Wordcatcher Tales: Begum, Jhampan

I never read much Kipling as a kid, and some of the vocabulary of British India that I have encountered in Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008) is new to me. Here are two such novelties.

The royal tour ground on, zigzagging up through the belly of India and stopping in Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad and Indore. By 4 February [1922], it had reached Bhopal, where Dickie [Mountbatten] and David [Windsor] were the guests of the only woman ruler in Asia, the Nawab Sultan Jaban Begum. The Begum was an ardent Muslim and usually ruled from behind a purdah screen. The rare sight of her tiny figure, swathed in a blue burka, next to the white-uniformed Prince of Wales gave the tour’s photographers some of their best opportunities. But it was an image more connected to the past than to the future. [p. 70]

Bhopal seems to have had a number of enlightened female nawabs. Begum is the feminine of Turkic Beg (or Bey) which turns up in many names from former parts of the Ottoman and Mughal empires—Izetbegovic, for example.

The British continued to come to Simla, sometimes for eight months of each year, with the European ladies and gentlemen carried up in the local jhampan sedan chairs. They were followed by hundreds of coolies, who had been press-ganged from their surrounding farms into the service of Her Majesty’s government, lugging dispatch boxes, carefully packed crockery, musical instruments, trunks full of theatrical costumes for amateur dramatics at the Gaiety Theatre, crates of tea and dried provisions, faithful spaniels in traveling boxes, rolled-up rugs, aspidistras, card tables, favorite armchairs, baskets of linen and tons upon tons of files; all the paraphernalia of the raj literally borne on the shoulders of one long caravan of miserable, sweating Indian peasants. Eventually, in 1891, a narrow-gauge railway was opened, weaving in and out of 103 tunnels up from the plains at Kalka—a journey which still took at least six hours. The British never questioned whether all this was worth it. Gandhi may have criticized the administration’s annual repair to Simla for being “government working from the 500th floor,” but that was exactly the point. [pp. 193-194]

This word turns up under jompon in Hobson-Jobson (via Google books), which cites a 1716 source that defines a jampan as a “palankin”; an 1849 source that defines a jhappan as a “kind of arm chair with a canopy and curtains”; and an 1879 source that specifically mentions its use in Simla:

The gondola of Simla is the jampan or jampot аs it is sometimes called on the same linguistic principle … as that which converts asparagus into sparrow grass … Every lady on the hills keeps her jampan and jampanees just as in the plains she keeps her carriage and footmen — Letter in Time Aug. 17

That’s the wonderful Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive by Henry Yule, Arthur Coke Burnell, William Crooke (J. Murray, 1903), digitized from a printed original at the University of California.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under anglosphere, Britain, India, Islam, labor, language, Pakistan, South Asia, Turkey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s