Archive for January 2011

Contemporary India. Basic Sources of Information. 2. New Books by Patrick French and Anand Giridharadas.

31 January 2011

Two more very recent valuable contributions to a wider understanding of contemporary India are briefly outlined and recommended below.

Anand Giridharadas, India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, Times Books, USA [and Black Inc, Australia], 2011. ISBN 9781863955164

This is a valuable book by the son of Indian immigrants to USA. Giridharadas relates how the incomparable combination of an Indian background, frequent visits to India, and a thoroughly American upbringing and education led to his appointment as the first Bombay correspondent for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune between 2005 and 2009.

India Calling presents the fruits of his keen observation, insight and analysis of Indian realities and the changes that have been happening for the past two decades.

Proof of Giridharadas’s originality and the importance and intimacy of this picture of contemporary India is to be found in the (priceless) recommendations by three eminent writers and scholars which adorn the book’s covers:

Professor Amartya Sen
“One of the finest analyses of contemporary India. This is an engrossing and acutely observed appreciation of a country that is at once old and new – an enormously readable book in which everyone, at home in India or abroad, will find something distinctive, and altogether challenging.”

William Dalrymple
“A memorable debut, full of insights and diversion.”

Edward Luce
“Savvy and often moving, India Calling is for those who prefer the view from the ground than from thirty thousand feet.”

A must for Indiaphiles and for the growing number of India watchers.

Patrick French, India: a Portrait, Allen Lane, 2010. ISBN 9781846142147
[Due for publication by Random House later in 2011]

Patrick French’s writing career has already produced several important books, on the explorer Francis Younghusband (1994), India’s Independence (1997), Tibet (2003) and V.S. Naipaul (2008). The first two of these were awarded prizes and also attracted some polemical attention.

French’s latest work, based on extensive research and recent travels aims to portray the everyday contradictions found in India and to offer background to explain why India is as it is today. As proof of the author’s reputation, many reviews have already been published, among them David Gilmour’s (‘All these Indias’) in The Spectator (19 January 2011) and an anonymous review in The Economist (22 January 2011), ‘A colourful depiction of momentous times in a giant country’, in which the reviewer, although positive about the new book, makes the following criticism: “While presenting few new ideas, Mr French has a sometimes surprising tendency to lay claim to established ones. That Western power will be diminished in relative terms by Asia’s rise, that Indian politics is becoming ever more dynastic and that the country’s Hindu nationalists need to freshen up on their manifesto are all commonplace. Mr French suggests them as insights.”

Although this point needs examining, novelist Aravind Adiga’s review in The Observer (16 January 2011) seems altogether over the top and will not prevent me from buying a copy of French’s interesting-looking book.

“To write well about India, however, one needs more than just affection; and what is missing in this book is evidence, so present in A Million Mutinies Now [by V.S.Naipaul], of a struggle to understand India and one’s own place in it. French never gets much beyond the glib assertion in his preface that the new, cool India is the “world’s default setting for the future” …”

Adiga’s radiator then boils over:
“And this is the main problem with the book: if there is some crisp writing in it, there is not a scintilla of original thinking. VS Naipaul managed to combine a love of Indians with a healthy contempt for the nation’s mostly mediocre intelligentsia; this is something French fails to do. Everything in here is a rehash of the vapid, vaguely liberal orthodoxy that dominates so much of academia in India.”

Why not give Patrick French the benefit of the doubt and visit his website?

Or listen to his 2-minute introduction to his book here.

Translation 27. Google Translate: Present State and Ongoing Research

29 January 2011 is a large online site for professional translators and interpreters. It claims 300,000 members in 190 countries. In a recent newsletter, ProZ announced a new translating blogsite for members and ProZ member RominaZ posted this link to a recent article by Chris Griffiths on Google’s admission that its free online Translation service – which is very widely used and extremely useful for getting a rough idea of foreign language content – still has some way to go before being ready for “sensitive debates”.

Following up one of several links attached to the Griffiths’ article reveals further information from Murad Ahmed on the present state of Google’s massive translation operations and its ongoing research for improvements and extended uses.

Ahmed quotes the leader of Google’s translation team, Dr Franz Och:
“Like much else at Google, the solution to the problem lies in number-crunching. Google is trying to turn language into a mathematical problem. Its “machine translation” system analyses millions of different texts on the web, learning the laws and exceptions of a language and applying these rules to its translations.

“The way we are doing it is to learn from vast amounts of data,” Franz Och, the research scientist who leads Google’s translation team, said. “Our system is learning to mimic what human translators do … the quality of our translation is getting better.”

Ahmed also offers this interesting Google research news:
“As well as perfecting the system, Google is building devices that can make it more useful. Last year, Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, demonstrated a device on which people can take picture of foreign text on a mobile phone – a road sign or a restaurant menu – and get a near-instant translation of it.

