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HOBSON JOBSON: THE ANGLO-INDIAN CLASSIC AND ITS MODERN VERSION

  • Ch. Mhammad Ashraf
  • Dec, 2017
  • 74
  • History

The entries in the book range from mundane to magnificent; from simplistic to scholarly; all with an awesome eruditeness and a deep understanding of the culture, social behavior and history of the subcontinent.

In 1886,Col. Henry Yule, an officer with the Government of India, with a good deal of help from the amateur linguist and scholar (but in real life, a member of the Indian Civil Service,) A.C. Burnell, published his vocabulary of Anglo-Indian words. The full title of this classic work is “Hobson Jobson: A glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases and of Kindred Terms Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive.” Quite a mouthful of tongue twisters! Isn’t it? By any measures, ‘it is a typical and delightful example of that class of Anglo-Indian slang, which consists of Oriental words highly assimilated to the English vernacular’. The title Hobson Jobson, is supposed to be based on an anecdote dating back to the early period of the British colonialism. As the story goes, when a fresh batch of ICS probationers landed at the Bombay port, a Moharram procession was winding its way through the streets of that great city. The mourners were chanting the revered names of the martyrs and beating their chests in rhythm with “Ya Hassan, Ya Hussain.” The scene was quite touching but to the untrained ears of the new arrivals the unfamiliar chantings sounded like “Hobson Jobson.” The authors of the book were so fascinated with the haunting beauty of the wailing by the devotees that they decided to name the book as such.

The book was published in 1886, with Burnell, who had contributed “seven out of eight parts of the work” sadly dying in 1882, at the rather early age of 42. Being the high noon of the British colonialism, it was clearly an opportune moment to publish Hobson Jobson. Reviewers were beside themselves with praise. It was considered ‘a work not only of vast and enduring utility, but marked by a humour, quaintness, a purity of treatment and style, and a ripeness of style.’ In India, the young Rudyard Kipling, the future Nobel laureate and a great exponent of the British imperialism predicted that Hobson Jobson would ‘take its place among the standard works on the East, gathering bulk as its goes from decade to decade.’ Kipling’s prediction has come true. In 13 years after its publication, the book is still in print, and in great demand by both Anglophiles and the students of colonial history.  ‘The book’s longevity suggests something of its enduring appeal to writers, historians, and the general reader alike. To historians of colonial India, Hobson Jobson provides an unrivalled resource; its eccentric, gentlemanly scholarship may well constitute the acceptable face of the Raj….’

The entries in the book range from mundane to magnificent; from simplistic to scholarly; all with an awesome eruditeness and a deep understanding of the culture, social behavior and history of the subcontinent. The list consists of words as a sampler with bare bones only, since it would be impossible to quote their detailed version as presented by the authors.

Chatty: An earthen pot, spherical in shape. It is a South Indian word, but is tolerably familiar in N. India. The word in Tamil is ‘shati’ (which appears in Pali as chadi).

Dharna: The sitting at the door of a house in order to enforce the performance of an engagement on the part of the resident—such as the payment of a debt or the like.

Dhoty: From Hindi, Dhoti. The loin cloth worn by all the respectable classes in Upper India, wrapped around body, the end then crossed between the legs and tucked in the waist.

Hooka: The Indian pipe for smoking through water, the elaborated hubble bubble. That which is smoked in hooka is a curious compound of tobacco, spice, molasses and fruit.

Jelauby: More properly,jalebi. A rich sweetmeat made of sugar and ghee with a little flour, melted and trickled into a pan so as the form an interlaced work when baked.

Kedgeree: Hindi, khichuri. Ibne Batuta (c. 1340) mentions a dish of moong boiled with rice called kishri. There is also a recipe for it cited by Abul Fazl, in Ain-e-Akbari (c. 1590.)

Khatput: This is a native slang term in Western India for a prevalent system of intrigue and corruption. The general meaning of khutput is rather ‘wrangling’ and ‘worry’.

Lota: The small brass pot, which Hindus use for drinking and sometimes for cooking. Natives also extend it to spherical pipkins of earthenware (chatties or ghurras).

Luddo: A common native sweetmeat.

Lungooty: The scantiest modicum of covering worn for decency by some of the lower castes.

Mulligawatany: The name of this well-kno...

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