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NaMo’s ‘Kuttay KaBachcha’ Is Not A ‘Puppy Dog’

By Mirza Yawar Baig

15 July, 2013

It is a pity that a very interesting and candid peek into Mr. Modi's vision for his fellow citizens seems to have been clouded by incorrect translation.

The interesting reporting about NaMo's latest comment which was in Hindi but which our English language journalists mistranslated as ‘Puppy Dog', shows how translating from one language to another must take into account colloquial meanings of phrases in their cultural context, if one is to convey the right meaning. That didn't happen in this case.

To illustrate  with another example before returning to this one; it would be like translating, ‘Mera dil bagh bagh ho gaya'; as ‘My heart became garden garden.' Which of course makes no sense at all.

In this case, ‘Puppy Dog', is a Western phrase rooted in the position of the dog as ‘Man's Best Friend' in the West. A ‘Puppy Dog' is therefore a lovely, loveable thing, which licks from my ice cream cone, sits in my lap (lap dog), sleeps in my bed, licks my face and I kiss its mouth. I can see the looks of disgust on the faces of my Indian (standard garden variety not tainted with a posh Western education – 99% of our population if not more) as they read this description. While I can simultaneously hear, ‘Aww!! Goo!' in the voices of my many Western friends who can relate with all those things in a jiffy.

A ‘Puppy Dog', in the Western cultural context is cuddly and loveable and in danger of being loved to death more than being crushed under the wheels of a car.

So in the West (in English) to call someone Top Dog, is an honor. To translate it as, ‘Sab say bada kutta' – and refer to Mr. Modi – may not be seen as very complementary by him.

However that has nothing to do with the accuracy of the translation but everything to do with the fact that the meaning in rooted in another culture (Indian) where the dog is the pi-dog in the street, his ribs showing through his skin, his tail permanently between his legs, eating from the gutters and garbage piles, lurking on the fringes of human habitation, tolerated perhaps but never accepted into the home as ‘Man's Best Friend'. To reinforce this fact the average Indian person-on-the-street is almost programmed to throw a stone at any dog that he sees within range and the Indian pi-dog is programmed to yelp, even before the stone hits it. The gesture alone reinforcing the social status without anything more needing to be done.

Some other phrases in Hindi/Hindustani to illustrate disdain, disgust and dislike using the 'Kutta' (dog) as the metaphor are, 'Kuttay ki mawth mara', 'Kutta hai sala', 'Galli ka kutta' and similar ones. To translate 'Kutta hai sala' as 'my brother in law is a dog', would be similar to the translation of 'Kuttay ka bachcha' as 'Puppy Dog.' A language is the window to the culture it comes from and all translations must take into account the cultural meaning of the words, not simply their dictionary meanings.

So Mr. Modi's comment must be properly translated in its cultural context, not in terms of Hindi to English. With respect to Muslims, he said, ‘Kuttay ka bachcha'…for which the closest correct English translation would be ‘son-of-a-bitch', spoken with a snarl in the tone.

In the West, thanks to the high status that dogs enjoy, that phrase (‘son-of-a-bitch') also sometimes has a non-derogatory meaning; as when you might say about someone who did something very clever, with a ‘WOW!' in your tone, ‘What a son-of-a-bitch! Blew me away.'

My guess is that Mr. Modi's choice of phrase, if translated in its cultural context, gives a very accurate description of his vision for Indian Muslims. It has nothing to do with his lack of compassion for dogs but to do with his lack of compassion for his fellow Indian citizens who choose to hold beliefs different from his own. He feels a slight regret in his heart as the wheels of his car grind another such into the dust.

I thought I would share this so that we appreciate both Mr. Modi's kindness of heart as well as the need for correct translation in its cultural context.

Mirza Yawar Baig Founder & President of YAWAR BAIG & ASSOCIATES™, International Speaker, Coach, Trainer and Facilitator specializing in Leadership Development. He is a consultant faculty in a number of universities





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