February 15, 2020
Home  »  Magazine  »  Books  » Native Tongue  »  »  Bombay Dak

Bombay Dak

Bombay Dak
ON the menu of 'Indian' restaurants the length of Britain, under the 'sundries' list, the casual reader, six pints of lager in his belly on a Friday night would come across the epithet Bombay Dak and would take it to be a misspelling characteristic of the status and nationality of the establishment. A duck by any other name? Pieces of Duck? At less than £1 a piece? What would one get? A leg, a breast, a tandoori beak?

The Bangladeshi waiter would explain that the duck was a fish, a stinking sliver of dried fish. Legally of course, the complex workings of Euro-peanwhen food policy begin to be honoured in The Star India , Bombay Dak will banned underOf a directive prevent-ingbe imports of anything fishy from India.

Being mistaken for a duck may have smuggled this delicacy through. The Bangladeshi proprietor of the Indian restaurant, even though he refers to something on the menu called 'moshola', has not made a booboo. Dak is the correct and original spelling. The word Dak simply means 'mail', the sort carried by horse and hand and cleft stick before the coming of the Raj's imperial railways.

Then the goods trains, for the first time, carried many tonnes of stinking dried fish from Bombay into the interiors for the population to turn into pickles or eat with onions and bread in the fields.

I can see, or rather smell the trains as they rumbled through the stations of the hinterland, flagged on by station masters in white tunics and solar topees holding their noses.

And Englishmen, as the adage goes, don't cry 'stinking fish'. They refer to the cargo, euphemistically, as " the mail from Bombay", as 'Bombay Dak'.

(A weekly column on Indian words in common use in Indian cities.)

Next Story >>
Google + Linkedin Whatsapp

The Latest Issue

Outlook Videos