Hilarious Indian signboards
“Pray lodge in this unworthy place”

Sign with the inscription “Safety is pleasure”, Sangam, Arunachal Pradesh, India Photo (detail): Frank Bienewald © picture alliance / imageBROKER

The hysterically amusing signboards across India reveal a people’s fascinating romance with a foreign language.

Faizal Khan

There is a charming tale of English language learning told by generations of college graduates in India. It is about a library assistant who would help junior students arriving at a city college from the country’s hinterlands. He was the gateway to a new language for young scholars who had never seen the spine of a novel in English before. He would find them books and magazines to learn new words in English and speak complete sentences. Yet, many of those students who were the beneficiaries of his benevolence would soon start to make fun of him. “Library is not talking,” they would say, mimicking his admonitions for disobeying library rules about maintaining silence.
 
The friendly library assistant’s story summarizes the curious case of the English language in India. It shows how mistakes help the people of a country that is home to hundreds of tongues learn another language. The vast majority of Indians attend rural schools that teach everything, including the English language, in the area’s native tongue. Then there are the “prestigious” convents and colleges founded by British missionaries during the Raj. Thus, much of the learning of the language happens in a country where English is one of the two official languages. With twenty-two other major languages spoken by the country’s 1.3 billion population, language often becomes a beguiling mix of words and sounds. 
 
In such a complex setting, nothing reveals India’s tryst with the English language more than the signboards seen on the roadside and in marketplaces across the country. Some businesses announce specialists in “Alteration of Ladies and Gents.” Some others spring up with enticing offers like “Liquid Tea available here.” There are signboards that take restrictions to the next level: “Anyone caught exiting through this door will be asked to leave.” Traffic police would go to any lengths to keep motorists safe: “Hospital ceilings are boring to look at – Avoid Accident.” 
 
While signboards across India may advertise “Learn Hindi through English,” Indians are recruited today by London schools as English teachers. Thriving on their software skills, Indians also conduct online English classes for their fellow Asians. Mistakes make the people’s journey with a new language even more fascinating. After all, the friendly library assistant’s error-ridden rebuke always worked.
 
Below is a selection of hilarious Indian signboards:
  • “Be aware of vehicle theft – Please put double luck”: This car park intends to place great emphasis on not scaring away motorists. The idea is to give a subtle hint without veering towards an overt warning. It is a kind of signboard that would make us think hard about the odd link between lock and luck. © indiatoday.in
    “Be aware of vehicle theft – Please put double luck”: This car park intends to place great emphasis on not scaring away motorists. The idea is to give a subtle hint without veering towards an overt warning. It is a kind of signboard that would make us think hard about the odd link between lock and luck.
  • “BIT Bhagwantpuram – 4 Km. Before”: There are many ways to lose one’s bearings. For example, by being distracted by the sight of an expressive signboard such as the one above. It presents an illuminating way to inform about the location of an engineering college in the vicinity. Giving directions is always a tricky business. © cartoq.com
    “BIT Bhagwantpuram – 4 Km. Before”: There are many ways to lose one’s bearings. For example, by being distracted by the sight of an expressive signboard such as the one above. It presents an illuminating way to inform about the location of an engineering college in the vicinity. Giving directions is always a tricky business.
  • “Please don't share two persons in one plate”: A message can sometimes be lost in translation. This signboard instructs patrons in three languages – Marathi, Hindi, and English – to adhere to the restaurant policy regarding sharing meals. It is, however, not easy to share three languages on one signboard. © amarujala.com
    “Please don't share two persons in one plate”: A message can sometimes be lost in translation. This signboard instructs patrons in three languages – Marathi, Hindi, and English – to adhere to the restaurant policy regarding sharing meals. It is, however, not easy to share three languages on one signboard.
  • Way to Golconda/Mehdipatnam: The unhindered use of signboards has its own pitfalls. This signboard is placed over an open manhole as a temporary cover. Its original role was to give directions to the excavated ruins of a 16th-century city. Humour can be the best cover sometimes. © cartoq.com
    Way to Golconda/Mehdipatnam: The unhindered use of signboards has its own pitfalls. This signboard is placed over an open manhole as a temporary cover. Its original role was to give directions to the excavated ruins of a 16th-century city. Humour can be the best cover sometimes.
  • “Please don#t make a display of your pet poop”: Flagging down pet owners is not unusual in parks, gardens, and residential areas. Residents of this neighbourhood are strongly advised against showing off their pets’ excrement. If a signboard displays a hashtag in place of an apostrophe, it is safe to assume that it means business. © Javed Anwer
    “Please don#t make a display of your pet poop”: Flagging down pet owners is not unusual in parks, gardens, and residential areas. Residents of this neighbourhood are strongly advised against showing off their pets’ excrement. If a signboard displays a hashtag in place of an apostrophe, it is safe to assume that it means business.
  • “Pray lodge in this unworthy place”: This humble lodging considers itself undeserving of any attention. Such refreshing candour doesn’t stop it from beckoning guests in a poetic display of hospitality. A bighearted accommodation available at the flip of a switch. © Courtesy of Kristin Allen
    “Pray lodge in this unworthy place”: This humble lodging considers itself undeserving of any attention. Such refreshing candour doesn’t stop it from beckoning guests in a poetic display of hospitality. A bighearted accommodation available at the flip of a switch.
  • “Don’t use mobile phone while drinking”: It seems the police decided to go against their own warning: don’t mix driving and drinking. If it wasn’t from the traffic police, this earnest message would have found many eager followers. After all, it’s better to be sober than sorry. © indianexpress.com
    “Don’t use mobile phone while drinking”: It seems the police decided to go against their own warning: don’t mix driving and drinking. If it wasn’t from the traffic police, this earnest message would have found many eager followers. After all, it’s better to be sober than sorry.
  • “Visitors are requested not to pluck flowers or trees”: Dwindling forests across the world today need strong messages of preservation. This national park believes it can instill the spirit of environmentalism in its visitors through sheer strength. It takes a lot of pluck to read such a message mounted on tree trunks. © dainikbhaskar.com
    “Visitors are requested not to pluck flowers or trees”: Dwindling forests across the world today need strong messages of preservation. This national park believes it can instill the spirit of environmentalism in its visitors through sheer strength. It takes a lot of pluck to read such a message mounted on tree trunks.
  • “Please don’t encourage baggers”: This is an Indian city that takes its reputation seriously. It is not afraid to put a potential nickname on a signboard even if it doesn’t want the epithet. It would rather fix a time frame and discourage residents from achieving it. © dainikbhaskar.com
    “Please don’t encourage baggers”: This is an Indian city that takes its reputation seriously. It is not afraid to put a potential nickname on a signboard even if it doesn’t want the epithet. It would rather fix a time frame and discourage residents from achieving it.
  • “Road is hilly don’t be silly”: Driving on hilly roads with hairpin bends and sharp turns is not an easy task. It takes an extra dose of common sense and judgment to navigate them. It helps to have a sense of humour too. © paxryan.blogspot.com
    “Road is hilly don’t be silly”: Driving on hilly roads with hairpin bends and sharp turns is not an easy task. It takes an extra dose of common sense and judgment to navigate them. It helps to have a sense of humour too.

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