By Medha Monjaury (with Mad Monkey and Mood Dude)
Illustrations: Sadia Islam and E.R.Ronny
The English created a way of telling their kids their favourite aunt was dead. Instead of the generic “She went to heaven; she won't be coming back”, they decided to inform the midgets that she had 'kicked the bucket'. Of course, Bangalis weren't to be left behind. They also came up with a term to, er, sugar-coat a person's death. They went over to their neighbours' to spread the word about the crazy old woman je 'potol tulechhe' or 'okka paechhe'.
Every language has its own set of idioms and proverbs, and Bangla is no different. Admittedly, our language uses funnier terms than most, in the name of bagdharas. If a man's wife has him wrapped around her little pinky, he's under onchol probhab, and if he was a spoilt child, we could safely say he is an Aalaler ghorer Dulal. We are assuming that Alal was a spoilt child to begin with.
Bangla idioms go far and wide and deep to describe people. Some of these even carry the potent risk of becoming nicknames. If you want to call someone an idiot, Bangla is officially a great language to do it in. Act stupid, and get called Gobor Ganesh (cowdung Ganesh). Or you could possess a buddhir dheki, in reference to your lack of brains, or shaarer gobor (bull-dung). If you just said something utterly stupid, due to said lack of brains, in other words, if you were spewing agdum bagdum, then you can just head on over to the moger mulluk where you can continue your bok-bokani. Yes we know they don't make much sense, but that's the whole point of the abol tabol! These are popular words, they sound good and everybody knows them. A literal translation is probably non existent. We surveyed three people, difficult these days, and they all uttered the same abol tabol.
But we don't just stop there. We have an idiom for every kind of person. A kan kata (cut-eared) person is shameless, while a kan patla (thin-eared) person can't keep a secret. And if your behaviour is not to the elders' liking, gollae gelo is something you might hear. Where is golla you ask? We don't know but it must be someplace fun. Bherenda bhajchhi is our eloquent way of saying we're doing nothing. Now here's our breakdown. Bherenda is apparently castor oil plant. Castor oil plant is ranked in the top 20 worst weeds in Australia. Frying bherenda then actually gets something done. Of course, weed always wastes time, if you know what we mean.
Gachhe kathal goffe tel means oiling the moustache while the jackfruit is still on the tree. Planning ahead too soon? If you haven't had jackfruit, you're not Bangali. It's a sweet, tender yet sticky experience. Oil takes care of it, moustache or otherwise. The English version deals with counting unborn chickens, which then decide to cross the road and become an entire thing altogether. On the other hand, if you put oil on your nose, you're just preparing to sleep, soundly. Nake tel diye ghumano is the ultimate relaxation. We tried to get one colleague to do that, he ended up having a super sensitive smell, but no relaxation.
Since we rarely think before we act, there's an abundance of terms used to describe the age old act of getting into trouble: kecho khurte shaap ber kora means finding a snake unexpectedly while digging for worms. What you plan to do with worms in the first place is a mystery unless you're Korean. Or Thai. Or own a roadside hotel near Aricha that specialises in special thick juicy fried noodles. Khal kete kumir ana (digging out a canal and inadvertently inviting an alligator) means inviting trouble. Yes, an alligator is trouble unless you're the late Steve Irwin. He laughed at alligators while riding them. And when you've brought in an alligator, what you've done is apon pae kural mara (hitting your own foot with an axe). If you thought doing all this would have gotten someone else into trouble but you end up suffering instead, it's oti chalaker golae dori (placing a noose around your own tender neck). Also, being a selfish bunch of people who get ourselves out of tight spots by putting others in them, we say, chacha apon praan bacha (save your own life, uncle), apni bachle baper naam. Sometimes one wonders what family values these idioms are imparting telling one to abandon their dads.
Angul fule kolagach hoa (finger swelling up to form a banana tree) means a person who's suddenly acquired a lot of money. Remember, in the world of monkey, mad or otherwise, banana is money. Calling an idiot a genius is naming a kana chhele Podyolochon. Blowing a thing out of proportion? It's called mosha marte kaman daga (firing cannons to kill a mosquito). A sequence of troubles in Bangla is morar upor kharar gha. Giving up under pressure is thelar naam babaji. You don't need an explanation, just say it. The adjective 'gangly' has its own idiom: taal patar shepai (palm leaf soldier). The combined Bengali letters ho-jo-bo-ro-lo and the food jogakhichuri both imply a mess of affairs. Small compensation for a large offence is called goru mere juto daan (kill a cow and compensate with a shoe) which is more interesting if the shoe comes from that particular cow hide.
The code of honour among thieves is referred to as chore chore mashtuto bhai. Of course, if thieves are cousins, that automatically becomes a political party in the future.
Moving from people, bagdhara has a lot of fishy influences. A 98-year old survivor of two heart attacks just won't die. His sons are eagerly waiting for that to happen so the property becomes theirs. Unfortunately for them, he has a koi machher praan (the endurance of a Bangali koi fish). These things just won't give up. Last we checked, koi fish are planning to evolve legs. They will be unbeatable fish people.
On the other hand, a 15-year old prone to becoming very sick very often has a puti machher praan (because putis die within seconds of being out of water). Rich, influential people, called 'whales' in English, are rui katla in Bangla. Yes, we love our fish.
Ghorar dim (horse's egg), as you can guess, indicates 'nothing' because the last time we had a ghorar dim, it was on the math exam. An bang er shordi (frog snot) refers to an impossibility. Frogs can get a cold like fishes can get wet. Ghora dekhe khora (limping in sight of a horse) is the equivalent of people today forgetting how to walk when they see a friends' car. Walking is so yesterday. The alternative people choose is to sit in traffic jams.
A fearless woman is a bagher mashi (tiger's aunt, which we understand), and a cruel person is a machher ma (fish mother, which we don't understand). Shokuni mama (vulture uncle) will ruin you ten times over to get what he wants and show you a lot of sheal-er jukti (fox's reasoning), the kind of advice that sounds great till the cops come running.
When you actually say one of these out loud, think about what you just said, and try to translate it to English, that's when you realise why foreigners find our beloved mother tongue so… interesting. But then, our language is interesting. People fought for it. Which language can lay claim to that? Next time you meet someone, try one of these idioms on for size. Expect a comeback. If there's none, say mukhe tala leg gelo naki (the Bangla version of cat got your tongue)?