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Urdu’s lost vocabulary
 
March 01, 2012
 
 






One of my older siblings is closeted in the study in pursuit of what she calls ‘lingual conservation’. It appears that she is engaged in spotting words from Urdu vocabulary that have disappeared or are on the verge of extinction. Not to be outdone by my relative, I have excavated a few alphabetical combinations from the halcyon days of my childhood and bring them to my readers.
A rectangular, upright piece of furniture that adorned one end of our long pantry sticks to my memory, as the source of many escapades and spankings. This contraption referred to as the ganjeena, was essentially a wooden frame with shelves and four short legs, covered on all sides by steel gauze. Cooked food and other goodies were put in it for overnight storage and air circulating through the gauze kept the contents from going bad. The legs were placed in four terracotta bowls full of water to discourage ants and other ‘party poopers’. We often raided this larder and suffered the consequences of being caught, with my mother’s mouth-watering bread and egg pudding spattered on the front of my shirt.
An aaftaaba was a brass or copper container with a long slender spout and neck, a hinged lid and a gracefully arched handle. I remember seeing one of these utensils lying in a dusty corner of the old store in our family home, but it disappeared when I tried to locate it during subsequent visits. This container was used for washing hands, feet and face and also for pouring liquid refreshment into cups. One can still find aaftaabas adorning handicraft shops, but no one refers to it by its traditional name anymore. While an aaftaaba was a rich man’s possession, a badni adorned the bathrooms of the poor and lower middle classes. This was a terracotta lota-like container sporting a stubby protrusion that allowed water to be poured for ablution and toiletry purposes.
No kitchen was complete without its bagonas and baadias. The former was a circular cooking utensil with vertical walls and is still in popular use under the all-encompassing name of a pateeli. The baadia was an open circular brass or copper utensil with a prominent base used to wash lentils, vegetables and other items.
In my childhood days, it was customary to hear my grandmother use the term Thandi Sarak or The Mall, wherever such a road existed. Lined on both sides by old peepal trees, which provided the much needed shade to travellers, the old name conveyed the very essence of this famous avenue’s character. Another term, much heard by us as children was Gernailly Sarak. This was how old timers referred to the Grand Trunk Road in an apt representation of its historic background and arterial nature. A few days ago, hopelessly lost in the maze of small roads somewhere near Toba Tek Singh, I discovered that the Gernailly Sarak was alive and well. On spotting an old rustic character, I requested directions to the main highway - “you go two miles and take a right, then the first left from the old mosque and straight onto the Gernailly Sarak” - came the response.
The other day, I asked my niece if she could prepare gulgulay. She gave me a queer look, as if doubting my sanity and then burst out laughing at the ‘joke’. I looked at the young woman in mute despair remembering the time when the first drops of the monsoon deluge was welcomed in our home, by the setting up of a stove and wok in the verandah, to be followed by a round of sumptuous pakoras and gulgulay - that mouth-watering sweet fritter made from simple flour and flavouring spices.
Come summers and our rear patio became the scene of beds covered by rectangular pieces of specially stitched cloth held up by polished rods of thin bamboos. These small mini marquis-like covers were known as shabnamis and as the name indicates were used to protect sleepers from dew. With the advent of the mosquito season, the shabnami was replaced by curtained mosquito nets.
The onset of winters saw my mother fussing about the store to locate our cold weather bedding and covers. These had quaint names, which are all but extinct. The dolai was a double cover meant for milder temperatures, while the tillai was composed of three layers, to be used as winters progressed. The mother of all covers was the unwieldy rezai that was stuffed with cotton wool.
With time running nigh to wind up this week’s column and a queue of long lost words begging to be revived, I should perhaps adorn myself with a do shaala and walk down the zeenah to join my sister to add my name to her list of acknowledgments in the hope that her work turns out to be a bestseller.
The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History. 

 
 
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urdu’ lost vocabulary
 
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