This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Preksha Sharma. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Bilingually Yours: The Hindi Lessons By Kipling And Rushdie

By Preksha Sharma

In the past few months, my literary diet has altered itself to include a good nourishment of children’s books. I started with the old classics (available for free on the internet), happily swallowing Tolkien, Carroll, and the sort. In between, I also read Kipling. Why this writer deserves a special mention has a reason to it. I first read The Jungle Book at the age of eight. My judgement then: The book is irksome and, apologies to all Kipling fans, unimaginative.


When I recently read The Jungle Book again, I relished it. I wondered how I had formed such a harsh opinion against the book at the age. The answer, I believe, came from an accidental combination – Kipling’s The Jungle Book and Aatish Taseer’s op-ed for an international newspaper. I acquiesce whole-heartedly with the claim that The Jungle Book is Kipling’s best work. As an eight year old, my disapproval of the writer wasn’t (entirely) whimsical. It stemmed from a particular ‘formula’ the writer had employed while naming his characters in the book.

Many animal characters in The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book get their names from direct Hindi translations of the species of the animal – an elephant called Hathi; the Bandar-Log, literally, monkey-people; or Baloo, an obvious mispronunciation of Bhaloo, and many more. These were not the names of characters; these were names of animals, and that was the main peeve. By the age of eight, these names of the animals were a part of our regular conversations and profanities.

In his recent op-ed in the New York Times, writer Aatish Taseer laments that the English language has ruined Indian literature. Although we don’t really get an insight into how that happened, the article does makes some relevant points. He states, “Middle-class parents started sending their children in ever greater numbers to convent and private schools, where they lost the deep bilingualism of their parents, and came away with English alone.” I agree with Taseer’s observation on shift in language preference, but not to the extent that children “came away with English alone”. I studied around the same time in private schools all over the country, but we stayed strictly bilingual, and it is only recently that my mother tongue, the beautiful language that my parents and grandparents spoke, was replaced by Hindi, and Hindi by English.

I suspect this new-bilingualism was to be at the core of my soured experience with Kipling’s best known literary work. The names that Kipling used, I imagine, were to be exciting for children who were not equally proficient in English and Hindi. Their minds were not stuffed with thousands of references that make it impossible to accept these just as names. For them, Chuchundara was a clever name for muskrat, or Karait, a suitable one for dusty brown snakeling that lies for choice on dusty earth, but for me, these were the local names of species, the musk shrew (and not muskrat) and the Indian Krait. My grandfather encouraged me to look beyond the names and appreciate the fantasy land where animals could talk. But if a talking animal had no name of its own, it was plain dull to me. Picture this: I am telling you a great story of a lion named – wait for it, Lion, who befriends a mouse named, well, Mouse, and they meet a crow named Crow.

Some characters were named after their most pronounced characteristic. I was reading an exciting scene in the The Jungle Book that occurs early on when the Father Wolf and Mother Wolf take their cubs and Mowgli to the Council Rock when Akela, the great gray Lone Wolf, who led all the Pack by strength and… Akela? I re-read. Akela is the exact translation of ‘alone’ in spoken Hindi, a very common and frequently used word that could never pass as a name, even to a kid.

Each time a character was introduced in The Jungle Book, their names were followed by their English translations. Who are we, the Gidur-log [the Jackal People], to pick and choose?” This would irk me, because it was a repetition, and repetitions are boring. I didn’t need to be told that Gidur-log are the Jackal People, or that Lungri means the Lame One. In all honesty, I concluded that this writer thinks that I am an unintelligent kid (fatal mistake), and that made me hostile towards Kipling.

Recently, I was somewhat reminded of my experience with Kipling when I picked up Salman Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life to read out to my cousins. They are 12 and 11. The opening line of the novel introduces us to the city of Kahani, at which both my cousins clicked they tongues. Kahani is one of the most recurring words in their vocabulary. To suddenly imagine it to be a fantasy land because it has a capital K struck as rather unnatural to them. After a long discussion, we made it to the ensuing confusion of Bear, the dog, and Dog, the bear. Within a few pages, my cousins were convinced that the Kahani was an alias for India. The names of the characters, Aag, a man who was quick to anger and slow to laugh, or the river Silsila, thanks to a popular Bollywood number, would not let them believe otherwise. (My younger cousin, not getting the author’s intention, even argued that Rakshit, a popular name in India, was misspelt by the author as Ratshit.) My cousins never finished Luka to lay hands on its prequel Haroun… and the Sea of Stories (which also had the forbidden City on Earth’s invisible, watery moon, Kahani).

I was surprised to learn that Ruryard Kipling was, in a way, ‘deeply bilingual’. In the first chapter of Something of Myself, Rudyard Kipling writes, “In the afternoon heats before we took our sleep, she (Ayah) or Meeta (referred as Hindu bearer) would tell us stories and Indian nursery songs all unforgotten, and we were sent into the dining-room after we had been dressed, with the caution: ‘Speak English now to Papa and Mamma.’ So one spoke ‘English,’ haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in.” Rushdie is also comfortably bilingual. Did these writers use Hindi to add oriental exoticism to their works to make it appetizing for the Western readership? And does that mean that these books were not meant for some of us? I can’t say.

Early on, in the book Haroun and the Sea of Stories, we are told that all names mean something. Alison Lurie observed in her review of the book that ‘most of the names in the book derive from this language (Hindustani (sic))’. A reader, presumably not knowing Hindi, observes rather frankly about Haroun… on Goodreads, that “… the jokes and play on words aren’t all that funny (you have to know Hindi to get most of them)…” Even for those who ‘get most of them’, these are day-to-day words lifted from spoken Hindi, and are unconvincing choices for names. So be it the land of Gup and the land of Chup, or the Princess Batcheat and the Prince Bolo, Rushdie’s naming remains deceptively simple and deeply allegorical, and also, plainly weird.

I am a fan of Rushdie’s play of words. In Mindnight’s, I cracked up when he introduces the Canine Unit for Tracking and Intelligence; its short form, CUTIA, many would have noticed, means bitch in Hindi. It was intentional and witty. As an adult, I love the allegory of the names Rushdie employs in his children’s novels, but as a child, if I was told that a princess’ name is Batcheat, a name fit for a talk show on politics, I would not believe any part of the story and Haroun… would have been stacked right next to The Jungle Book.

You must be to comment.

More from Preksha Sharma

Similar Posts

By Subhajit Murmu

By Md Sohel

By Sahil Razvii

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below