One of the things I hate about the Indian literary scene is the writers who set their stories in India but write for a foreign audience. So instead of ‘dal’ they write ‘lentil soup’, and instead of ‘silk kurta’ they write ‘loose-fitting silk shirt’, and so on. I call them ‘tourist-guide writers’, more concerned with catering to Western demand for exotica than to the authenticity that would be true to their subject matter. Whatever. At least there is some rationale to their approach.
But why would an Indian publication, catering to Indian readers who know what Indian words mean, adopt the same approach? My readers know how very fashionable I am when it comes to clothes—except those who have met me personally—and I’ve been following the local coverage of the fashion weeks pretty closely. And time and again, I see Indian clothes being referred to in Western terms. For example, churidars are constantly being described as ‘leggings’. This is understandable if someone is writing for the US edition of Vogue, but all the local newspapers, as well as Rediff, which caters to an Indian and NRI readership, have taken to this.
I find this inexplicable for two reasons: One, ‘churidar’ is a lovely, sonorous word, and all Indians know what it means. Two, leggings tend to be form-fitting all the way from the waist to the ankle, while churidars are generally looser at the thighs. Besides being unnecessary, the substitution is also wrong.
There is similar confusion over salwars. Consider the outfit Shah Rukh Khan wore at the Manish Malhotra show a couple of days ago, which has been described variously as ‘pathialas’ [sic], ‘an Afghani salwar’ and ‘black harem pants’. Now, folks over in Patiala and Afghanistan can argue over the first two, but how is that thing he’s wearing ‘harem pants’? Why do we need to make our writing Western-friendly even when writing for Indian audiences?
Is it because the correspondents in question are so enthralled by coverage of Western fashion in foreign magazines that they find it necessary to stick to their glossary of terms? Or that Indian words, somehow, have become infra dig?
Also, does this attitude reflect something broader around us?