Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive is a fascinating dictionary devoted to the influence of Indian languages on English (with a smattering of words from other colonies). The dictionary supplied substantial portions of the vocabulary used by British sailors in Amitav Ghosh's novel, Sea of Poppies.
A native festal excitement, is how Hobson-Jobson defines its own title, whose root lies in Ya Hassan, Ya Hussain, the cry of mourners beating their breasts during Muharram processions marking the killing at Karbala of Imam Hussein, grandson of prophet Muhammad. Tonight's the night for those processions, climaxing ten days of prayer, preaching and tears. Those in Bombay interested in viewing the flaggelants can make their way to Dongri, a precinct with a strong Shia Muslim presence.
Dongri, which gets its name from dongar, Marathi for hill, figures in Hobson-Jobson as the root of a word all of you will know. The area was a center of textile trading in the 19th century, producing a rough cloth called dongri kapad. This eventually mutated to dungarees, referring to overalls made from denim. Denim itself is related to another place name, the town of Nimes in France, which used to produce twill fabric known as serge de Nimes.
Back in the nineteenth century, when the word Hobson-Jobson was in common use, the Ashura procession was the single largest religious gathering of the year in Bombay. Sunni Muslims participated in large numbers, as did Hindus, "especially the Mahrattas". After Lokmanya Tilak came up with the idea of public Ganeshotsavs, those Mahrattas got their own celebration to look forward to, and gradually dropped out of the Muharram ranks, switching from Ya Hussain Ya Hussain to Ganpati Bappa Morya.


Anonymous said...

Dongri to dungarees... who'd have thunk. Thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

fascinating! thanks very much for this. your blog is outstanding

Girish Shahane said...

Thanks a bunch, guys, I'll try to keep it going.

Anonymous said...

So interesting. More such stuff?