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?!!