Indian signs

December 30, 2014 • 7:00 am

This is but a small sample of Indian signs that struck my funnybone.  Indian English is often heavily influenced by British usage, for, after all, the British controlled this subcontinent for about two centuries. The effect on language can be hilarious, as in this sign we saw in a small roadside restaurant near Calcutta.

Lodging and fooding

“Fooding” has become a favorite word of mine. I’m going to start saying “it’s time for fooding!” before meals.

I saw the sign below in the Jute Exhibition tent at the annual Poush Mela fair in Santiniketan:


I will never say no to jute again! After all, it is, among all things on Earth, the one gift nature has vouchsafed humanity.

Below is a fairly common sign, which I’m going to place on Da Roolz page. Another English legacy are the signs on some walls that say, “Stick no bills.”


I found the sign below at the entrance of a mosque in Bandel, which had a water tank for pre-worship ablutions that also contained goldfish. “Paddy” is rice, and the “parched” version is puffed, much like the puffed-rice cereal one gets in America:


Many taxis in Calcutta simply refuse to take potential customers where they want to go. This can be because the distance is too small or the destination is in an inconvenient part of town. The practice, which angers many Indians, has spawned a genre of cabs that abjure the practice, proudly displaying these hand-painted words on their side:

No refusal

Finally, this sign is not for amusement, but shows what porters charge to carry your bags at the famous Howrah railway station in Calcutta. Notice that loads are often carried on the head: it’s quite a sight to see porters carrying three or four huge suitcases balanced on their cranium. The rates are in rupees, withthe current rate set at about 65 rupees to the dollar, so you can see that prices are very low here.


47 thoughts on “Indian signs

    1. Yeah, I think all these usages should be incorporated into everyday speech in other nations who use English. I think my favourite is, “commit no nuisance!” but the scary font selected for “NO Refusal” is pretty funny too.

      When I was in Hawaii, I once saw a sign in a road construction area that said “End Roadwork”. It was probably announcing that this is the place the construction ended, but I thought it could also be taken as an imperative plea to stop construction on roads.

      1. The one I come across in my professional IT career is the useful “needful” as in:

        “Bonetired: the application is ready to be started. Please do the needful”.

    1. Commit No Nuisance would have made a good commandment of 10 Commandments fame. It could cover off all of the ones that weren’t about adoring God exclusively (though it could conflict with those ones).

      1. The no nuisance sign specifically says “no urinating here” (“Yahaan pissaab na kar” – “pissaab” is exactly what you think it should be.) in hindi. So it doesn’t cover all kinds of nuisance.

        1. The UK (and I suppose Indian) legal meaning of nuisance according to the OED is
          Anything injurious or obnoxious to the community, or to the individual as a member of it (esp. as an owner or occupier of property), for which some legal remedy may be found.

          1. Sorry meant to add that judging from where these signs are seen the more specific nuisance of mistaking a wall for a urinal is usually what is meant

            1. Exactly. Though the more common “solution” is to put godly photos on the walls. I think there was a post on this website with that some time ago.

          2. In the US we have the legal term “attractive nuisance” which is a set of conditions under which a property owner can be held liable for harm that comes to trespassing minors. An example would be if the owner had a broken commercial refrigerator with a broken interior safety latch sitting in his front yard with no lock on it.

          1. I am not sure there is such a thing as an “Indian” translation: there are two very different Indian languages on the sign (not counting English): Hindi and Begnali. Rithvik provided provided a (slightly inaccurate) transcription* of the lower one, which is in Hindi.

            On the other hand, the Bengali sign at the top says “Prasrabo koriben na” (I might not get this entirely right because I am not a native Bengali speaker), which translates in English to “Please do not urinate”. Unlike the Hindi version, the word “here” is not explicit in the Bangali version.

            * The second word id “peshaab” and not “pissab” and, more importantly, the last word is “karein” and not “kar”. This last change makes the sentence a polite request (“Please do not urinate here”). No respectable Hindi sign-writer would use the form “kar”, which is reserved for use either among people who know each other very well, or when the speaker wants to be intentionally rude.

  1. In this part of the world a “parched paddy” would probably be referring to an Irish person in need of Guinness.

  2. “Stick no bills” has a clear English connection. Signs reading “bill stickers will be prosecuted” were a common sight when i was a kid, and may well be to this day. Usually with a “Bill Stickers is innocent” response,

  3. Interesting that they use the “/” symbol for separating the rupee and the paisa. I (just) remember using that in the UK before decimalisation to split shillings and pennies.

    1. The “/-” sign is not a separator between the whole number part and the fractional part; it is a shorthand for “only” and a pro forma terminating sign. “Rs. 70/-” is read as “Rs. 70 only”.

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