Indian English that only we Indians understand

I’m starting a new series of Indian English terms that only we Indians use and understand.

We invented these terms/words and we use them confidently and brazenly as if they actually exist in the English language. Who knows? A few years down the line these might even creep into the English dictionaries. After all ‘shampoo’, ‘guru’, ‘avatar’, ‘bangle’, ‘jungle’ and so on are Indian words that made their way into the English language.

But lately I’ve noticed some terms being bandied about which are not Indian words but English words that Indians use and each term has a connotation that only we Indians understand.

So let us start with a cheerful term:



What is a return gift?

Read on to find out.

When we were children, which was a very long time ago, we attended birthday parties and gave a present to the birthday boy or girl.

A couple of Amar Chitra Kathas or a pack of sketch pens with upto twelve colours but certainly not forty-four or one of those orange-yellow metallic pencil boxes with geometry set or if our budget was a little more generous, it was a single Enid Blyton book. But even that was really stretching it, because if I remember correctly it cost around Rs. 10 and we are talking about the 80s. The packaging was also with the same standard shiny paper and yes, it was recycled.

At the end of the party we were given a balloon, a pencil, eraser[ we called it rubber] and some hardboiled sweets like Ravalgaon ones[ or eclairs if the hosts were slightly well off]. That’s it. It was as simple as that. We called them ‘back presents’.

Sometimes we got nothing at the end of the party, aside from the balloon. But then our presents were simple too. The party was all about the party games and food.

A homemade cake with no icing or a shop-bought simple square cake with gaudy brightly coloured icing, hard icing flowers with silver balls which we all wanted to eat, but turned out to be too hard, samosas, wafers in a single flavour[ salted, oily, non-branded], home-made green chutney sandwiches and if we were lucky, there would be chole and bread or puris. If were were really lucky there were gulab jamun. Yes, most birthday parties, in our middle class homes had this standard menu.

Party games were standard ones- passing the parcel[ nope, no presents between layers of newspaper, only one winner and yes , everyone had to do ‘punishments’ like sing a song, bray like a donkey, slap the person on your right or something equally silly, if not outrageous for today’s touchy world, but perfectly sensible to us in those days and so on], musical chairs[ highly competitive, no political correctness, birthday boy or girl did not have to win and had to compete like everyone else, no second turns]. Parents conducted the games and the prize if any, was a pencil or sweet. That’s it. No clowns to entertain the guests, only Papa or Baba to hold forth and play clown, teacher, master of ceremonies and so on, while mother slaved in the kitchen.


Fast forward to the present.

First of all, the middle class is no longer middle class. Birthday parties are not what they used to be.

Venues are not necessarily at ones home. What are function halls for, anyway?

Menus are exotic, complete with ‘welcome drink’ and what have you.

Event managers thrive, themes are a must, clowns and Mickey mouse are already so yawnworthy…. Give us something new for goodness sake! No not Dora again and we had ‘Frozen’ last month. Yes, boredom sets in easily. We are difficult to please.

Presents are ostentatious looking, in grandiose packing, complete with a fancy carrier paper bag which costs a bombshell on its own.

Actually let us not even into what goes into a present.

I am more intrigued, actually , outraged by something that goes by the name of ‘return gift’.

What! What is a return gift? Is it a gift you return? Is it an unwanted present that is repackaged and forwarded?

Nope. For those who don’t know, a ‘return gift’ is the new age, exclusively Indian English term, for a gift that one receives at the end of a party. A term, much like the ‘welcome drink’ …….a sign of the times, of new money, actually lots of new money and all the means to flaunt it. Why not?

But why call it ‘return’ gift?

Well, who knows? Many happy ‘returns’ of the day?

It does seem like whoever coined it, wanted the ‘return gift’ to be like a return of favour.

You give me a present, you do me a favour. So what it is my birthday! I will magnanimously return the favour. So, I give you a present in return. So we are both even. Quits. Equal.

Is that what it means? Well, the word ‘return’ does seem to imply that doesn’t it.

Why blame Indians for coming up with the concept? We have the concept of party favours or goody bags in the West which do sometimes contain an obscene number of goodies that threaten to outdo the cost of the birthday present.

But somehow, the ‘return gift’ does so blatantly, without holding back. In your face.

Without a middleclass care, it is ready to outstrip, outshine and upstage the birthday present, if finances permit.

Now picture this.

Children love presents. Children being children, will, in spite of being well brought up and all that, despite their parents’ protests, refuse to leave a birthday party unless they have received their party bag, sorry ‘return gift’.

‘ Go ask Monty’s mother for the party bag because we are leaving soon’ might sound better than ‘ Go ask Monty’s mother for the return gift’, but they do mean the same thing.

But imagine if the ‘return gift’ is a couple of pencils and eraser. Is that a good enough ‘return gift’ in return for the 2 feet X 2 feet, one kg Monopoly set you gifted the Birthday boy or girl? No ? Are you thoroughly disappointed? Well, yes, if you were expecting a ‘return gift’ and it is your fault for calling it a return gift and expecting a return of favour.

Now if you called it a goody bag or party bag, you[ or your child] wouldn’t be so disappointed would they?

Think about it.

Anyway, the ‘return gift’ here to stay.




3 thoughts on “Indian English that only we Indians understand

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