Ramzan or Ramadan? How Exactly Do You Say It?


Ramzan or Ramadan? How Exactly Do You Say It?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Amillion-dollar question these days: Is it Ramzan or Ramadan? As my luck would have it, I am here answering it without being paid the said million dollars. It is Ramadan.

I do not mind if you say Ramzan, but you must know that would be a mispronunciation. Exactly like pronouncing the Italian word pizza as “pee-zaa” rather than “peet-suh”. Or my favourite example, the Mumbai central and harbour line train station many call “Sandaas (संडास) Road Station”. No special toilet stop, this. Rather, named after Lord Sandhurst, who was the Governor of Bombay between 1895 and 1900. Then there’s restaurant, desi “res-toe-rent” to the “correct” and “French” pronunciation “res-ter-uh nt, -tuh-rahnt, -trahnt”.

Ramadan may be called a loanword, a word adopted from one language (Arabic in this case) and incorporated into another language without translation. While at it, we spoke the word in the phonetic sounds of our local languages, and emerged Ramzan.

The ض in the Arabic alphabet is read as “dwad” and makes a /ḍ/ sound. While in Urdu, Persian, Sindhi, and Khowar, languages of the subcontinent that share the letter ض in their alphabet, the letter is read as “zwad” and takes the /z/ phoneme.

Almost like how my Hindi teacher switched /z/ with /j/ sounds when speaking in English. In fact, it’s not a uniquely Indian problem: Canada’s French speakers pronounce “th” in English as a “d” sound, and native speakers of Parisian French pronounce it with a “z” sound.

But then, when you have learned to pronounce English and French words as the English and the French do, by multitasking with phonetic sounds, why not with Arabic words?

Why should it be alien (re: Barkha Dutt tweet on May 6), or be perplexing (re: Rezaul Hasan Laskar’s article in HT), or make us Arabs (re: Tarak Fateh on May 5)?

I’d say this rather shows that the Indian Muslim is embracing life in the global community.

Could it be because the Indian Muslim can ever be Indian enough? And shouldn’t be too Muslim either. There’s always an opinion on our Muslim-ness, conveniently confused with Arab-ness.

The men can wear the kurta-pajama, or even pants (a western import), but it’s disturbing when the length of their trousers stops short of the ankle. And oh my, if you spot one in a jhubba and a sa’afa! What’s with the Arabisation? Have him step out in a kilt, and you probably won’t mind.

But then, when you have learned to pronounce English and French words as the English and the French do, by multitasking with phonetic sounds, why not with Arabic words?

Burqa is another eye-sore for “right-winged” and intellectuals waiting to liberate Muslim women from black polyster chains. Why is it black? Why should Indian women wear it in the first place? Maybe we love Goth. Or we find Arab fashion more adaptable than what’s on the Paris runway. Plus, you can’t see the stains. Their take is functional and fashionable.

And if it’s not the garment that’s won you over, at least concede that the word “burqa” is a certifiable SEO, and assures “trending” status in India. Say burqa and you are on top of Twitter timelines, even if you mean the niqab. A search online will show you how most Indian media outlets use it to their advantage. Or why would Sri Lanka’s decision to ban face veils in light of terror attacks be carried in the Indian media along with additions like “burqa ban”.

It’s the niqab that’s being spoken about actually. The international media stuck to the term that corresponds “face veil”. But niqab is worn by a miniscule minority among the minority in India. So much less than the burqa. And it’s the word burqa that makes for irresistible clickbait.

As is with a good bait, it’s not to be wasted. The editorial in Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana also hollered for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to follow Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s lead and ban the burqa – of course, along with “other face veils”. Javed Akhtar, in good faith, jumped in, and proclaimed both burqa and ghoonghat be banned as social evils. Nevermind a parallel to ghoonghat is niqab. One definitely foreign. Hint: You saw it on Lawrence of Arabia.

Islam prescribes a dress code for both women and men. Not Saudi Arabia. To clear some concepts: A burqa is a garment that covers the body, say like a long coat. The niqab is a face veil. The hijab, colloquially, refers to the head scarf.

It IS religion, worn (by those who choose to) more so in fashion offered by a region that happens to create most of it. It doesn’t come pre-fitted with any bombs. Promise.

Indians can take inspiration from our colonisers, the British, but not our Arab neighbours. Especially Indian Muslims, who shouldn’t look for inspiration anywhere outside India. America, Europe, or the Orient is okay, too. But Arab influences, oh no. Why? So the Arabs don’t find us too cute?

They are the same fellows who are good friends with our PM, promising him billions of dollars in investment, and are even building for us a temple in the Emirates.

Surely, we can impress them by speaking their lingo a bit. Or phonetics of words they lent us.

Face a mirror and say Ramzan and Ramadan. You’ll look the same, not alien, not Arab. Also, try saying Sandaas Road and Sandhurst Road. If you look stupid saying the former, then you have your answer. So should all English newsrooms in India, if you want to follow the phonetic rules to their word-origins. Off to order a shawarma. Shukran.