In my family, we all agree that my mother has got the most colorful way of showing her displeasure. While she would unload her angst on us with words in her mother-tongue dialect Bhojpuri, my sister and I would listen to her words with amazed look on our faces. Armed with whatever knowledge of Hindi and English languages we had, we would be lost in dissecting those foreign words enthusiastically. Of course, seeing the topic of discussion had got changed, my mother would not be happy at all to find her energetic outburst have been of no use!
One of the many imaginative words that I learnt from my mother was “mleccha”. I never understood the meaning of this derogatory term. At best, I could imagine this to be closer to Hindi word “mcchuwara” (fisher). Surrounded by disappointingly uninspiring Hindi books, I never found anybody else using this word until a few days ago, when I found this word at a totally surprising place- a history book. Little did I know this was historically used by people living in what is now the frontier between India and Pakistan to describe others who they didn’t like.
As I was understanding the dynamics between Harappans and Aryans while I was reading John Keay’s India: A History, there was this word sitting quietly waiting for my attention. I was so surprised to know that mleccha is a Sanksrit word. How could a language which people claim to be so elegant have this “uncouth” word! And I was not wrong. It turns out philologists have spent years of research on this word and they insist that its origin can’t be Sanskrit. It might be true that Aryans used this word to describe indigenes, who appeared to them as “dark, flat-nosed, uncouth and incomprehensible.”
In fact, on googling, I found a Wikipedia article on Mlecccha, and there is a dynasty by the same name.
Next time I am going back to India, I am going to note down every new word my mother throws at me. Who knows I can learn another historical word!