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« Harry Potter and the Merchants of Memes (Sujatha) | Main | ..... and Chelsea's Moma! »

July 23, 2007


Curiously, Naseerudddin Shah and Om Puri have expressed their dislike of the term Bollywood, quite recently. They complain that it's derogatory, implying nothing but song and dance films,but too late for them, when the term makes it to a dictionary ;)

Apart from the numerous words of unambiguous origin that you mention in your post, there's one not mentioned that is still a bit of a etymological puzzle to me : Orange. The dictionary tracks its roots as far as Persian narang, possibly predated by Sanskrit Naranga. Wikipedia takes it a step further and says there has been suggestion of a Dravidian root Link "Orange derives from Sanskrit nāraṅgaḥ "orange tree", but another explanation tries to establish a link to a Dravidian root meaning "fragrant". Compare Tamil narandam [நரந்தம்] "bitter orange", nagarukam [நாகருகம்] "sweet orange" and nari [நாரி] "fragrance"."

I detest the word "Bollywood!" Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah's protest is futile because the Bombay film industry and their "song and dance" sponsors abroad have embraced the term with enthusiasm. As you say, now that it is going into Merriam-Webster, the fate of this ugly word is sealed. But I have been wondering. Bollywood = Bombay + Hollywood. Now that Bombay itself has been renamed Mumbai, is there an effort under way to revise the word to "Mollywood?" The Calcutta (Kolkata) film studios used to be mainly centered around a neighborhood named Tollygunge. There was a feeble attempt to name the Bengali film industry "Tollywood." Mercifully, I think that one did not catch on.

Until I read the Wiki page on "orange," I was only aware of the Hindi / Sanskrit root of the word (narangi/naranga). That the word may actually have a Dravidian origin is news to me but not at all surprising. The Wiki profile of the orange also states that India was the seat of the "sweet" variety of the fruit. If true and also if oranges grew in India five thousand years ago, the then Dravidian language speaking inhabitants of northern India probably had a name for it. Makes sense then to conclude that they did and it was probably something resembling "naranga" which the later Sanskrit speakers borrowed.

Funny how I always knew that you can never divide an orange (tangerine) into two equal halves. But I never did bother to note that the segments usually add up to 11!

Re Bollywood: I too don't particularly like the word. To me it is a moniker that describes the post-1990s brand of Hindi movies. These are movies that try to imitate Hollywood rather than portray the Indian ethos. The movies of the 1950, '60s and '70s, despite their kitsch and camp, were truer to Indian culture in that they depicted a progressive, inclusive and hopeful way of being Indian.

Re Indish: I think it is important to differentiate between Indish (Indian words that have become part of the English language) and English words that have Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots. The former category of words is of relatively recent vintage and it contains words that are used in English in pretty much the same sense as their original Indian meaning. Another word that comes to mind is avatar.

But, the PIE words are much more fascinating. Check out this article: Since I read this article, I have become much more aware of connections between Sanskrit and English words. Here are a few examples:

1. End - unt
2. dent (prefix) - daant
3. brother - bhrathra
4. numbers - oct - eight, nov-nine, dec-das
5. donate - daan

Most online dictionaries include an Etymology section which makes it easy to verify if an English word has Indo-European roots.

And then of course there are words like prepone which are a wholly Indian creation!

Actually, I'm not convinced by the argument for a possible Dravidian root for 'orange-naranja-naranga'- the words advanced in the Wiki article don't ring a bell in either my or my husband (Tamil medium till 10 th grade), except for 'nari' but it is used currently in the sense of 'bad odor' rather than fragrance. If someone had tried to link it up with the word for bitter lime 'narthangai' or the Malayalam 'naranga' for lemon, it might have made more sense- but for all we know, those two might have been derived later from the Perso-Sanskrit versions.

The use of 'Bollywood' doesn't bother me all that much, considering that most of the current output is in any case quite deserving of contempt as opposed to the older kitsch. Most of the movies made there now are Indianized derivatives of Hollywood plot lines and therefore do qualify for the 'Bollywood' stamp.

Yet, there are a few lotuses in the mud. Check out Vishal Bhardwaj's "Omkara" & "Maqbool," and movies like "Matrubhoomi" and "Black Friday," or Rituparno Ghosh's work. I think Amardeep has reviewed some of them on his blog. While there's no one yet to fill in Satyajit Ray's big shoes (I know, he wasn't a Bollywood director), there are some film-makers who are experimenting and making some original movies that are worth watching. There are also old gems from Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani. Besides, most of the movies Hollywood churns out are also pretty crappy and formulaic. ;)


I am starved of good Indian movies. I find the new movies so intolerable (although I kind of enjoyed "... Munna Bhai") that my husband and I only occasionally watch some oldies for the sake of nostalgia. Can you email me a list of recent movies worth watching - both in Bengali and Hindi? Thanks.

Oh these lists are good fun. Here's one or two more, which will hopefully be a little surprising. I'm picking examples which don't necessarily date back to PIE, but which reflect an old Indian influence on the world...

sugar: c.1289, from O.Fr. sucre "sugar" (12c.), from M.L. succarum, from Arabic sukkar, from Pers. shakar, from Skt. sharkara "ground or candied sugar," originally "grit, gravel" (cognate with Gk. kroke "pebble"). The Arabic word also was borrowed in It. (zucchero), Sp. (azucar), and O.H.G. (zucura, Ger. Zucker), and its forms are represented in most European languages (cf. Serb. cukar, Pol. cukier, Rus. sakhar). Its Old World home was India (Alexander the Great's companions marveled at the "honey without bees") and it remained exotic in Europe until the Arabs began to cultivate it in Sicily and Spain; not until after the Crusades did it begin to rival honey as the West's sweetener.

punch: "mixed drink," 1632, traditionally said to derive from Hindi panch "five," in allusion to the number of original ingredients (spirits, water, lemon juice, sugar, spice), from Skt. panchan-s.

credit: etymology info taken from

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