The path in:
While updating books on Goodreads (step #1), I saw someone had read and rated a new Amitava Ghosh book. The book’s name is Gun Island (#2).
The book’s description began with the definition of the word बन्दूक (bundook) which is the Hindi1(#3) word for gun.
That made me try and remember the Hindi word for Island (#4).
I couldn’t. So, I tried remembering names of some islands in India (#5). The only two that came up were the Andaman & Nicobar islands (named in English, by the British), and Lakshadweep.
Lakshdweep = Laksha[^2] + dweep. This reminded me that dweep (द्वीप) is the hindi word for island(#5).
I thought (wrongly, I later realised) that Laksha was just a short form of the hindi word Lakshya, which means target. This meant that the name of the islands would mean ‘Target island’ in English.
This piqued my interest in them, wondering what gave them that name. What also bothered me was that despite knowing about the islands most of my life, I had no clue about the people, language, culture, etc on the islands. The Andaman & Nicobar islands get a far larger share of public mind space in India. No one bothers much about the Lakshadweep. Off I went to Wikipedia…
And the very first thing I learnt was that I had got the etymology of the name wrong. Dweep was correct – stands for island. Laksha wasn’t a shortened form of Lakshya (target), but a form of the Hindi word for hundred thousand—Lakh (लाख). So, the name didn’t mean target island, but a hundred thousand islands. It is, after all an archipelago of islands, not a single island.
About the culture, language, etc… well, go read the article and do some Wikipedia wormholing yourself :)
P.S.: One interesting bit I discovered was how geographically close are Lakshadweep and the Maldives. I also learnt that the southernmost island in the Lakshadweep is halfway to Maldives, and was part of Maldives till the British East India company seized it and added it to its Indian colony.
- I use Hindi as a generic for modern day language(s) derived from Sanskrit. ↩