Popular Indian Culture: ‘Chutnification’ of Languages



The research paper aims at cracking the code of ‘chutnification’ of languages in the context of popular Indian culture. It dissects the complex relationship between ‘chutnification’ of language and popular Indian culture. It discusses: how the ‘chutnification’ of languages becomes the centre that proliferates both English and popular culture at the same time. The predominance of ‘chuntification’ will be seen through the theoretical perspectives of cultural studies. Second: it will discuss the extension of ‘Pidgin’ under pressure of globalization. It will discuss: how the poetics of cultural changes and changes in Information and Technology end up in the ‘chutnification’ of languages. It highlights the linguistic courtesy of English that enables it to dominate Sanskrit and Hindi in Indian context. It addresses the issue of English as a language of global communication. The ‘chutnification’ of English will not be seen through the purist perspective but will be seen through anti-colonial perspective. As its text it will dwell primarily on Popular Indian Culture and will use Cassette Culture, Social Media, Bollywood and Popular Indian English Fiction as sub-texts.

The idea of undertaking ‘popular Indian culture’ and ‘chutnified language’ as subordinate texts to each other is inspired from Raymond Williams’ observations on language. He states: “A definition of language is always, implicitly or explicitly, a definition of human beings in the world” (21). Second: he opines: “Marxism has contributed very little to think about language itself” (21). Keeping these two observations in mind the paper discusses the reciprocal relationship among Popular Indian Culture, Language and Market. 

The term ‘chutnification’ is popularized in relation to Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnights’ Children. Though, in its point of reference it is not a new concept. If one compares the linguistic terms such as ‘pidgin’1, ‘creole’2 and ‘esperanto’3 with ‘chutinification’ then one finds that ‘chutnification’ is nothing else but a postmodern synonym of ‘pidgin’ and ‘creole’. ‘Pidgin’ languages are also called ‘bazaar’ languages. The term ‘chutnification’ is synonymous with ‘pidgin’ because both the terms are market-driven. In earlier times, coastal areas have been the major centers of trade. As a result these areas have been potential sites for experiments and changes in languages. But with the passage of time and particularly with the advent of globalization coastal area centered trade twitches and penetrates deep into the culture of nations. Along with the physical and geographical extension of coastal area- as a site of trade- the ‘pidgin’ language becomes ‘creole’ that is known as ‘chutnification’ of language in contemporary times. Thus, on the basis of this premise the term ‘chutnification’ is synonymous with both ‘pidgin’ and ‘creole’.

It follows that the extension of global market is one of the primary reasons for the proliferation of the English language and its ‘chutnification’. The linguistic courtesy of English allows it to mingle with other languages. This courtesy has helped English in achieving the status of a language that is the medium of global communication. Only because of the lack of this linguistic elasticity Sanskrit is not a dominant language in our Indian context. On the other hand English has become the language of global market. The widespread code of ‘chutnification’ of English can be cracked through the sub-texts discussed below.

The rise of cassette culture or to be very precise the rise of micro chip culture has played a pivotal role in the ‘chutnification’ of English. It has repeatedly been said that syncretic popular music is the most competent index to gauge the changing social identity in the cultures undergoing socioeconomic transition. Musical taste has overt and potent connotations of ideological orientation. In the pre-cassette or micro chip era in India, villagers who have been in close connection with native culture had quite different musical tastes. Villagers have used sang, nautanki and birha – in northern India- as modes of entertainment. On the contrary, their urban counterparts patronize distinct forms of music. Villagers have been fond of folk music and the urbanites have been much interested in film music with which modernity and westernization have been associated. But this dichotomy existed before the advent of cassette culture. With proliferation of cassette culture such binaries start falling apart. As a result of blurring of these boundaries both become free players in the recording industry. Thus the “advent of cassette culture decentralizes and diversifies the formerly oligopolized Indian Music Industry” (Peter Manuel 155). This decentralization is a significant factor while discussing ‘chutnification’ of languages as it prepares the ground for mixing Hindi with English and coining new ‘chutnified’ words like ‘Englishtani’.

