A very interesting article in today’s NYT on what the word hindu means. Not Hindu, but hindu.
IF you grew up in New York more years ago than you may care to admit, the chances are good that the word “hindu” crossed your lips.
This was hindu with a small H. It had nothing to do with a great Eastern religion. In no way did anyone intend an offense. Truth is, no one in my corner of the Bronx would have even known back then what a capital H Hindu was.
Small H hindu meant a do-over. Don’t ask about the word’s origin. Haven’t a clue. But you heard it all the time in sidewalk and street games like boxball, stickball and off the stoop. Say the ball hit a crack in the pavement and took a crazy hop. If you called out “hindu,” you got to redo the play.
The word also made it to Brooklyn, says the writer Pete Hamill. But in his old neighborhood, he says, the emphasis was on the second syllable Ã¢â‚¬â€ hin-DOO. It applied only to stickball. A batted ball hitting a parked car was an automatic hindu.
Why traipse down memory lane?
Because it is as if the word, however you pronounce it, has been revived in New York after lying dormant for decades. Suddenly, one group after another is in effect crying “hindu.” They all seem to want do-overs.
Roger Toussaint sure does. Mr. Toussaint, president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, would like a do-over on his failed contract agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
In January, you will recall, his members unexpectedly rejected that deal, by a whopping seven votes. That had two results. Mr. Toussaint looked silly, and the rest of us found ourselves in labor limbo.
Now the union leader is desperate to avoid a possible next step in the impasse: binding arbitration. Arbitration might leave the transit workers worse off than they would have been under the contract they spurned. So Mr. Toussaint wants a hindu, in the form of a second vote. It would be as if the first one never happened. This time, he says, he will prevail.
Maybe he will, and maybe not. Maybe the transportation authority will accept his latest tactic, and maybe it won’t. Whatever happens, the riding public got a do-over of its own this week. It was treated yet again to Mr. Toussaint’s blaming pretty much everyone but himself for his troubles.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan were another bunch crying hindu this week.
Twice now, they have put John A. Gotti on trial. They say that Mr. Gotti, son of the late Teflon Don of similar name, is a racketeer. They say he ordered a kidnapping that ended with Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels’ founder, being shot.
But twice now, they have failed to convince a jury that the Teflon Son should be behind bars for a good long while. Maybe the juries believed the charges were bogus. Maybe they took on faith Mr. Gotti’s claim to have given up the life of a mobster. Who knows? It may even be that some New Yorkers don’t think that shooting the publicity-adoring Mr. Sliwa constitutes a punishable offense.
Undeterred by repeated failure, the prosecutors demanded a do-over. They got it. A federal judge scheduled Gotti Trial No. 3 Ã¢â‚¬â€ or, if you will, Hindu No. 2 Ã¢â‚¬â€ for July.
Then there is Dwight Gooden, the one-time ace pitcher for both of New York’s major league baseball teams. He is a do-over unto himself.
Mr. Gooden landed in a Florida jail the other day, once again. He tested positive for cocaine, once again. He violated the terms of his probation, once again. He could go away now for five years. His do-overs have become so familiar that most newspapers gave his latest troubles only a few ho-hum lines on the sports pages.
WHEN it comes to do-overs, though, does anything top what is happening at the World Trade Center site?
This is, of course, no joking matter. Witness the disheartening struggle this week between state officials and the developer Larry A. Silverstein. But how many times do you think that plans for ground zero will be offered and then dropped, redone and then scrapped again, revised anew and then halted once more?
The site has become hindu central.
Not that you will ever hear the politicians use such a term. It’s probably just as well. Some New Yorkers might understandably be offended. Besides, the phrase is hardly necessary. Even without it, ground zero has acquired a Sisyphean do-over life all its own.
This Column, by the Way, Is a 2nd Draft By CLYDE HABERMAN