Friday, July 05, 2013

Prepone that non-veg order. Pukka?

Odds are that if you got that, you are from India, or you are intensely familiar with India.  Let me explain.

A couple of days ago, I was cleaning up the kitchen while listening to NPR in the background (so, what's new, eh!) and I heard Robert Siegel welcoming the actress/chef/writer Madhur Jaffrey.

This was one awesome combination for me: NPR + Siegel + India + food.

I stopped cleaning and walked up closer to the radio.  Water dripped from my hand on to the wood floor. I figured the maid would clean it up later.  Who am I kidding here--I am the maid, and I later cleaned the floor, too!

In the course of the interview, this exchange happened:
SIEGEL: So the great separation in India was indeed a great mixing of cooking styles...
JAFFREY: Exactly, exactly. But it tends to be that these kind of kebabs, which are often meat, are eaten by people who obviously eat meat, and Muslims eat a lot of meat. So you find a lot of kebabs in Pakistan, and you find a lot of meat kebabs amongst the nonveg people of India, but they're exceedingly popular.

Suppose you didn't know what nonveg (also written out as non-veg) meant, then you would do a Google search, right?  Go ahead, search.  Do you see a pattern in the result?

The search pulls up a whole bunch of pages related to Indian food, restaurants, and recipes.  Right?

It is because that usage is an Indian creation.  Well, it will be correct to state that it is an Indian Subcontinent creation.

Meat eating is the default food habit in the UK or the US.  The ones who do not, have to identify themselves as vegetarians or vegans or whatever else.  When the Subcontinent absorbed the language, a new usage was created for the food habits there: non-veg.  As in not-vegetarian.

Non-veg is merely one of the many words that have resulted from the creative ways in which the English language has been adapted in the Subcontinent.  It is a fascinating land in which historically people from different cultures have come in for commerce or to conquer, and either way the Subcontinent warmly embraced many new ideas, of which words are merely one example.

Non-veg brings about a certain logic to the usage.  After all, English, being a bastard language itself, is notorious for not having any logic at all.  At the Orosi Lodge, one afternoon, as I was collecting my key from the front desk, Connie said "I have a question for you. About English grammar."

I noticed that she was working with a Tica.

"You know how we say big, bigger, biggest?" Connie asked.  I nodded my head.

"But, it is beautiful and more beautiful.  It is not beautifuller.  I just know that is the case.  But how do I teach her that it is different for different words?"

Yes, the pain of learning English as a second language.  There is no bloody logic to anything.

So, people in the Subcontinent developed a logic.  If one who doesn't eat meat is a vegetarian, then a meat-eater is a non-vegetarian.  Non-veg, for short.  It makes sense, doesn't it?  (I am hoping that there is no other story behind this non-veg usage.  Perhaps some etymologist is all set to send me a thesis on how I am bullshitting here!)

Those logical usages are the default usages in India.  Like prepone.  If postpone can exist, then surely its antonym ought to be, well, prepone, said some Indian. It was a done deal!

One more reason why Indian-Americans are pukka at Spelling Bees.  Pukka?

A non-veg dish, with chicken, I cooked a while ago


Ramesh said...

Yeah, India has its own English lingo, as indeed does every country. That's why English is such a global language (other than the fact that they ruled half the world not so long ago). There is no culture police, unlike the French.

I see that you are continuing your love affair with the Ticas. Why not dump the US and go and teach in the University or Orosi ?? :)

Sriram Khé said...

haha ... but you forget that I comment about the pretty women in Oregon, the pretty women in India, the pretty women everywhere ... so, moving to Orosi won't solve anything ;)

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