Illustration/Uday Mohite

Shukriya, meherbani, thenkoo

By Paromita Vohra | Mumbai

Updated: 25 October, 2020 09:01 IST

Shukriya sayers may be found in sharara, shervani, leather jackets, flannel shirts and of course, sparkly gowns. Boss, we're Indian. Sab chalta hai na

My friend A told me something startling, yet unsurprising, yesterday. An auto rickshaw driver advised her not to say "shukriya" when she thanked him: "These are not good times to be using such language", meaning Urdu, instead of Hindi.

This story made me remember my father who used shukriya less, and meherbani more, to say thank you. Like many Hindu North Indian men of his generation, Sunil Dutt and Manmohan Singh famously among them, he was educated in Urdu, both pre- and post- Partition, and never learned what we call Hindi. Then, I remembered Parveen Babi from Shaan (1980) in a shimmering white silver lamé dress saying "shukriya, karam, meherbani" (thanks, gratitude, much obliged) to an excitable audience—including Bindoo in a parrot green glimmering gown, and three chorus girls in sequined black swimsuits playing the shakers—before she started to shimmy to "pyaar karne vale pyaar karte hain, shaan se" (lovers love in style) in Asha Bhosle's voice, one person inside another, kind of like Hindi and Urdu. This made me remember one of my favourite Shah Rukh Khan songs, "mere mehboob mere sanam, shukriya meherbani karam" (love, my beloved, thanks, gratitude, much obliged) from Duplicate (1998), where there are two Shah Rukhs, twins, kind of like Hindi and Urdu. Shukriya sayers may be found in sharara, shervani, leather jackets, flannel shirts and of course, sparkly gowns. Boss, we're Indian. Sab chalta hai na.

These are however, strange times, as the auto rickshaw driver said. Despite what quiz shows, who prefer their facts disconnected, for karodpati purposes, tell you, your time always starts not now, but earlier. In April 2016, I wrote in this column about two artists, heckled as "Lahori" (yaniki terrorists), apprehended by police in Delhi, because they were painting an Urdu poem on a wall. Four years earlier, in April 2012, I wrote here about a policeman in Solapur citing Ghalib as an inciter of terrorism because he wrote "mauje khoon ser se guzer hi kyon na jayen/Aastane yaar se uth jaein kya!" ("should we perish in a wave of bloodshed, yet still we will not leave the beloved's country"); and another in Ghatkopar for whom an Urdu children's magazine in a young man's backpack indicated a SIMI connection. Perhaps, the time starts even earlier—as Francesca Orsini notes in the book, Before the Divide, Hindi and Urdu as two separate entities, identified with Hindus and Muslims respectively, was propagated under 19th century colonial rule. Lots to say shukriya (not) to the angrez for, huh? Aren't you hairan, yaniki, amazed, that Indians who find it impossible to obey simple traffic or wear-a-mask rules have been so obedient to bad colonial fundas for decades? Hum kitne bhole hain.

Language is a travelling tongue twister, one tongue tangling with another unabashedly, pajama becoming jammies, champo becoming shampoo, khwab appearing in a sapna, even as moralists and literalists (usually rishtedar. Kind of like Hindi and Urdu?), try to separate them with the culture gates they are keepers of. But, tongues like new tastes and words as much as familiar ones, like the angrez left with curry on their palates and their vocabulary. Hence, despite the Hindi-Urdu divide mandated by colonialists and new-colonial nationalists, I've only rarely heard an auto rickshaw driver say "dhanyavad". Most I've met, use that other Hindustani word—thenkoo.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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First Published: 25 October, 2020 09:00 IST

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