Sunday, May 20, 2012

Some of My Favorite Kolkata Bongisms

Thanda lege jaabe. Translation: You will catch a cold. Bengalis love Nature. After all, about 36.4% of their rhymeless poems, scribbled on the back of cigarette cartons and paper napkins, are about its assorted glories. (The rest are about Prem or love). But Nature, the heartless seductress, remains cold to them. Literally. Wise men have not been able to find out what exactly it is about the Bengali genetic structure that makes them as susceptible to the common cold as Raina is to the short ball. Whatever be the reason, Bengalis are mortally afraid of catching the chill. And for good reason. Which is why when the mercury dips oh-so-slightly, you will find them wandering about in gear that would look excessive at the North Pole—brown monkey-caps, grey sweaters (typically called “pullovers”) yards of mufflers and woolen socks. The Bengali might keep the windows of his mind open (like the legendary Sidhu-jyatha of Feluda lore) but, come spring, will definitely keep the windows of his room closed. Because the first breeze of spring, as his grandmother used to tell them, is deadly (praanghati).

Season change hocche. Translation: It is because of season change. Ask a Bengali why his nose is running or why he is substance-abusing on Crocins. The answer will most likely be “Season change.” No one questions the logic by which seasons change every day of the year, or how one perceives the changing of season in a place like Kolkata, or for that matter, how exactly does any change of season bring about different maladies. No one asks. Because they themselves are too busy being sick. From season change.

Moshaari tangano hoyeche? Translation: Have you deployed the mosquito net? Bengalis may not believe in God. But they sure do believe in the magical powers of the mosquito net, the closest they can come to possessing Harry’s Invisibility Cloak. If a nuclear device is ever dropped on Kolkata or a meteor decides to hurtle towards us (unlikely an event that is, since cosmic bodies, following the example of industries, avoid this part of the world), Bengalis will, without breaking a sweat, go into their mosquito nets, convinced that the bomb or meteor will bounce off like a stubborn mosquito. Now if it could only have protected us against season change…

Bokachoda..Translation: Moronic Fornicator.If there is one Bengali word a non-Bengali knows, it is this. The iconic swear-word is the Bong F-word. Depending on the context and the way in which you say it, it can convey anger, wonderment, sadness, disappointment, arousal, excitement or joy. As an added advantage, you can take out the “Boka” and attach different pre-fixes (“pagla” [mad], “chagol” [goat], “chomchom” [a sweet]) behind the “Choda” and each combination becomes a lethal swear-word, a perfect example of code reuse. So great has been the influence of this word that one of the first websites in India to be banned (the owner was also arrested) was (around 1999) for its anti-CPM and sometimes anti-Bengali vitriol.

Horlicks kheyecho? Translation: Did you drink your Horlicks? That Horlicks is the secret behind the sturdy Bengali constitution is well known. What gets less attention is its contribution to the copyrighted Bengali male seduction technique. While many think that the awesomeness of the Bengali man’s kiss comes from practice acquired through a lifetime of slurping hot tea from a saucer, the truth is slightly different. It is Horlicks. As Prasenjit, the doyen of Bengali movies, has said.
Two actors, who don’t know each other and have to do a liplock that can stretch to 11-12 minutes. So between the takes I would go to her and say, “Have one biscuit or some Horlicks”
Yes. Horlicks and a thin arrowroot biscuit. Their mixture of carefully balanced nutrients provides stamina for lip-lock-outs . Furthermore, sharing a cup of Horlicks and biscuits, like oysters and wine, sets the mood for intimacy. And accept it, there is nothing a woman likes more than the intoxicating mixture of undissolved Horlicks clumps and Marie biscuit fragments off the lips of one’s paramour. (For further proof of the impact of Horlicks on the Bengali pysche, please see this [clip in Bengali])

Oh ma/ Baba re Translation: Oh mother/Daddyy. Nyakamo. The eyelid fluttering, back-arching, “I am a woman but yet a girl” faux-femininity that Kolkata Bengali females are famous for. And nothing says “nyaka” more than the “Oh ma/Baba re” at the beginning of every third sentence, almost as if every moment of existence is too much of a burden for these lovely ladies. Broken nail. Bad hair-day. Domestic help late for work. Terrorists massacre thirty. For everything the response is canned. “Oh ma/Baba re”.

Sob USA-te export howe jacche. Translation: Everything is getting exported to USA. In the Bengali dictionary of causology, the imperialists/USA were usually held responsible for everything bad, from rising prices to Mohun Bagan losing to Salgaoncar. (Now of course the imperialists have been replaced by Maoist/CPM, as per dictat of our great and glorious leader.) The black hand of unbridled capitalism was seen everywhere, particularly in the rising prices of essential commodities like hilsa fish, shrimp and mangoes. According to Bengalis, prices would have remained at the 50s level (1850s) had it not been for greedy “bourgeois” merchants exporting all these essentials to the US. Pretty logical I felt. Till I came over to the US where I find fish from Costa Rica and mangoes from Mexico, leading me to wonder, “Where do all those exports vanish?”

Dada ki party koren? Translation: Do you party sir? In other parts of the world, the word “partying” brings up images of beer boots, wet Tshirt contests, sandwich dances and overall debauchery. In Bengal, partying means sitting on dusty wooden chairs below large pictures of Marx and Lenin and discussing the fate of the Sandanistas and setting the question papers for the Board exams. In the 80s and the 90s, the “Party” meant the Communist Party of India Marxist and whether you were “in” or “out” of it determined whether you were “in” or “out” of the pyramid scheme of privilege that the “Party” was. Now of course the value of the “Party” variable has changed. Nothing much else.