Butcher and his wife (V & A Museum)

© A. Avtans

In 1856-57, a butcher named Mahomed Cassein (? Kasim) wrote the following innocent letter to Amelia Cary (1807-1858), wife of Lucius Cary, Governor of Bombay, India.

To Mrs. Collector Sahib, Esq,

“Honoured Madam,

“Madam’s butler says that madam is much displeased with poor butcher, because mutton too much lean and tough. But sheep no grass got, where get fat ? When come rain, then good mutton. I kiss your honour’s pious feet.

” I have the honour to remain, madam,

” Your affectionate butcher,

” Mahomed Cassein.”

Falkland, A. Fitz Clarence Cary. (1857). Chow-chow: being selections from a journal kept in India, Egypt, and Syria. 2 ed., rev. London: Hurst and Blackett.

This is a good example of a variety of English named Butler English that was thriving in 19th century colonial India among domestic helps, butlers and of course butchers.

From long ago, butchers have been negatively stereotyped in India because of their work. This is evident in many of the proverbs in Hindi / Urdu on butchers.  Butchers have been identified in Indian language by Perso-Arabic origin names such as Qasāī क़साई ( from Arabic Qassāba क़स्साब, wife of Butcher is क़साइन Qasāin), English orgin बूचड़ būcaṛ ( from English butcher),and Sanskrit origin names such as खटिक khaṭik (from Sanskrit आखेटक ākhēṭaka = hunter), शौनिक śaunika, मांसविक्रयी māṁsavikrayī, घातक ghātaka,बधिक badhika etc.

One among the butcher communities in Delhi and adjoining areas who identify themselves as Qureshis , there are two main subgroups on the basis of the size of animals they butcher – भैंसवाले bhaiṁsvālē (bovine butcher) and बकरेवाले bakrēvālē (goat / sheep butcher). Both of these groups were strictly endogamous, and jokingly called each other with epithets such as शोरबावाले  Shorbāvālē i.e bakrēvālē, and कोरमावाले kōrmāvālē i.e. bhaiṁsvālē. If a girl from bhaiṁsvālē family was married into a bakrēvālē family, they would say, Shorbāvāle kē yahān laṛkī dī hai शोरबेवाले के यहाँ लड़की दी है (We have married our daughter to the family of goat /sheep butchers).

Goat Meat Curry aka Mutton Curry

Interestingly, शोरबा shōrbā  and kōrmā कोरमा  kōrmā, are two types of gravies which are cooked with meat.   kōrmā कोरमा is from Urdu / Hindi क़ोरमा qormā which is further related to Turkish, kavurmak (roast, fry). While शोरबा shōrbā means broth or soup. This Arabic  loanword comes from the root “Š-R-B” means “to drink” (this root also gave us the word शराब śarāb i.e. alcohol). The main difference between शोरबा shōrbā  and kōrmā कोरमा is about the thickness, richness and spices used in the gravies. Kōrmā has much thicker and richer gravy.

Butchers in India used a unique vocabulary to name the different parts of carcass from which meat is cut. Most of this vocabulary is Perso-Arabic in origin. 

Halal Meat

Halāl हलाल in Indian languages is an Arabic loanword [حَلَال‎ (ḥalāl)] meaning permitted, allowed, that which is permitted by God. It is derived from Arabic root ح ل ل‎ (ḥ-l-l). The Islamic ritual slaughter of animals or birds is called Dhabihah (or Zabihah), a method governed by a strict set of rules. Animals and birds must be slaughtered using this method in order to be considered halal, or lawful, under Islamic dietary laws. Dhabihah is an Arabic verb ذَبَحَ‎ (ḏabaḥa, “to slaughter”). For a meat to be qualified as Halal meant the slaughter must be done by a Muslim adult person, and prior to slaughter, the slaughterer must invoke the name of Allah upon the animal / bird to be slaughtered by reciting “Bismillahi Allahu Akbar” (in the Name of Allah; Allah is the Greatest) or at the very least recite “Bismillah”. Thereafter the slaughterer must make a swift incision to the throat of the animal deep enough to sever the jugular vein, carotid arteries, trachea and esophagus, but not the spinal cord, to bleed it out.

Jhatka Meat

Jhaṭkā झटका is a Hindi / Urdu word for the meat which is obtained from an animal which is slaughtered with a single knife-stroke, severing the head of the animal or bird entirely. The word Jhaṭkā झटका is related to the Hindi verb झटकना jhaṭakanā (to jerk, to jolt, to wrench). According to Sikh Rahit Maryādā (code of conduct for Sikhs), followers of Sikhism are advised to eat only Jhaṭkā meat, and there is prohibition on eating Halāl meat. In India, many Hindus (especially from marginalized communities) and Sikhs prefer Jhaṭkā झटका meat over Halal meat. But some Hindus eat both kinds of meat, butchers jokingly call people who buy from both Jhatka and Halal meat shops, ”All-rounder” ( word from Cricket terminology – an all-rounder is a versatile person or thing, especially a cricketer who can both bat and bowl well).

Mutton Clubs

In British India, mutton clubs were quintessential institutions formed in each district of India. For a mutton club, a number of British officers would join together to form a club which will be buying, and rearing sheep for mutton. These animals were regularly fed lentils and gram to fatten them up, which gave us the English expression GRAM-FED i.e. the distinctive description of mutton and beef fattened upon gram, which used to be the pride of Bengal. But applied figuratively to any ‘pampered creature (refer Yule’s Hobson Jobson Dictionary). Periodically the sheep of these clubs would be slaughtered and cut up into fifths, and portions distributed in rotation to the club members.

A secret language of cattle market

In livestock markets of north India, buyers (butchers, traders or intermediaries) and animal sellers use a secret hand movement system named हाथा / हत्ता hāthā / hattā for buying and selling the livestock. Under this system, the prices of the animals are settled by the buyer and the sellers by pressing/twisting the fingers of each other under cover of a piece of cloth.

A very old recipe for an Omlette.

Do you know the word for ”Omelette” in Hindi / Urdu? It exists – k͟hāgīnā (ख़ागीना / خاگينه . This Indo-Persian word is with us from the Mughal times (k͟hāg is an egg in Persian). Here is a vintage recipe for k͟hāgīnā collected by British scholar Sandford Arnot in 1831. try making this at home.