In which the author goes to buy a packet of butterfly tea and a bottle of well water
A FAVOURITE STORY told by the sales manager of what was in the old days known as Lipton Tea went thus: an elderly lady walks into a kirana shop in Chandigarh and asks, "Lipton di chaah haigi (Do you have Lipton tea)?" The shopkeeper grins broadly and say, "Behenji, lipatna hai to lipto. Mainu ki frank painda (Lady, if you want to hug, then do so. What difference does it make to me)?" Lipton, when pronounced as it is sometimes in north India as "Lipaton", sounds like lipatna, or hugging. And chai when pronounced as it often is as "chaah" is the word for desire.
I thought of that story, because now we have the very English brand name Tetley in our midst. And when I went to a shop in Delhi and asked for it, the shopkeeper nodded and yelled to his assistant, "Ek packet titli chai dena maaji ko (Give a packet of butterfly tea to the old lady)." He had Indianised the brand name thoroughly and it was titli or butterfly in Hindi. I swallowed my mirth and horror at having been elevated from "behenji" to "maaji". Kirana shop owners and vegetable vendors leave you with no illusions about your age. Beti becomes didi becomes behenji becomes maaji and then, your arthritic knees will not allow you to come to the shop; so there’s no need for the next level of salutation.
I then asked for bottled water and the brand he had in stock was Qua, sold in a stylishly shaped bottle. And he said, "Yeh lijiye maaji, kuan paani" (Kuan means well in Hindi). Qua bottled water was probably positioned as an "affordable Evian" for discerning, modern consumers, according to the brand brief written by the brand manager and faithfully executed by his ad agency. But it became "well water" in the hands of the Delhi shopkeeper.
My housekeeper has a knack with words too. She asked me about the sar-naam (head name) of my visitor. "There is naam and sar-naam," she said, and explained the intricacies of community identifiers. She also said that there were two kinds of deliveries, normal and "scissor", making the scissoring gesture with her fingers. Again, a wonderfully apt name for caesarean, which is about cutting open.
When trying to agree on a name for our Labrador puppy, we went down the entire alphabet and finally looked like we all agreed on Zak, I have often wondered though why upper-class pets are called by western names, Whisky, Brandy, Patch, Bruno, Cocoa and slum and stray dogs are called Raju, Sona, Ravi, Kalu.
My husband, who specializes in "what could happen that you haven’t thought of", said that none of the hired household helps and dog walkers would be able to pronounce Zak, the Z being a difficult sound. I reminded him then that we lived in Mumbai and Maharashtrians are very used to the Z sound. They pronounce words like maaza (mine) and zhaval (near) with great ease. They all say "freeze" for fridge. "Not like you Andhras," he retorted. "Your father used to say ‘jeero’ for zero and your doctor friend says "zeens" for genes."
Anyway, having come to end of the alphabet, we stayed with Zak. And he now responds to Jhaack or Jake more willingly, than to Zak, because he spends more time with the household help than with us.
Our previous dog was called Prince. I cringe at the unimaginative name but no one in the family is owning responsibility for it. He came home when my daughter was 12, and though she denies it, I think it was her idea. He also had a second name. Gusting. Because I thought all dogs are disgusting, but father and daughter thought otherwise. So that which was not disgusting was gusting. The household helps fell in love with him and called him Beans and Dusting.
My brother-in-law named his dog Tai-Pan, and I was most envious that we had not been so imaginative. But I was gratified to see that in Gurgaon, he was called Fry Pan. An incongruous name for a handsome Alsatian.
My friend has a bull dog called Samson. And then he got another one that he called Ludwig. I asked him how his household help managed with the name. And he said, "Oh it's easy they just call him Laddu."
Rama Bijapurkar is the author of We Are Like That Only and A Never-Before World : Tracking the evolution of Consumer India.