The Cummerbund: a Colonial Poem?

In the Daily Star Web Edition, vol. 5 no. 16, Khademul Islam reviews the Hobson-Jobson, A Glossary of Anglo-Indian Words or Phrases and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical Geographical and Discursive. After an interesting discussion of how many Indian words entered English and viceversa — which also includes a hypotesis on the creation of nonsense words — he concludes quoting “The Cummerbund” in full; here is what he has to say of Lear’s poem:

Rushdie ended his article on Hobson-Jobson with a play on the last words spoken by Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind: ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ It deserves to be quoted in full:

‘To spend a few days with Hobson-Jobson is, almost, to regret the passing of the intimate connections that made this linguistic kedgeree possible. But then one remembers what sort of connection it was, and is moved to remark–as Rhett Butler once said to Scarlett O’Hara–‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a small copper coin weighing one tolah, eight mashas and seven surkhs, being the fortieth part of a rupee.’ Or, to put it more precisely, a dam.’

Ha ha ha!
I can’t end my piece that well–just not that good a writer–and so I’m going to simply end with an Edward Lear poem first published in Times of India, July 1874. And readers please, don’t give it the old post-colonial reading (you know, the apocalyptic forefinger raised to the heavens and the high-pitched: “Aha, I knew it, white woman goes missing, brown man is ‘nailed to the wall'”). It will so spoil the fun!

The 1903 edition of the dictionary is online and can be used for free thanks to the University of Chicago: Henry Yule, A. C. Burnell, Hobson-Jobson: a glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. London: Murray, 1903. 1021 pp. New edn by William Crooke.

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