When a young influencer uploaded a video of her friends enjoying at a “pawri”, it went viral in the subcontinent as people related to the ‘desi’ pronunciation of the word ‘party’.
Dananeer Mobeen said later she does not usually speak with that “firangi” (foreign) accent, just that she was making fun of “burgers’, the disparaging term for ‘desis’ who study or live abroad and acquire the drawling American accent.
These foreign visitors are termed as ‘burgers’ because of their love for the American fast food, though the local “kabab-roti” (kebab rolled up in flat bread) combo is much tastier.
Mobeen continues to trend on social media after internet sensation Yashraj Mukhate, who composed the viral ‘Rasode mein kaun hain” (Who is in the kitchen?), made a mash-up of her video, with the words in Hindi/Urdu, “No party for me from today, only ‘pawri’.”
When we lived in the Greater Toronto Area, also known as the GTA, we always pronounced “Toronto”, with a hard R and with an emphasis on ‘Toh’, like it was the name of the fictional Native American who was part of the two-some, Lone Ranger and Tonto, who most probably was a Comanche.
No one flinched at our north-Indian and south-Indian accents, when we asked for directions in TOE-Ron-T-OH, because Canada is a multicultural nation and people come from various parts of the globe and most everyone speaks English with an atrocious accent.
(Incidentally, English language courses are conducted in Bengaluru and Hyderabad, the IT hubs in India, where everyone wants to speak like a Yankee because they wish to sound American when answering long-distance calls in the call centres).
Much before I realised that I need to work on my Canadian pronunciation, we have to go back several years when I landed a job in Saudi Arabia. Most of my colleagues were young British guys and I was happy because English was my strong point (but unhappily I had neglected my mother-tongue, Urdu) and I could easily understand what the guy was saying on BBC news, or in the American Western cowboy movies.
But these journo chaps were young and spoke slang and swallowed most of their words. Like, “Man, I was gutted when I spilled the beverage.” Or, “You bettah complete i (th) in the minut..”
Not only did I not understand a word of what these Brit guys were saying but when chaps from my ‘native place’ Hyderbabad, spoke to me in that funny Deccani accent, I did not understand them either. So, linguistically, I was pretty lonely.
I should have learnt Malayalam, because after Hyderabadis, people from Kerala were the next largest number of expatriates in Saudi Arabia, and most of the shop signboards in remote areas were in Malayalam, and lastly but most importantly, because my wife is of Kerala-origin.
I did try and learn Arabic, and because there are so many accents, Levantine, Arab Gulf, Hijazi, someone suggested I learn Egyptian Arabic. I enrolled in the night class and the tutor was a Sudanese and he had a completely different way of intonation of Arabic words and he would turn his voice into a squeak when he was trying to emphasise something.
I tried to imitate the squeak, but could never get a handle on that.
Years later when the internet was finally invented I went on to YouTube to check on pronunciation of names of Canadian cities and found Toronto is Toron-oh, Ottawa is Oddawa, and Alberta is Alber-dda.
Meanwhile, with Coronavirus cases surging again in India, officials are urging people to wear masks and stop socialising and it will be a while before I go to a ‘pawri’ and chill out.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi