Friday, July 23, 2010

Language Capers... ! (Part-I)

Well... let me apologise for my unscheduled/unannounced 'extended vacation' from the blogosphere. Been too busy with numerous stuffs... and hence the untimely absence/hibernation *grin* But I hope you'll enjoy this post... and all will be forgiven and forgotten *displaying all my pearly whites*

I just want to reinforce that a sense of humour is absolutely essential... rather than high IQs, EQs and other sundry cerebral sounding stuffs. A collective national sense of humour that is. To my mind... it is the best panacea for a lot of ills plaguing our society/nation. Come to think of it... there is no need to amend the Constitution or pass any 'unimplementable' (?) laws/bills... like the 'Right to Education' (RTE) Act...!! What?? Actually it is the 'Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009' (RTE Act). Quite a mouthful... na??

Every other day... we find the mushrooming growth of sundry 'organisations'... like there is no tomorrow. Mind you... their sole purpose is to "defend the ancient culture and traditions of this great nation". To the north of the Vindhyas we find the self-styled 'khap panchayats'... while the south of the Vindhyas which is perhaps blessed with very 'fertile' soil... boasts of an overabundance of these organisations/forums. Prominent among them are the "Kannada Rakshana Vedike" aka KRV (translated: Save Kannada Forum), the "Kannada Gadi Horata Samiti" helmed by the maverick MLA Vatal Nagraj and the "Akhila Karnataka Gadi Horata Samiti" (an umbrella organization of about 200 pro-Kannada organizations... whose sole aim is the "protection of the state's borders"). That these forums routinely undergo fission... is another matter altogether. They swear by Kempe Gowda... yet their knowledge of Kannada history, literature and the inspirational historical figure in question... will not go beyond the bus stand named after him (the Kempe Gowda bus stand)... to be precise... !!! Yet they never waste a second in blaming the 'North Indians' for all the ills plaguing their 'beloved motherland' Karnataka/Bangalore. Water woes, bad roads, sad infrastructure, rising crime rates, law and order situation, rising population and pollution levels, indiscriminate cutting of trees/vanishing green cover, unemployment rate traveling northward... You name it! They have an instant 'whipping boy'. And that is... the 'North Indians'. No prizes for guessing!

That the contractors, law makers, law enforcers, traffic police, drivers, etc are heavily drawn from the local population... cuts no ice. That the 'North Indians' contribute heavily towards the economic activities generated locally... which inturn benefits even someone making paper cups... be damned. That an overwhelming number of the same 'villainous North Indians' are the ones guarding/defending our borders, coastlines and skies... make no difference. That a miniscule number of folks/brave souls from the south of the Vindhyas... the so-called 'South Indians' join the army, air force, navy or the coast guard... and hence the vast coastlines, skies and lands belonging to 'South India' are protected by the same 'obnoxious North Indians'... are simply ignored, overlooked and forgotten. Matter finished. Still others are obsessed with the "supremacy of the Dravidian culture and languages". On second thoughts... perhaps they do not mind employing the 'evil North Indians' to man the borders and safeguard their "beloved motherland" Karnataka/Bangalore. So, if terrorists plan to sneak into Karnataka, these soldiers can and will defend the true-blue Kannadigas... and thereby prevent them from becoming an endangered/extinct species. Else who would hold aloft the Karnataka flag, chant Kempe Gowda and (the departed matinee idol) Dr. Rajkumar's name and eat sambar rice, rasam rice, soppina saaru, bisibele bath, mosaranna/curd rice, idli-vada, masala dosa, upma-uppittu, et al... ??? Not to forget the delectable mysore pak. So... through this brilliant move, the "Mannina Magas/Magalus" (read: the sons of the soil of Karnataka) will not only give the "outsiders/people from other states" (read: the big bad 'North Indians') a job (how generous of these "Mannina Magas/Magalus"... na?!!) but also save the proud, dashing and swashbuckling Kannadiga men from being killed in an attack. How thoughtful of them to do their bit... for the preservation of their species!!!

In the north... the 'Khap panchayats' continue to rule the roost. The secret of their energy is definitely not 'Boost'. But they do boost the TRPs and the sales... and there is no twist in the various tails. Oops tales! The 'custodians' of Indian society... get very uppity. And 'sons-of-the-soil' legions... vow to 'uphold our ancient culture and traditions'. No rations. Together they make sure... this will endure. And that nobody will dare to cross the 'red lines'... and break the 'set boundaries'. Especially... anything in skirts, salwars and sarees. Still, if they 'dare'... they will be confronted with 'our ancient culture and traditions'... in the most barbaric and brutal manner. All is fair... in love and war. What love? This is 'war'. Hypocrisy galore? For sure! Meanwhile... there is a collective amnesia about 'Swayamvar'. Hear! Hear! No land ceiling. While... they call a cold-blooded, premeditated murder as 'honour killing'. Very, very telling...

Elsewhere... in the good ol' days (?)... the 'Master Plaster' was directing his vitriolic rhetoric and attacks at the hapless 'South Indians' by inflammatory slogans like: "lungi hatao pungi bajao" (referring to the lungi, a Marathi word for the traditional men's dress in South India), and "yendu gundu" (a derogatory reference to the Dravidian languages spoken by the people from South India). Mrs Gandhi took note of it and then took action... thereafter the 'Master Plaster' went mum. Many years later... after 'she' was safely gone... he and his progeny did (and are still doing) an encore on the hapless 'North Indians' as well as the Gujaratis and Marwaris. Mrs. Gandhi II prefers to maintain a deafening silence.

The Bengali penchant for repartee is almost like an affliction. If there is a situational joke to be cracked, a true-blue Bengali CANNOT resist it. Never unfunny and more often than not involving interesting word play and puns... its greater purpose is constructive criticism, using wit as a weapon.

In a story recounted by one of the greatest auteurs of 20th century cinema, Satyajit Ray, he mentions actor Kamu Mukherjee. Kamu was a regular in Ray's cast and crew and a great wit. His portrayals of Mandar Bose in "Sonar Kella" (1974), Pritish Sarkar in "Nayak" (1966), Mantu Dutta in "Phera" and the Juggler Haroon Al Rashid in "Phatik Chand" (1983) are considered his best roles. He also appeared in Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) as the Bookie.

In one of the scripting sessions at Ray's Calcutta residence, his wife (Bijoya Ray) served tea and biscuits. The biscuits were a little soggy. Kamu took a bite and asked innocently, "Boudi, biscuit-ey ki silencer lagiyechho?" (Translated: "Sister-in-law, have you fixed a silencer on the biscuits?")

Bijoya Ray recollected an interesting story in her memoirs... of how Kamu started acting in Ray movies. Apparently Kamu turned up one morning, knocked on Ray's door, and before anybody could speak said, "Namaskar. Amar naam Kamu Mukhopadhyay. Ami apnar boite abhinay korte chai," (Translated: "Greetings. My name is Kamu Mukhopadhyay. I want to act in your movies.") and walked off.

Nowhere else will you find this level of sophistication of humour. While all of India was/is going ga-ga over Ajit jokes (consisting of "Mona darling", "smart boy", "Lilly, don't be silly" and the iconic "Sara shehar mujhe Loin [Lion] ke naam se janata hai" and other famous catch-phrases)... not to mention Comedy Circus, Sidhuisms... et al, Calcutta (Kolkata) moved/moves in a higher plane of humour. And of course, the subtlety. Where else would roads undergo a change of name... so that the 'American Consulate' can be located on the 'Ho Chi Minh Sarani'?? Bolo, bolo??? Tell, tell??

I sincerely think that the rest of India can and should learn... from the 'aantel' (intellectual) Bengalis. And I am not being biased or chauvinistic here... I swear. We should not lose our sense of humour and our ability to smile. It need not be a 'perfect smile' or a 'colgate smile'. No one should be:

Ramgorurer chhana*
Hashte tader mana
Hashir kotha shunle bole
Hashbo na na na na.

(Translated: Ramgorur's children... Are forbidden to smile... On hearing something funny... They say they simply won't smile).

In mid-90s Calcutta (now Kolkata), there existed a 'revivalist' organisation called "Amra Bangali" (translated: We are Bengalis). When I say 'existed', I mean it in a purely circumstantial sense because there was no physical manifestation of this group - except posters and graffiti. They DID nothing to revive 'Bengali pride' except write slogans on walls, exhorting fellow Bengalis to do the needful. Their most common slogan was - "Bangali, Jago!" (translated: "Bengalis arise, awake") and this was found across the city in all the wall-space that was not taken up by the CPI(M), the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and their ilk.

However, the laid-back Bengalis took this metaphysical awakening in a literal sense (or pretended to!) and very soon, a repartee was seen scrawled under the original message. Under "Bangali, Jago", it was written - "Jegechhi, ebar cha dao." (Translated: "I have woken up. Now get me some tea.")

(More later...)

Note: The views expressed here are entirely in good humour and without malice.

*Ramgorurer Chhana: One of the most famous Indian practitioner of the genre of "literary nonsense," the celebrated Bengali poet, story writer and playwright, Sukumar Ray's "Ramgorurer Chhana" from "Abol tabol" (his collection of bengali poems and rhymes - meant for children, but liked by people belonging to all age groups - and literally translated as "Gibberish" or "Weird and Random".) Sukumar Ray was the father of the legendary Indian filmmaker, fiction writer, publisher, illustrator, graphic designer and film critic... the peerless Satyajit Ray (also regarded as one of the greatest auteurs of 20th century cinema.) The Bengali readers were exposed to a new "nonsense" fantasy world by the poems in "Abol Tabol." This selection offers the best of Sukumar Ray's world of pun-riddled and fun-filled poetry. He was a pioneering Bengali writer of nonsense rhyme and children's literature, an illustrator and a critic. It is very difficult to translate his poems into any other language (including english) and simultaneously retain their flavour and pun... hence I'll not even try to attempt it. Here is the link that leads to some of the literary works of Sukumar Ray:


Hilarious takes on the topic of this post. Apt... right?!!


  1. Ah... I thought I was the only one on hibernation. Welcome back. Loving ones language and trying to spread the good about it is always a nice initiative. But nothing should come forcefully like some of the modern goons are behaving in the name of language and culture. They are spread all over India, the self appointed protectors of the languages...

    I can speak all the 4 south indian official languages. it is my sheer interest and I love learning. At the same time i can speak a decent hindi too. Being obsessed to a particular language at the cost of defaming other is the ugliest thing that can ever happen!

  2. Good one after a long gap.
    I am ok when it comes to conversation in Gujarati-Mararthi-Sindhi and Tamil besides Hindi.

  3. Long gap! Welcome back.. :)
    Missed you awesome posts!
    As usual, I loved the humour in your post!
    On a more serious note though, the Khap panchayat is a worrying twist in the Indian democracy tale. It takes India a good few steps backwards!

  4. ahh i thought you had quit blogging :O

    good to have you back with a bang :-)

    Awesome post! Love your satires!

  5. Great to see u back....with a bang... and true sense of humor is what lacking in many Indians...
    Ramgarur Chana ..... one of my favorites ... Sukumar Ray...

  6. ""However, the laid-back Bengalis took this metaphysical awakening in a literal sense (or pretended to!) and very soon, a repartee was seen scrawled under the original message. Under "Bangali, Jago", it was written - "Jegechhi, ebar cha dao." (translated: "I am awake. Now get me some tea.")""

    Hahahahahahaha........Roshmi this post is hilarious......hahahaha

    i am also back in your blog.LOL

  7. Seriously , politics of "amra Bengali" can never work in bengal. Bengal is just too progressive for that.

  8. Lot of satires in one place. yours comment on regionalism are always best, Roshmi madam. I was missing the long and yet deeply synched mazes of paragraphs covering what is wrong with us. I am not willing to be led by popular sentiment and your blog just helps me in that.. keep writing !