Popular music, one of the integral parts of popular culture, has been a fertile ground for the ‘chutnification’ of languages. To illustrate this premise one may refer to Shree 4204. The movie is well known for the song ‘mera juta hai japani, ye patloon Englishtani, ser pe lal topi russi phir bhi dil hai Hindustani’. Though such kind of ‘chutnification’ of language was rare before the rise of cassette culture yet here in the song the linguistic hybridity in the word ‘Englistani’ bespeaks volumes of the truth about hybridized Indian culture.In contemporary popular music we find a plethora of English worlds mingled with Hindi, Punjabi, Haryanvi, Bhojpuri and so on. It would be pertinent to refer to popular Punjabi and Haryanvi songs which use English words excessively. In this free use of words from various languages, Punjabi popular music dominates Haryanvi popular songs. As a reason, Punjabis’ migration to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America may be quoted here. The following extract from the script of popular Punjabi song Brown Rang, lyrics sung by Honey Singh, is pertinent for the propose of showing the ‘chutnification’ of languages in which words and phrases of Hindi, English and Punjabi are freely mingled:- 

Kudiye ni tere brown rang ne, munde pattte ni saare mere town de
Koi kamm utte jaavena roti paani khaavena
Gori gori kudiyan nu koi munh laavena
Excuse me Miss, kis kis kis kiss se tu bhaagigi
Hun bach bach ke, tenu rab ne husn ditta rajj rajj ke
Hoge ni tere charche Star News to BBC
Ho brown brown skin wali, let me tell you one thing
Rab di saunh you so sexy
Vaise taan mitran da bahut vadda score but white chicks na
I don’t like them anymore, bann mitran di whore
I mean mitran di ho
I know, now don’t say no no.          

In these lines, we find not only words from different languages but we find complete sentences in different languages. Thus, this script traces the organic trajectory of ‘chutnification’ of language from ‘Englisthani’ to ‘Brown Rang’. For example, apart from words such as ‘brown’, ‘town’, ‘skin’, there are complete sentences in English like ‘Excuse me Miss’, ‘Let me tell you one thing’, ‘I don’t like them anymore’ etc. The same kind of ‘chutnification’ of languages finds expression in popular Haryanvi songs as well. For example, while referring to social media such as ‘Facebook’ the popular singer refers to words such as ‘sitting’, ‘chatting’ etc. 

This growing phenomenon of ‘chutnifying’ words is one of the diversifications of language in popular music industry. The rise and proliferation of this phenomenon may be attributed to “the decentralization of music industry” that leads “to several forms of musical diversifications, most notably within the parameters of region, language, genre, and performer” (Peter Manuel 156).The linguistic variety finds its clear expression in the ‘chutnifying’ code of popular culture in India. The pre-cassette recording industry has neglected many regional languages and dialects. Most of the recordings in pre-cassette revolution in India are in Hindi-Urdu. But now we have a full fledged music industry for regional dialects which are mixed with several languages. However, the uncritical adherents of language jingoism and nativism would criticize this democratization as it comes with the penetration of English words into regional dialects and Indian languages. Their criticism is true to some extant as English words enter popular Punjabi or Haryanvi songs not the Punjabi or Haryanvi words entering western pop music. But this nativist belief becomes fallacious when we see Hindi words entering popular Indian English narratives.

