Thursday, January 09, 2014

Haath, Kangan aur Farsi

Sometimes I find English too unemotional a language for my needs; it is too easily embarrassed. I was thinking the other day about people who use language well and how I tend to become ‘nisar’ over them. I cannot of course translate this: ‘I am squandered... I am strewn over articulate, vivid speakers of native tongues...’ As you see, it sounds ridiculous.


Truth is I have a crush on languages. Punjabi, Farsi, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Kannada, Telugu... they fascinate me all. My own ability to pick up a new tongue or dialect or accent is good but nowhere near where I would like it to be. I remember my sister saying once that if she could pick a superpower it would be the ability to understand every language in the world. I agree wholeheartedly. But alas, to acquire a true and imaginative mastery of a language needs exposure, it needs you to steep yourself in a culture – and for that you would need: a) an unadulterated petri dish of said culture and b) the time, space and adequate excuse to do the steeping. Situated as I am, it cannot be done on a whim.

So I pick up things – savour a phrase, wonder at the context of a particular way of expressing. It is unsatisfactory – I am ever aware that I am feeling a small wrinkle in the elephant’s skin – but there is nothing else.

In the latest season of Coke Studio, Sanam Marvi sings a mysterious snatch without giving us the backstory. The beloved has come across the river to meet but doesn’t spend too much time with the poet: “nah main majlis keeti, na mai raat rahaaya”. ‘I didn’t get the chance to sit together awhile, or spend with him a single night’, she laments. In fact: “onṭhi uṭh nah jhukaaya.” So fleeting a visit, he didn’t even lower the camel to the ground. How delicious is that phrasing – a mere half-sentence gives us glimpse of an entire way of living.


While on this subject, I have a fond ambition: to speak in fluid ‘ba-muhavra’ Hindustani. You know, have a ready proverb or a saying for every situation. This now is doable. I trying to learn them up from here and there – in spite of the apparent homogeneity that has set in to our national media, you can still sift some nuggets, I find. So, I found occasion to exclaim ‘Bheda garak!’ several times this week, and when a friend told me they had to let their (very inept) administrative man go, I was happy to be able to assuage his conscience with ‘Khus kam jahaan paak.’

I am looking for a reason to say ‘Oonth ke pair toh paalne mein hi dikh jaate hain’ and but quite despair of being able to tell anyone: ‘Arre, aam khaona, guTliyan kyon ginte ho?

Incidentally, I’m collecting these, so you if know any, do pass them on? After all, akela chana bhaad nahin phod sakta.


Vikram Singh said...

-Man changa to kathauti(bowl) mein Ganaga
-Bagal mein chora, sahar mein dhindora
-Oont ke munh mein jeera
-Naache na jaane aur aangan tedha

Sheetal said...

Arre wah! Many thanks, Vikram.

I had never heard the first one - and it's very usable too!
And I'm going to make a mini collection of oonth wale muhaavre.