Friday, September 17, 2010


One thing about walking around Kathmandu is that there's always enough reading material. Every surface is covered with billboards - advertisements for private schools and colleges, whiskey and fruit juice and cigarettes and whitening creams.

Most of the little street pasals and eateries display entrance signs made from giant blue or white placards with Pepsi or Coca-Cola graphics on the side.

Billboards are written in either English or Nepali. Nepali is written in Devanagari, the same script as Hindi and several other languages in South Asia. Devanagari is phonetic, and if you can't read Devanagari you have no idea that it is also used to write angreji - English.
To pick a few examples of places on Lazimpat Road:

"la-ji-mpu-t mey-tu-l i-nji-ni-yu-ri-ng wu-rks

This sign reads "Lazimpat Engineering Works" at the top, and then "Phone" and the number at the bottom. All written in Nepali script but entirely in English.

"pa-shu-pa-ti swi-t ey-nd cha-t ha-u-s"

Pashupati is the name of a famous Hindu temple in Kathmandu, and it is the only non-English word in the name of this establishment, the "Pashupati Sweet and Chat House."

above: "ney-pa-l bai-nk li-mi-te-d"
below: "mu-ni tra-ns-fu-r"

Sometimes the Devanagari is a Devanagari rendering of Roman name, as in the above sign, and sometimes it gives you extra information, like the sign directly below it.

below: "ju-yu-su-wa-l frey-s joo-s ey-nd froo-t sey-ntu-r"

Sometimes a sign is written in nepangreji, half-English, half-Nepali. This advertisement for Real Fruit Juice says "Fruit Power aba Mickey ko saath" which I think means something like "Fruit Power - now with Mickey!" Below it is Devanagari-English: "Jayasawal Fresh Juice and Fruit Center."

above: "spey-sha-l pu-ri-ka-r: mu-tu-n se-ku-wa ra chi-ku-n tu-ndu-ri"

This blue sign from Kamal Chowk is a wonderful tangle. The Devanagari reads "Special Purikar: Mutton Sekuwa ra Chicken Tandoori." So there are three compound nouns where the first word is English and the second Nepali: "Special [menu]: Mutton [barbecue] [and] Chicken [Tandoori-style]."

Meanwhile, the name is in Roman letters: "Fast Food & Momo Ghar." A momo is a delicious Nepali dumpling-like food and ghar means house. Instead of alternating, the first half is English and the second half is Nepali.

English is omnipresent in the city center of KTM, even in secret ways that are hidden from tourists.