The penetration of Hindi words in popular Indian English fiction may best be illustrated through a laconic linguistic discourse analysis of Soma Das’ novel Sumthing of a Mocktale. The ‘chutnification’- in regard to spellings of English words- starts with the title of the novel itself as ‘something’ is spelled as ‘sumthing’. The writer of this national bestseller demolishes the centrality of English by using Hindi words frequently. Almost every page has several Hindi and Bengali words such as: – “khand”, “puram”, “ram ram”, “yaar” (6), “mane” (12), “guru gyan” (19), “Beechi” (20), “baba”(21), “matrubhasha”, “Baarijaabo” (22), “kulfifaluda”, “karchee” (23), “vadasambhar”, “gyan of grades” (27), “samosa” (28), “bhaiya” (29), “maunvrat” (32), “parantha pub” (42), “saala” (49), “dard”, sheroshairi” (56), “bahanas” (61), “mithai” (77), “raakhi” (88), “chowdhrain” (109), “santushti complex” (110), “yummy lassi” (111), “gobar”, “malai”, “gur” (112), “kothi” (115), “izzat” (117), “daadi” (119), “subzi shopping” (127), “khichri” (139), “pahari” (142), “thalis” (143), “masala” (147), “vegetable mandi” (149), “angrezsaab” (151), “Jodi no. 1” (153), “beedi” (188), “tandoori” (198).The ‘chutnification’ of language is not only visible through the use of words but it is self- reflexive at the level of certain ‘chutnified’ phrases in sentences such as “Chhotu is serving tea at a chchee- chchee unhygienic place…” (15), “But, if you are here to do something else, like IAS- YAS, …” (28), “Arrey, who is it?” (33), “Saala..m**** dharma bhrasht karaega” (48), “Na na cholbena cholbena…” (101) for ‘won’t do won’t do’, “Arre what is this” (189). The writer intensifies the effect of ‘chutnification’ through excessive incorporation of unconventional spellings of English words such as: – “medam” (3) instead of ‘madam’, “leemit” (101) instead of ‘limit’, “fabhouriteshongs” (102). The writer demolishes the standardized rules of changing gender through the words such as: “doggess” (20) for the female dog that is ‘bitch’ in standardized English. The rules of ‘English punctuation’ are overlooked in expressions such as: – “Seexhundredfifty” (21).  

Further, Shariq Iqbal’s national bestseller To Whom It May Concern may be treated as a true specimen of popular Indian English fiction for the purpose of illustrating ‘chutnification’ of languages. The novel starts with the ‘chutnification’ of the pronunciation and spelling of the word ‘God’ that finds expression in the very first line: – “Gawwwd…what time is it” (1). Throughout the novel the writer uses a plethora of Hindi words such as: – “gyaan” (5), “dhaba” (11), “Sutta-point” (15), “kheer” (23), “randi- khana” (24), “nam” (25), “firangs” (26), “naah” (30), “auto- wala” (53), “alooparantha” (61), “maachis” (89), “ishtylish” (129), and so on and so forth. The writer chutnifies vulgar words in his own style such as “mothafucka”(45) for ‘motherfucker’and”Sonofabitch” (43). Shariq Iqbal takes his chutnified use of language one step ahead by using several sentences in Kannada language such as “Yen BCE…kaaskudho… Aidhurupaye” (45). It  means – Don’t just blabber BCE, give the money too, five rupees. The writer generates the effect of onomatopoeia with typical Indian sounds such as in the expression”The auto tuk-tuk-ed to the NIMS campus…” (53). 

Social Media- Facebook, WhatsApp etc. also play a vital role in the chutnification of languages particularly in the spelling of English words. The same gets reflected in the following passage: 

I dun think u’re even readin my msgs… but if u’re … then lemmetel u tht I promise 2 say sorry n mak u laugh agn… if not taday then tmrw… n im not on any marijuana or vodka… I jus need u n u’re my high… my world… bye n tc. certifieddumbo   (Shariq Iqbal 91).

Thus, the popular writers’ defiance of the standardized English manifests at the lexical level. Like Shariq Iqbal and Soma Das every popular writer inserts words from various languages with equal ease. This usage of ‘chutnified’ language by popular Indian English writers may not be a serious and deliberate attempt as they do not have the brand of ‘postcolonial writers’ with their names. For this very reason their diction is condemned by the purists of language. However, the ‘chutnification’ is an integral part of popular Indian culture that finds expression in the popular narratives unconsciously. Popular Indian English writers use the technique of “selective fidelity” (Ashcroft 64) which becomes self- reflexive in their daring to leave Hindi, Urdu, Bengali or Punjabi words unglossed. On the contrary, the conscious incorporation of this technique finds expression in the hands of mature writers such as Salman Rushdie who gives currency to the term (i.e. ‘chutnification’) through his novel Midnight’s Children.

