No, this is not the title for a spin-off for Vikram Seth’s wonderful novel A Suitable Boy, though it could be. And maybe should be. Maybe some day? Meanwhile, here’s the story that set off this post:

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Out shopping at the spice market last week, I needed to get some dried coconut. Now, although I’ve been here for three years, I have to sheepishly admit that my Arabic is not very good and though I’m able to get by at the markets, I rely a lot on visual communication, body language, pointing, hand-waving and even pure guesswork to get the items I need. In my defense, once I do find the item, I always ask the guys for the Arabic word for it. Invariably I’ve forgotten it by the next visit and I have to enact the entire pantomime again, but some of the words do stick and over the years through tiny, very tiny increments my vocabulary has grown. In this instance it was the Indian husband. Which is the literal translation of the Arabic word (or at least the of Egyptian dialect, Ameya)  for coconut, Goz el-Hind. Hah! the next time someone asks me why I’m not married (and believe me, even now some people seem to think that such intrusive personal questions are fair game if you’re Indian and single) I should probably tell them I already have an Indian husband at home. After all I wouldn’t be lying would I?  I usually do keep a stock of dried coconut at home… in my freezer.

Jokes aside, this is a great mnemonic because coconuts do feature prominently in wedding ceremonies back home. In fact, as I remember, a coconut is even used as the proxy for the man in certain ceremonies if the guy for whatever reason can’t be there. Coincidence, or does this tradition (or the perception of it) lie at the foundation for the Arabic word? Maybe a factoid worth researching, but that’s a subject for the Rhetoric and Composition class I am teaching this semester.

p.s. Coconut photos courtesy of downloads from Google Images

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