  9. @ Mohan: I agree... and good to see you back on this blog as well as the blogosphere :)

  10. @ BK Chowla: Thanks Chowlaji!

    I'm fine with all languages. Fanaticism of any kind should not be welcome...

  11. @ Preeti: Thanks buddy :)

    Any kind of extreme thinking is unhealthy... but there are persons/groups/forums that thrive on it... and hence are mushrooming by the day. As they say: 'Birds of a feather flock together'...

  12. @ Subhayan: Quit blogging... ??? This is not 'Quit India Movement'... :P

  13. @ Indian Pundit: :D

    Good to see you back... and aren't we glad that the brand of politics practised by forums/organisations like "Amra Bangali" don't and won't work in Bengal... ?!! That is the only place with some progressive thoughts left...

  14. Thanks... was a nice read/rant. ;)

  15. hello Roshmi, excellent write up. Had me glued once I started reading it. "master plaster" the term I liked the most

  16. hey , lovely for language is one genuine thing...ya I gues Kolkata is too progressive to b held back the those "Amra Bangali" days.....and I love your play with satires...and Sukumar Ray , wah ! great post , satirical and hilarious....keep up the good work...:)

  17. Ahh.. You wrote about Bengal :)
    I take their humour so for granted. Never gave it much thought, till now. After reading your post. Now lemme go make myself a cuppa tea.. Masala cha :)

  18. Been a month... Dropped in to say Hi.
    Do voice out your thoughts some time soon :)

  19. @ Choco: Your wish has been granted!

  20. Hahaha loved the last one..jegechi eybaar cha dao :D I am proud of the Bengali Humor..however has read Lokhhonner Shoktishel by Sukumar Ray can never take Ramayan and the whole issue seriously ever again :D But Bengalis do lack the humor when something is said against Bengali KALCHAAR and CPIM/TRINAMOOL/MOHUNBAGAN/EAST BENGAL CLUB.

  21. @ Reema: :D

    Well Sukumar Ray was a genius... sadly most of his works are unknown outside Bengal. Translating them in other languages... will result in them losing their flavour and punch!

    P.S. Will blog about the Ramayana sometime... then we can discuss. We do not understand our epics clearly... since they have not been understood/interpreted very well. Actually all our ancient literature (epics included) are written in code language...

  22. You are a serious blog writer, Roshmi! Your line of thinking is interesting and different too!

    I am from Karnataka but settled in Tamilnadu and know Hindi too. Every language has got its own flavour and I love all the four languages (English included).

    I like all the southern languages plus Marathi and Bengali, of which I had close friends. There is no meaning in saying that my language is best or your language is second. We should be open minded to all languages and respect them. If we have to go to Gujarat for work for a long time, it is better to try to learn that language. Nothing is impossible. Then the politicians will have no material for creating problems.

    It would be interesting to read about Ramayana as you said in your comment, Roshmi. Another angle!

    Did you read about the Documentary about Sikkim by Ray? A very old one. I have seen many of his movies.

    Keep writing...!

  23. @ Sandhya: Thanks much... for those kind words :)

    I agree with your views. However noone has the right to misbehave/illtreat/abuse people from other states. Indians do not require a Visa to live or work anywhere in India. Also... playing politics in the name of region/language is destroying our nation. It is playing havoc with our education system.

    Nobody "learns" their mother-tongue in school. A culture of reading... should be encouraged... where people read the works of authors in their mother-tongue as well as other languages. That way the windows of the mind and soul... will always remain open.

    I will do my series on the "Ramayan" soon. And yes I have read about Satyajit Ray's "Sikkim". Its a pity that the govt banned its screening...

    P.S. "Then the politicians will have no material for creating problems."

    I beg to disagree. If the virus is not present... the disease will not manifest itself...