“Do the needful”, “prepone the meeting”, “do one thing” and other phrases you will hear only in India…

Thee first time we got an email from our Landlords agent requesting us to Please do the needful we were baffled… what could it possibly mean? Was there some hidden cultural message behind the request and was there a specific way that we should respond??? After conferring with each other, googling the meaning, eliminating possible other explanations and using superb deductive reasoning we concluded that this was a request for the rent… Ok so now we know what he wants what’s the proper way to respond… Personally I wanted to go for  “As you requested the needful has been done, please needfully acknowledge receipt of the same by doing the needful… also”. Another favorite was “Please find the needful attached”… in the end we settled for just a boring old “Please find rent check enclosed, thank you”

It was the first (but not by far the last) time that we would be requested to do the needful… and for those who are wondering it simply means “do that which is necessary” with a respectful implication that the other party is aware of what is being requested of them and therefore will need no further details. It is considered ummm… how can I put this… Archaic, for one… considering it was stylish many decades ago and stopped being stylish at around the same time that the British left India… nonetheless, there are some who will not be happy until they have requested you to “do the needful”


I just wanted that word to stand by itself for a moment as we consider it’s implications… Pre – pone... In Jamaica we eat some thing called PONE  – which is really just a nickname for a delicious pudding, oftentimes with a moist soft soufflelike mass on top, it is quite delectable and can be made from cornmeal or sweet potatoes and as a child I lived for the edge of the sweet potato pone  – just right where it almost caught a burn, Lord that was a piece of heaven on earth… but I digress and this has nothing to do with that… In India you have the option apparently to POSTpone or PREpone things such as meetings, appointments, performances etc. My husband was quite nonplussed the first time he was greeted with the proposition to prepone a meeting. as In “Sharmila will not be here on Thursday which is the proposed date for the meeting so I suggest the we prepone it to Wednesday”.

Logically, if we can postpone… why shouldn’t we prepone? It seems to make sense… I would add this one to my dictionary except that every time I hear the word I begin to think of puddings and lose track of what i’m supposed to be doing… strangely enough  – it doesn’t happen when I try to postpone something, but then again being a lifelong procrastinator the chances of me actually trying to prepone anything is highly unlikely.

Do one thing” generally this is a lie because they never want you to just do ONE thing… it’s always several things and this command is usually given by someone who thinks you are doing something incorrectly and now wants to show you how it should be done, or else they simply want to demonstrate their superior knowledge of product or process to you. Like when my microwave / convection oven started shooting flames on the inside wall and I called the company we had bought it from not eight months before… I explained the problem I was having (flames shooting, food being consumed when it should be warmed etc.) the ensuing (one sided I might add) conversation went something like this… “do one thing, plug out the microwave, now, on the side that the flames are shooting from remove the  side panel  – it’s a metal plate , look inside and tell me if the wires are still intact, if they are, look for the the little metal thing that hangs down, is that burnt? ok good, remove that, now replace the panel, plug the microwave back in, now try to use it… oh the flames are still shooting? ok someone will be out to look at it tomorrow at any time between 11AM and 6PM”… do you see how that went, he lured me in by saying do one thing when  in actuality he was interviewing me for the position of microwave technician… it never, ever is just one thing… so now when  they tell me to do one thing  – I simply say “no I decline – kindly have one of your technicians come and do this one thing  – thank you.”

Can You use them all in a sentence?

Tell me… This phrase I actually LOVE… because if an Indian person says to you “tell me”  – it doesn’t just mean tell me your business – it means so much more… it means lay down your burdens, I am here to help you, I am going to fix your problems – it is a phrase laden with compassion. This I learnt shortly after arriving here and was overwhelmed with the strangeness and unfamiliarity that was Mumbai… there were two persons that I reached out to constantly for help, advice, reassurance, information and always I started with “I am so sorry to bother you” and I was met with “tell me” and always, always, always  – they made it better… fixed the problem… took it away… gave me advice… interceded… showered me with compassion so for me “tell me” is a warm place. I have since adopted it  – my mission is to be the “tell me” person for all my loved ones 🙂

Kindly revert… ummm so yeah – this actually means please reply… and there is not much I can say about this except that at least its asked politely. Seriously my Indian brothers and sisters… to revert means to change back to a previous state – like when the Hulk is done rampaging he REVERTS to being Bruce Banner. It actually gains layers when asked to “revert at the earliest” – now I feel pressured – I have to get back to the essence that was me probably yesterday and I have no idea how to do this… It can actually make you feel quite inadequate. Meditation anyone?

I had actually intended to speak on the topic of Auspicious Days but I decided that I would leave that for another blog installment… right now I have a pressing need to revert to a previous state of idleness… but by all means leave comments or questions if you have them and I will try to revert at the earliest… 🙂

One love, One heart, One people…