Rushdie mentions the redrawing of India’s map in 1956 in which the boundaries of states “were not formed by rivers, or mountains, or any natural features of the terrain, they were instead the walls of words. Language divided us” (225). In relation to this point, Rushdie’s multilingual medium- in the form of ‘chutnification’ of language- in the novel is considered as a plea for resisting the artificial divisions. With the same argument, the ‘chutnification’ of languages in popular Indian culture should be considered as a crucial code of multilingual and multicultural India. 

‘Chutnification’ of languages can be taken as a revolt against “cultural elitism” (Andrew Milner 32). Popular music, popular media and popular Indian English fiction are major participants in this linguistic revolt. For example, all these sub-texts of popular culture use ‘chutnified’ languages and people of all ages have access to these cultural artifacts. Such language is used on radio and television talk shows without discretion and in popular music lyrics. The titles of Bollywood movies-reflect the ‘chutnifying’ code of popular India culture- such as: – Chennai Express, Rajdhani Express, Race 2, Aashiqui 2, Doom 3, Murder 3, Page 3, Grand Masti, Special 26, Table No. 21, Love AajKal, Daag the Fire, Kai Po Che, Jayantabhai Ki Love Story,Ragini MMS, Jab We Met, Son of Sardaar, Love Sex aurDhokha, Malaamal Weekly, Welcome to Sajjanpur,Jaal the Trap, EkTha Tiger, Double Dhamaal, Gulab Gang, Boothnath Returns, Saadike Side-effects,I, Me aur Mein, Policegiri, PhataPoster NiklaHero,ShuddhDesi Romanceetc. The same may be best illustrated through the following pictorial text:   

(Posters of some popular Hindi movies that use ‘Chutnified’ language in titles)

A critical discourse analysis of these posters of Hindi movies illustrates: how the ‘chutnified’ titles have become an integral part of Bollywood movies. Often, we focus only on spoken discourse; however, standardized written language is used in certain journals, certain newspapers, and certain elements of popular culture. In postmodern times, when pluralism supersedes singular fixity, it is fallacious to deprecate ‘chutnification’ of languages (i.e. suggestive of linguistic pluralism). Because of its pluralistic nature English has become the language of market. Second: language is not a medium but a constitutive element of material social practices (Raymond Williams 165). In contemporary India social material practices are hybrized that become self-reflexive in hybrized, creolized or ‘chutnified’ languages. Thus ‘chutnification’ of languages fits squarely in the “mirror theory of mass media” (Klapper 16).

Notes and References

  1. Pidgin: It is a special language with a very limited vocabulary and limited structures, used for purposes like trade by those people who have no common  language between them. Some examples of pidgin are: (1) ‘I go go market’ (Cameroon pidgin) and ‘I chowchow’ for ‘I eat’ (Chinese pidgin).
  2. Creole: When a pidgin language comes to be used for a long period of time by a community as a whole its own vocabulary and structures, it becomes a ‘Creole’. It is the product of two different languages originally used by the speakers.
  3. Esperanto: It is a theoretical language to be used by all the people all over the world. Some people continue to make an attempt to evolve such a world language, based on the vocabulary and codes of important languages in the world. However, so far, such attempts have not been successful.
  4. Shree 420: This bricolaged word is used in Shree 420 that is a 1955 Bollywood film directed, produced by Raj Kapoor and Nargis. The song became hugely popular and a metaphor of nationalism.


  • Ashcroft, Bill, et al. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Postcolonial Literature. London: Routledge, 1993. Print. 
  • Das, Soma. Sumthing of a mocktale at JNU where Kurta fell in Love with Jeans. New Delhi: Srishti Publishers and Distributers, 2010. Print.
  • Klapper, Joseph T. The Effects of Mass Communication. Glencoe: Free Press, 1960. Print.
  • Iqbal, Shariq. To Whom It May Concern: love..luck.. my bad!. New Delhi: Srishti Publishers & Distributers, 2011. Print.
  • Manuel, Peter. Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993. Print.  
  • Milner, Andrew. LiteratureCulture & Society. London: UCL Press, 1996. Print.  
  • Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. New York: Avon, 1982. Print.
  • Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Print.

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