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It wasn't easy to be an Englishman in India during the early days of colonial rule. There was all that blasted heat. And the flies. And the mosquitos. And the beggars and the wallahs in the bazaar.

And the people spoke such a strange language. Hindustani, they called it, but it sounded suspiciously like English, except you had to say the strangest things to get your chokras and bearers to do things. Witness: If you wanted to get someone to open a door, what would you say? "Open the door?" No. You had to say:

"There was a cold day".

And if you wanted to get them to shut the door, you could keep repeating "I say my good man, would you mind shutting that door" till you were blue in the face for all the good it would do. But just say:

"There was a banned cur"

and then you'd see them spring immediately into action.

Ah, those inscrutable Indians...


For those unfortunate enough not to know Hindi or Urdu, the phrases for "open the door" and "close the door" are pronounced "darvâzâ khol de" and "darvâzâ band kar", respectively. For some strange reason, these were the first sentences an English colonist would learn, and were often the only sentences he knew when he came to India. It's a fairly popular story in India - which even found its way into a novel by Shashi Tharoor - that the English actually thought they were saying "There was a cold day" and "There was a banned cur".

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