[ilds] "the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in"

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Mon Jun 21 13:55:47 PDT 2010

James Gifford wrote:

>         Durrell's mother tongue was undoubtably English, but his first novel
>         shows that he had at least a modest knowledge of Hindi and Urdu, and
>         some others have complained that his limited Arabic contained too much
>         Urdu (I can't comment on that very well, but it seems plausible).  

Again, Durrell certainly could have known nursery-talk Hindi and/or Urdu.

There is no reason to think that Durrell means to say he was a "scholar" 
of the languages. Rather, I understand him as meaning that those tongues 
were his truest mother's milk--a profound nourishment for his 
imagination's growth and sustenance--"the vernacular idiom that one 
thought and dreamed in," to use Kipling's phrase.

Durrell's backward glances make rich use of the commonplaces of 
Anglo-India. Above all, Durrell's /impression/ of what India seemed like 
is more crucial than locating what he discusses on ordinance maps or 
geological surveys.

If you are "fluent" in Kipling, O Best Beloved, none of this will bother 
in the least. But if you have no native Kipling left lingering from your 
nursery days, then it may bemuse or rankle.

Here below are the relevant pre-Durrellian texts, all of which seem 
echoed in Durrell's reminisces.



Kipling, /Something of Myself/, "Chapter 1 -- A Very Young Person"

>         My first impression is of daybreak, light and colour and
>         golden and purple fruits at the level of my shoulder. This
>         would be the memory of early morning walks to the Bombay fruit
>         market with my /ayah/ and later with my sister in her
>         perambulator, and of our returns with our purchases piled high
>         on the bows of it. Our /ayah/ was a Portuguese Roman Catholic
>         who would pray—I beside her—at a wayside Cross. Meeta, my
>         Hindu bearer, would sometimes go into little Hindu temples
>         where, being below the age of caste, I held his hand and
>         looked at the dimly-seen, friendly Gods[. . . .]
>         In the afternoon heats before we took our sleep, she or Meeta
>         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.

Kipling, "Baa Baa, Black Sheep"

>         The Swedish boatswain consoled him, and he modified his
>         opinions as the voyage went on. There was so much to see and
>         to handle and ask questions about that Punch nearly forgot the
>         /ayah/ and Meeta and the /hamal/, and with difficulty
>         remembered a few words of the Hindustani once his second-speech.

Kipling, "The Potted Princess"

>         NOW this is the true tale that was told to Punch and Judy, his
>         sister, by their nurse, in the city of Bombay, ten thousand
>         miles from here. They were playing in the veranda, waiting for
>         their mother to come back from her evening drive. The big pink
>         crane, who generally lived by himself at the bottom of the
>         garden because he hated horses and carriages, was with them
>         too, and the nurse, who was called the ayah, was making him
>         dance by throwing pieces of mud at him. Pink cranes dance very
>         prettily until they grow angry. Then they peck.
>         This pink crane lost his temper, opened his wings, and
>         clattered his beak, and the ayah had to sing a song which
>         never fails to quiet all the cranes in Bombay. It is a very
>         old song, and it says:
>         Buggle baita nuddee kinara,
>         Toom-toom niushia kaye,
>         Nuddee kinara kanta lugga
>         Tullaka-tullaka ju jaye.
>         That means: A crane sat by the river-bank, eating fish
>         /toom-toom/, and a thorn in the riverbank pricked him, and his
>         life went away /tullakatullaka/—drop by drop. The /ayah/ and
>         Punch and Judy always talked Hindustani because they
>         understood it better than English.

Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

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