Chape, Chamdi, Chutiya: Three Words India Can’t Live Without

Social Commentary

Chape, Chamdi, Chutiya: Three Words India Can’t Live Without

Illustration: Akshita Monga

As you travel the world, you realise one thing: People don’t speak English. It is strictly a business language. Across Europe, South America, South East Asia, the language of friendship, dating, love, expression is still local. But Indians have embraced English wholeheartedly. Young parents are embarrassed to speak to their children in their mother tongue – even if said languages are on their deathbed.

English has has always been the language of aspiration, but with inter-caste marriages on the rise (at least in urban India), the language spoken at home is also slowly becoming English. If you don’t speak it, you are a “vernie” and invite derision and snobbery. At the ripe age of 33, I have seen beautiful Indian names being reduced to single letters. Kunal becomes K and Sindhu becomes S. I’ve seen everything from laughter to birthdays wishes turn to a gross abbreviation.

And yet, as the onslaught of English continues, there are some words that are difficult to let go. I am convinced these words – that are more or less understood across our diverse country – shall survive. Even the kale-consuming, chia-seed-loving hipster, basically people like me, finds it hard to let go of them.

“He’s such a CHAPE, ya!”

First in line is “chape”, widely used in Delhi, but understood universally, even though you rarely hear it in western or southern India. Chape is basically a person who is clingy. But the definition isn’t so uni-dimensional. It is used for a person who unnecessarily pokes his nose in other’s business or conversations. It is someone who is sticking around for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Chape doesn’t exactly mean creepy, though a chape can be a creep – however, all chapes aren’t creeps. Some are harmless.

It’s said you can’t evolve into a chamdi; you just are one.

If a girl asks a friend what sorta guy Arjun is, and her response is “chape”, she needn’t say anything more. This is almost spy-level effective. Even though girls are accused of being clingy, they’ll never really merit the moniker. There are various degrees of chape-ness, of course. When the creepiness quotient is upped, chape becomes chapeda, and I hope you never meet one.

The origin of the word chape can be traced back to the ’80s (at least that’s what my shallow research shows). I quickly checked with parents of some friends and they said they’ve never used the word. Which is not to say chapes didn’t exist before that, but I suppose the beauty of words lies in their evolution.

“He’s nice to every pretty girl! That chamdi”

Turn a little west and you’ll meet a stunning word found in Mumbai – Chamdi. Chamdi literally means skin, or a guy who sticks as much as skin. But the thing is, a chamdi isn’t an ass lick, he doesn’t stick to everyone. Only conventionally beautiful women he doesn’t have a hope in hell with. He doesn’t cling to someone physically, but emotionally, mentally.

A girl is never aware when a guy is being chamdi. He isn’t a creep. He is just hanging around. He may have dirty thoughts, but you will never know. He is also sly. This guy isn’t ordinarily helpful: He’ll never offer to help a man or an old woman. But he will go out of his away for an attractive girl.

Only friends can spot a chamdi in the gang. It is a character certificate, not a trait. Interestingly, a chamdi is not looking to get laid. No. A chamdi knows his place. But that doesn’t stop him.

And that’s the best part about being a chamdi. He can’t help himself. It’s said you can’t evolve into a chamdi; you just are one. Clearly, this word is very dense.

“Chutiya samjha hai kya?”

There is an Osho video floating around on the internet waxing eloquent about the greatness of the word fuck. But fuck can’t hold a candle to the satisfaction derived out of calling someone a “chutiya”. The word chutiya generally enters your life as a gaali and soon turns into a term of endearment.

The root of the word is, of course, the female reproductive organ, so it implies a human offspring. How can a human offspring be considered an abuse? According to a Hindi dictionary, chutiya is also an idiot. But the versatility and range of the word is mind-boggling: It is perhaps the only word that can be used as a noun, an adjective, a verb. It is an abuse (abbey, chutiye), a way to address someone (sunn chutiye), a term of endearment (kya chutiya hai tu). It can be used to convey, don’t fool me (chutiya mat bana).

I, for one, who doesn’t have anything more expressive in my arsenal, can’t live without it.

Between the three, I’d like to be a chutiya – endlessly versatile, gloriously malleable, and effortlessly adaptable. After all, we are what we speak. When a language dies, its ideas die with it. But of course, we will always have chutiya.