Monday, November 14, 2005

Words of Love..........

I really shouldn't be writing this, since I should have already embarked on my massive survey deployment operation by now. But oh what the heck, since I want another cup of tea, I'll just squeeze in a post while I finish drinking it. This post was inspired by the discussion on the Compulsive Confessor's blog about qualities she looks for in a man she wishes to date, as well as this post by Buchu on the relationship of Indians to the English language. eM wrote that she "can't stand words being mispronounced", and clearly the reference is to mispronounciation of English words, something that I'm guilty of as well. I often get W and V mixed up, and end up sounding very German.

I was reminded by her post of my own mental checklists of the past, never very explicit, always subliminal, till the day I decided to examine my dating history and see if there was a pattern, a rationale to the men I was attracted to. And then I realised that there was this curious detail. That when it pertained to Indian men, it was very important that they spoke good, grammatically correct, refined Hindi. No, not the overly Sanskritized, stultified, arcane Hindi patented by Indian state television and radio newsreaders. This was nuanced, earthy and elegant at the same time, at times oblique and allusive, at other times, shockingly direct. More Hindustani, than either Hindi or Urdu.

Perhaps this was a bit strange. I did study in an English-medium school, and grew up in a home of Bengali-speaking parents, who forbade any conversation in Hindi with them the moment I stepped inside the house. My friends at school and in the neighbourhood did speak Hindi, but this was neither refined nor very sophisticated, peppered with English phrases and swear words. Fun yes, but not very romantically appealing. Ideally, I should have been looking forward to being impressed with a substantial English vocabulary and impeccable pronunciation, given that there was so much social consensus on its desirability. But I think I ended up becoming a reverse snob, singularly unimpressed with Oxons and Cambridgewallahs and utterly charmed by Purbaiyya twangs and Lucknowi cadences.

I wonder why this is the case. Perhaps, because from a very early age, I associated English with the rigors of learning, the disciplinary structure at school, with the wonder and excitement of knowledge, but not intimacies, tugs at my heartstrings, nor terms of endearment. To this day, I am not moved by a single love song in English, but can get affected so easily by cheesy Hindi love songs and Bengali songs and poetry.

So yes, why didn't I feel the same way for speakers of elegant and refined Bengali? Even though I am very deeply attached to the Bengali language and its cultural production - the literature, music, social milieu, when it came to romance, intimacy in Bengali always seemed so out of bounds for me. Well for one, it reminded me of my relatives and parents' friends, not the sort of association I'd be looking for in a romantic interest. And then, love and its expression in Bengali culture was so mercilessly ridiculed by my cousins, that I felt that if a Bengali man were to express his sentiments to me in Bengali, I'd probably burst out laughing at his face. Besides, to be honest, I never really met too many Bengali men (really, my parents had very little connection with the CR Park Bong cliques in Delhi).

I think I've been able to figure out that part of the attraction was perhaps the space that Hindi provides for an exaggerated expression of sentiment, which is very appealing in a heightened emotional state. "Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein rakha kya hai" (nothing more dear in this world than your eyes) may seem absurd under normal circumstances, but makes perfect sense to a love (or lust)-struck soul. Also, I think I truly find English an inadequate vehicle for the expression of longing. I find the terms of endearment in Greek so very loving and expressive, and yet the same sentiment does not find concommitant expression in English. So of course the words of affection exchanged between boyfriend and me are invariably in Greek. Is this just personal preference, or have other bilingual (and further multilingual) persons felt the same way?

Whatever the reasons, sophisticated and refined Hindi was a primary source of attraction to Indian men, and lack of facility in English not a barrier in getting to know men who were not Indian. Perhaps I should send this to folks like Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak and Homi Bhabha, and they can analyse my post-colonial erasure of subalterneity and embrace of the subaltern's imperfect rendering of the colonizer's voice. Hmmmmm....actually I'd just go ahead and listen to the gorgeous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan version of this Amir Khusro poem:

Ze haal-e-miskin, ma'akun taghaful, duraaye naina banaaye batiyan
Ke taab-e-hijran, na dauram, ae jaan, na leeho kaahe lagaaye chhatiyan
Shabaan-e-hijran, daraaz chun zulf, roz-e-waslat chun umr-e-kotah
Sakhi piya ko jo main na dekhoon, to kaise katoon andheri ratiyan

Scroll down this page for a full version and translation of this poem (must warn, the translation is not really very adequate).

41 Comments:

Blogger anthony said...

How would you like

Jalta hein jiske liye,
Tere aankhon ke diye..
Dhoond laya Hoo wahi..
Geet mein tere liye...

