

- Yes (And he takes my cup and leaves!!!)

And by the way, speaking of the guy that brings us coffee (the ‘coffee-walla’), my daily dialogues with him could easily be the dialogues of a play of Samuel Beckett. An example:

- Can I have some sugar? (The incipit is often the same)

- Can I have some sugar? (Repeats the coffee-walla, looking at me and smiling)

- Can I have some sugar? (Myself, a bit puzzled, repeating the question a bit more slowly)

- Can I have some sugar? (Again, the coffee-walla, staring at my eyes and smiling)

- Can I have some sugar? (Myself, miming the action of pouring the sugar in the cup and speaking even more slowly)

- Can I have some sugar? (The coffee-walla, still staring at me, nodding the way Indians do, smiling, and repeating at my same speed)

- OK, thanks (Myself, by then resigned)

- OK, thanks (The coffee-walla, smiling. And leaves…)

Mathilde has also plenty of examples of conversations that can easily be confused for ‘dialogues of the absurd’. At the gym with Sabrina, asking at what time the gym is less crowded:

- At what time is the gym less crowded?

- At what time do you want to come?

But as mentioned earlier, the Indian-English can also be - in its simplicity and essence - very colourful and creative.

Surinda, my broker, offering me a cigarette: “Are you smoke?”

Or Kusuum, Riccardo’s maid, explaining me that her sister is seriously sick: “She is very serious”.

Or, again, a taxi driver while discussing about Hindi and English: “You know, Hindi language is easy. It’s looking [reading?] difficult”…

But as much as naïf or funny, I found Indian-English also very delicate - particularly when touching certain subjects, such as death…

Kusuum, talking about her sister (the one who was ‘very serious’) who passed away: “She is no more”.

And Tripta, my Yoga teacher, informing us that she took a few days of leaves to go to her guru’s funeral: “My master’ soul decided to leave his body”…


  1. My first meeting with Indian English took place in Delhi's International Airport.
    I answered yesyes to all the things that the man at the prepaid taxi stall asked to me without understanding anything (I was just thinking... but what kind of English do Indians speak?????).
    My second experience was on the taxi. The same yesyes conversation.
    My third took place with Pansig, my brother's "maid".
    After this I was shocked about the fact that Indians DO NOT speak English.
    I have always felt a bit insecure about my English, but after these three interesting conversation I had to revalue it...

  2. Maybe it's the reason why many big companies transfer their call-centers to India: "Understood?" "yesyes!"

  3. Lecteur assidu du blog, je fais une nouvelle tentative pour poster un commentaire..
    Si cela marche, je récidiverai. Pacha

  4. Matteo and Mathilde MarchisioFebruary 11, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    Message reçu. Bienvenue dans notre Blog.

    Les auteurs

  5. Let me report an email exchange in my office:


    "Dear Sir/Madam,

    On 24 February i.e. tomorrow at 6 pm Indian time, we would like to have the teleconference facility at the meeting room east. Please provide the same. Pls. find below call instructions for our teleconf on Wed, 24 Feb:





    "Dear Ma'm,

    Needful will be done"