“When asked what was next in store for the technology, Mr Schmidt said: “Google can translate 100 languages to 100 languages, so why can’t I just speak on the phone to someone who doesn’t speak my language? Well, we’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming soon.”
For a basic explanation of the Statistical Machine Translation method (SMT) favoured by Google (which is based on the statistical analysis of large bilingual corpora), see

Translation 26. An Online Hindi & Urdu Glossary of Bollywood films by Volker Schuermann

14 January 2011

Volker Schuermann’s Bollywood Dictionary is something of a hidden Internet gem for foreign students of Hindi and Urdu and aficionados of the Indian cinema. It is to be found here.

This meticulously transliterated glossary of over 3500 terms uses an eclectic mixture of lexicographical techniques to present the selected Hindi and Urdu terms in a (convenient) romanised form and in an alphabetical order which is much more user-friendly than conventional Hindi-English or Urdu-English dictionaries which offer romanised glosses of the Hindi or Urdu terms.

This version of Schuermann’s glossary was compiled and printed in Germany in April 2001 and converted into this PDF format in March 2003. The presentation is brief and modest:

Volker Schuermann’s Bollywood Dictionary

“It is definitly not a Hindi dictionary! One might call it a Hindustani dictionary, though. The vocabulary consists of words from quite a few different origins: Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Sanskrit, Greek and English. All those languages have been mixed together to form a new language – Hindustani. A language the majority of Indian cinema-goers can understand.

“In order to help Bollywood fans living in the western parts of the world to understand the dialogues in the movies as well, I have created this dictionary. The sort-order of the vocabulary is based on latin script to make it easier to look up words. Also, the Hindustani words are not printed in Devanagari or even Urdu script but in latin letters. ITRANS is used as a transliteration scheme except for a few occasions where Urdu/Arabic words needed special transliteration treatment.”

Schuermann expresses his acknowledgement of work of the ITRANS team led by Avinash Chopde and concludes:.

“Enjoy your Bollywood movies ….
… and from now on, enjoy understanding the dialogues as well.”
Volker Schuermann, April 2001… [An email address is given there.]

Fans and students are highly indebted to Dr Schuermann (or perhaps Schürmann) for this well-researched and presented Glossary.

The following sample gives an idea of the scope and the amount of research undertaken. (The symbols are explained on pages 2 and 3.)

“baad: later
baad me.n: afterwards, later
baadah (n.m.) [P]: wine, spirits
baadal (n.m.) [H]: cloud(s)
baadiyah (n.m.) [A]: wilderness, desert
baadiyah (n.m.) [P]: goblet, cup
baadshaah (n.m.) [P]: emperor, king
baagh (n.m.) [P]: garden, orchard, grove
baagh (m.): tiger
baahar: outside
baaiis: twenty-two, 22
baal (m.): child
baal (m.): hair
baal baa.Nka na honaa: to escape unhurt
baal-bachche (m.): children, family
baalaTii (f.): bucket
baalak (m.): child
baalam (n.m.) [S]: a lover, sweet-heart, husband
baam (n.m.) [P]: upper storey, terrace, balcony
baan (suff.) [P]: signifying keeper or guardian
baanave: ninety-two, 92
baano (n.f.) [P]: lady, gentlewoman
baap (m.): father
baaqee (adj.) [A]: remaining, lasting
baaqee (n.f.) [A]: residue, remainder, arrears
baaqii (f.): remaining, left over, remainder
baar (n.m.) [H]: time, turn, chance, opportunity, delay, obstacle
baar (n.m.) [P]: burden, load, permission, grief, court
baarah (n.m.) [P]: time, turn, about, in regard of
baarah: twelve, 12
baareek (adj.) [P]: fine, slender, delicate, difficult, subtle
baarish (n.m.) [P]: rain
baarish honaa: to rain, rain to fall
baasaTh: sixty-two, 62
baat (n.f.) [H]: word, saying, speech, tale, news, question, business, proposal,
point, gossip, substance
baat: thing, matter, idea, thing said
baat karanaa se: to talk, converse
baate.n honaa: a conversation to take place
baavan: fifty-two, 52
baayaa.N: left (direction)
baaz (adv.) [P]: again, back, refusing
baaz (n.m.) [P]: falcon
baaz (suff.) [P]: denotes doer, agent
baazaar (n.m.) [P]: market, bazaar
baazaar garam honaa: to be doing brisk business
baazaaree (adj.) [P]: common, low, vulgar, relating to the market
baazii (n.f.) [P]: sport, game, wager, turn (in a game)
baazichah (n.m.) [P]: toy, fun, sport
baazoo (n.m.) [P]: arm, fold of a door, flank of an army
bachaanaa: to save, rescue
bachanaa: to be saved, escape, survive
bachapan (m.): childhood
bachchaa (m.): child
bad (adj.) [P]: bad, wicked, evil
bad akhtar (adj.): unfortunate
bad anjaam (adj.): having a bad end
bad chalan (adj.): of bad conduct, ill-mannered, immoral
bad du’aa (n.f.): curse, malediction
bad khvaab (n.m., f.): nightmare
bad m’aash (adj.): roguish
bad naam (adj.): disreputable, notorious, ignominous
bad naseeb (adj.): unfortunate, unlucky”

And there are 60 more pages!