18 March 2010

Swalpa adjust madi

I was sitting on a bench on the platform, waiting for the train to Chennai. A woman came up to me and said: “Please adjust.” I looked at her, perplexed. She then motioned for me to move over and I made some space for her on the bench. There wasn’t much space left, but she squeezed in and we waited for the train together.

At the time, I wasn’t familiar with this very Indian expression. In a country of over a billion people, Indians are used to ‘adjusting’. Seats on the bus meant for two people often accommodate three. Three people on a seat meant for two does not make the journey very comfortable, but no one seems to mind.

My landlords have a large extended family and often have visitors. My landlord once complained about the stream of visitors they were having during a period when there was a water shortage. This was clearly a problem for him, but he seemed ready to accept it and do his best to accommodate everyone. “We will adjust,” was his response to the problem.

“Swalpa adjust madi” (‘adjust’ a little) seems to be Bangalore’s motto. This is a superb example of how English gets mixed with Kannada to create a colloquial expression which can be used in a variety of situations. No free seats on the bus? A simple “Swalpa adjust madi” and a seat will magically appear. It may not be a whole seat to yourself but your fellow passengers will make some space for you. A government official tells you to ‘come tomorrow’ or that his office is closing? A ‘swalpa adjust madi’ may cause him to be a little more flexible (especially if a bill is slipped to him!). At a crowded restaurant, waiting customers are getting impatient and ask the waiter how much longer they’ll have to wait. “10 minutes. Swalpa adjust madi,” is his reply.

This popular expression is a reflection of the city’s easy-going attitude and a willingness to try to accommodate others. It is also an appeal to be flexible and to adapt when things don’t go as planned. “Swalpa adjust madi!” is the equivalent to “Just chill!” It’s Bangalore’s “Hakuna Matata”.

(Photo courtesy of Setu)


Unknown said...

We could all use a little "Swalpa adjust madi!" back in the states!

Great story & excellent thought-provoking metaphor...,

The world grows crowded & many seem less forgiving when it's not going as planned.

Shubha said...

I love some of these local phrases.Another one most commonly used, is "Oota Aitha?"(have you had your food?)Its quickly replacing Namaskara!And when we enquire that way,we get extra friendly treatment from the same people as you have mentioned(co-passengers,auto drivers,vegetable seller,shopkeepers,..)Try it next time:)and when they ask you,say"Aithu"....(yes,I had).

Saatvika said...

Nice post!

Unknown said...

I was missing your posts...welcome back Isabel!

Anu said...

Swalpa adjust wouldn't work here at all. We have a meeting room that holds 25 and when we got in the 26th person the Head of Facilities cancelled our meeting and told us to organize it off-site since we didn't have any rooms that would hold more than 25 - all this was for "safety and health" reasons apparently.

Or in a bitter snowstorm people were trying to get home early. The bus driver refused to allow more than the max capacity of persons to board...

Iniyaal said...

I enjoyed reading this post... When you are in a country overflowing and brimming with people, "adjust" is a good attitudfe to make everyone happy.

D said...

Nicely written!
Being from B'lore, I am familiar with the expression without realizing how much it has become part of the colloquial.