Linguistic Adventures: Kal, Bas, Badme*

I lived a total of 12 years in India, split into two separate postings. During that time I had the opportunity and the privilege to learn a bit of the language, which I consider the only true way to get to know a culture.

Kal, Bas, or Badme? ©MTHerzog

There are three words in Hindi that lead to a lot of confusion and yet reflect the culture so well, like nothing else does. It took me years to learn the cultural nuances involved in these three little words and I need a lifetime to grasp the magnitude of their impact on life in general and the local lifestyle.

Bas. This basically means stop. It doesn’t, however, assume permanence and implies only a temporary suspension. It also means enough. This is used in filling something up, whether a plate of food, a container, showering someone with generosity or favours, or eating, – basically filling a void. However, it takes on different meanings for the doer and the receiver alike. In the context of filling something, the doer is not to take this seriously the first three times and will continue doing whatever he or she is doing. The receiver is obliged to say bas three times before the concept of STOP! is taken seriously. Only then will a pause be made. There is also the concept of bas as in “that should do for now“. Whether it is a phase in your life that you have reached and have fulfilled the basic obligations, or you have done the basic requirements of a contract, a certain (by no means is it the ideal) level of satisfaction has been met and can be guaranteed.

Kal. This is a word that drove me absolutely nuts because it means Yesterday and Tomorrow!!! In a culture with rotating eternities and recurring lifetimes, this word is not confined to the western concept of 24 hours in a day. It is a vague, boundless and timeless concept that basically says  it won’t happen today or it happened yesterday.

  • Is the job finished? Kal. – (What now, it was finished yesterday or it will be finished tomorrow???)
  • When will it be delivered? Kal. – (Did I miss the delivery or it’s still coming?)
  • When do we do this? Kal. – (We did it yesterday or we’ll do it tomorrow… )
  • Water? Kal. – (Either there was water yesterday or there is still no water and it’s coming tomorrow!)
  • Money? Kal. – (I had money yesterday or the money will come tomorrow… )

So basically it translates into: at some point in the future that does not involved the immediate present but it could have already happened in the past.

Did you understand? Kal.

Badme. Even worse than kal is badme. It literally means later. This is where all the problems start or escalate. What does later mean? To anyone who requires definitive time and has to meet deadlines, badme drives them up the wall. It is open ended and cannot be pinned down to specifics whatsoever. It can mean after an hour, after a day, in a week, next year, next decade or even next lifetime. So if the carpenter, electrician, plumber, supplier, delivery man, lawyer or doctor tells me we’ll take care of that badme, I worry. There is no point in pressing for a definite time because you won’t get it!

So how does affect life? Let me put it this way –

Happiness? Bas.

Money? Kal.

Enlightenment? Badme.

*I originally posted this on Blogspot some years ago but love revisiting it, and as it happens, the subject came up yesterday during lunch.

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