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Trading words

The book Oman-India ties: Across Sea and Space takes its readers on a visual journey outlining the rich historical relationship between the two great civilizations of Oman and India which goes back more than 5000 years. Published by Oman Observer in association Indian Embassy Muscat and written by Samuel Kutty (Senior Editor of the Observer) and Sandhya Rao Mehta (Associate Professor of SQU), the book is an attempt to document, archive and disseminate this relationship from its historical past to the present time where these relations have taken new wings. Extracts from the book will continue to appear on this space every Saturday.
sorting dates at the date factory - Jerajani
sorting dates at the date factory - Jerajani

Samuel Kutty and Sandhya Rao Mehta -

There is also evidence to show the trade connections between Oman and Kerala, leading to linguistic influences. According to Ahmad, “The ancient Arab poet ‘Imr-ul-Khais’ in one of his famous poems compares the excretions of deer with the pepper that was available only in Kerala. The Arabic words like ‘narajeel’ (coconut) and ‘arus’ (rice) are derived from Malayalam which is found in very ancient Arabic literature. It is the Arabs and Persians who named Kerala as ‘Malabar’, which was formed as a combination of the Malayalam word ‘Mala’ (hills) and Arabic word ‘Baar’ (the region).”

Historically, Indian swords were very famous in the Arab world and they are called Hindi, Hindawani and Muhannad. They gained the reputation of being very supple and sharp. Pre-Islamic Arabic poetry has many references to this and many other Indian goods being popular among Bedouins too. Many Indian words like sandal (chandan), tanbul (pan), karanfal (clove), narjeel (coconut) were popularly used by the Arabs. Although the Quranic scholars may differ about the non-Arabic words used in the Holy Quran, the Indian Islamic scholar

Maulana Syed Suleiman Nadwi, refers to Hafiz Ibn Hajar and Hafiz Seuti’s works, asserting that a few Indian words like misk (musk), zanjabeel (ginger) and kafur (karpur) have been used in the Holy Quran.

Over the centuries, Indio-Arab cultural ties in southern India deepened with the frequent visits of merchants, travellers and scholars. In the Tamil-speaking areas, Tamil assimilated some Arabic words, such as “sukkan” and “malumi” which are derived from the Arabic sukkan meaning rudder, and mua’llim, the captain of the ship.

Many Arab families carry the surname Al-Hindi and Hind is still a popular given name used extensively by Arab women. While Arabic is the national language of Oman, the language and its regional dialect are influenced by loanwords from Urdu and Gujarati (two Indo-Aryan languages), and even Portuguese occasionally. Indians have also contributed to the development of particular dialects of Arabic that is being used in Oman.

Commonly used words with an Indian origin include baalty (bucket), tawa (pan), pankha (fan), tijouri (box), chash-ma (spectacles), chutney (pickle), masala (spices). Phrases such as ‘chup’ (be silent), ‘shaa-baash’ (well done) and ‘bakhshish’ (tips) are also commonly used in various Omani dialects.

Linguist Rizwan Ahmad notes that “the Gulf dialect was also influenced by Indian languages, especially on the level of vocabulary. One of the most widely used words in Gulf Arabic is seedaa (straight), which is borrowed from Urdu/Hindi. When asking for directions, you will hear people say “Ruh seedaa (go straight)”. This word is also used in a metaphorical sense. Arabs from the Gulf might say, “Aanaa insaan seedaa (I am a straight-forward person)”.

Other words of Indian origin in Gulf Arabic are jooti (shoes), chaawal (steamed rice), tijoree (safe-box), banka (fan), gaari (car). Arabs who are not from the Gulf or have not lived in the Gulf do not largely use these words”.

Some words of Hindi origin not only find expression in spoken language but also constitute a considerable part of Arabic literature. The following stanza from an Omani poem illustrates it clearly:به يزاغر ريم خشم البنكه دورة قلبي دار love whirls like a ‘pankha’...

The Arabic influence on Indian languages, particularly Urdu is well known and documented while Sindhi is also influenced by Arabic. Colloquially, Arabic words such as qalam (pen), jeb (pocket), kitaab (book), safhaa (page), saaf (clean), kharaab (bad), ghalat (wrong) became common words not only in Urdu, but in other Indian languages.

Ahmad also shows how terms of endearment and relationship markers in Urdu (and now popular Hindi) originate in Arabic. Abbaa, abbu, abbi are variations of father (abun) in Arabic. Mohabbat, mahboob and mahbooba (lover) are also borrowed from Arabic.

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