A small guide to Indian English.

Some basic words and how spellings can differ.

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There are always alternatives for many words in India, so a street on a map might be marked as a road or marg, that a place name like Qutb can also be found as Qutub or Qutab, why Kashmere or Kashmiri Gate is so named when the Indian state is spelt Kashmir, and a name such as Nizamuddin might also appear as Nizam-ud-din.

However these are the more common Hindi words that you’ll come across.

– spiritual college and retreat, like a monastery.
– perfume.
Baba/bapu – literally father, but used as a term of respect.
Bagh – garden.
Baksheesh – tip, bribe or alms.
Baoli – a step-well dug into the ground steps leading down to the water level.
Begum – a title for a Muslim woman of rank.
Bhavan/bhawan – house, building.
Bogie – train carriage.
Cantonment – administrative and military area of a British colonial town.
Chaat – general term for small snacks.
Chai – tea, usually tea leaves and sugar boiled in milk.
Chapati – unleavened flat bread.
Charbagh – literally meaning four gardens, but a formal garden divided into quarters by watercourses.
Chowk – marketplace, intersection or town square.
Civil lines – area of civilian housing in colonial times.
Dargah – shrine or tomb of a Muslim saint.
Darshan – an audience with someone, usually a guru or viewing of a deity.
Darwaza – gateway or door.
Dhal – lentil soup; the staple that most of India lives on.
Dharamsala – pilgrim accommodation.
Diwan – principal officer in a princely state, royal court or council.
– royal court or gathering.
– narrow lane.
– Sikh temple.
– teacher or holy person.
– fair or village market.
– baths, Turkish in origin.
Haveli – traditional mansions with interior courtyards.
Imam – Muslim religious leader.
– lattice screen carved out of a solid slab of stone.
Ji – an honorific that can be added to a name.
Khadi – homespun cloth.
Khan – Muslim title.
Kos – Islamic unit of distance, aproximately 3.2km.
Kos minar – distance marker.
Lassi – drink of yoghurt and water.
Mahal – palace or large building.
Maharaja/maharana/maharao – princely ruler or king.
Maharani – wife of a princely ruler or a ruler in her own right.
Mahatma – great soul.
Maidan – open grassed area in a city.
Mandi – market.
Mandir – Hindu or Jain temple.
Mantra – sacred word or chant.
Maratha – warlike central Indian race who controlled much of India at various times and fought the (Mughals.)
Marg – major road.
Masjid – mosque.
Memsahib – married European lady, from `madam-sahib’.
Mihrab – prayer niche in mosque.
Minar – tall tower and alongside a mosque, a minaret.
Mullah – Muslim scholar, teacher or religious leader.
Naan – flat leavened bread cooked in a tandori.
Nagar – suburb, town.
Nautch – dance.
Nawab – Muslim ruling prince or powerful landowner.
Nizam – high official in the (Mughal) court.
Paan – a digestive comprising areca nut, lime, spices and maybe tobacco wrapped in a betel vine leaf and placed in the mouth between the cheek and teeth.
Qawwali (plural qawwals)- rhymed Urdu couplets performed with musical accompaniment, originally sung by Sufis.
Qila – fort.
Rajput – Hindu warrior castes, rulers of central India.
Resident – British representative in the court of a princely state.
Roti – bread or a meal.
Sadhu – holy Hindu seeking spiritual enlightenment.
Sahib – `lord’; title applied to Western men.
Sepoy – Indian private in the infantry.
Serai – accommodation for travellers.
Sufi – Muslim mystic.
– artificial water-storage lake or pond.
– a circular clay oven used for cooking.
– Jain spiritual masters who have achieved enlightenment.
Wallah – a man who does, added onto almost anything, eg dhobiwallah (clothes washer), taxiwallah, Delhiwallah.
– Mughal prime minister.

At A Glance


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