Ahh!! This sons never failed to give my heart that little squeeze, but it have failed miserably in courtships. They found it too Ancestral and have preferred

"I feel it in my fingers, I feel in my toes..Love is all around me
And so the feeling grows.." Lucky I could sing both though lol

How about
Jeevan se Bhari teri Aankhen...aarrrrrg

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Sanity Starved said...

Ah... uhmm... yes... okay, never mind.

You finished your cup of tea?

But, yes, I think Bong girls are beautiful, but they too remind me of aunts and cousins... But, somehow the whole world loves them and they ask me, You are a Bong. You must know Bong girls right?
Yeah... rrrright :D

But, you know what, I don't think guys have the choice of how or what girls say. It is mostly hoping they like the way you say things. Hmm :D

10:50 PM  
Blogger The Marauder's Map said...

The Khusrau poem -- is it part of a Hindi film song featuring Mithun Chakraborty and an actress who could be Padmini Kolhapuri travelling on the top of a bus into the sunset? It had a peculiar poignancy, and I can hear the tune in my head. I think just the first two lines of the couplet are used in the song, the last two being "Sunai deti ho jiski dhadkan, tumhara dil ya hamara dil hai".

4:41 AM  
Blogger PS said...

My God! have always liked this one:

tum sochogi kyu itna main tum se pyar karu,
tum sochogi deewana main kyu ikraar karu,
deewano ki yeh baatein...
deewane jaante hain
jalne mein kya mazaa hai,
parwane jaante hain...

6:07 AM  
Blogger Soumyadip said...

Remember that Hindi song Angrezi mein kehte hain ki I love you, I always wondered why did the Punjabis have to do a bhangra with the associated hullabaloo to express their love.

Anyway, I never tried the Aami tumake bhalo bashi on any Bong lass.

But had to do it in English, Hindi would have sounded too filmi (they have already done everything associated with love to its death) and Urdu (the sweetest of them all) was not my forte.

6:22 AM  
Blogger Rimi said...

isn't this a surprise! i'm a 'victim' of the cheesiest soft romantic melodies from films as well, and i'm pretty desperate to learn the colloquial urdu-hindi most of them are in. it was a guilty pleasure of sorts, since i know to speak of it is to be scoffed at. but it's magical, all the same.

but...er,...i'm afraid i cannot cut potential partners any slack in the language department. they must either speak well (blanket term, covers everything), irrespective of language, or not see me at all. english is important because the language, in it's indian avatar, peppered with transliterations and "no?" instead of "isn't it?" define who i am, and most of my current world. so...that's it then, i guess...

p.s: prem-nibedon in bangla is a tad too corny for me though. boddo nyaka nyaka laage :))

6:45 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Anthony, very nice. Sunil Dutt on the phone with Nutan, whose face bursts into a million emotions, such vividness. Really, women found it too old-fashioned?

Pidus, such nice things about Bong girls :)! So people ask you about Bong women all the time? I've had Indian men who've told me that they are completely fascinated by Bong women. Why?

And so guys just mould themselves into whatever a woman's heart desires?

Shrabonti, the Mithun film song takes its first line from the Khusro poem and goes:

Ze haal e miskin, ma'akun ba ranjish,
Ba-haal-e-hijran bechaara dil hai

The actress is Anita Raj. Yes, I remember the song as well, with a Rajasthani woman dancing with the backdrop of a sunset.

10:14 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

PS, Pal pal dil ke paas.....beautiful and simple. Excellent song.

Soumya, yes I do remember that song. I think a whole corpus of Bengali films and songs have rendered "Aami tomaake bhalobashi" the cheesiest phrase in Bengali. No Bengali in his/her right mind (unless he/she became a raving lunatic in love) would use it to express love.

Rimi, are these anglophone tyansh types who would scoff at Bangla songs as well :)? I do agree that the ability to speak any language well is definitely desirable.

I wish I could have made an example out of my boyfriend, but as it so happens, he speaks English pretty well. But even if he didn't, he's interesting enough for that to be immaterial!

Oh dear, tell me about Banglai premer nyakami. The stories I've heard from my Shantiniketan cousin. Here's a sample of prem nibedon:

"Tumi jodi amaai na bhalobasho, aami jedike du chokh jaai chole jabo"

Dekho kando!

10:25 AM  
Blogger Heh Heh said...

Tell me something: Was it 'correct, refined Hindi' over and above impeccable English that impressed you, or was it the Hindi by and in itself?
For instance, nothing turns me on more than a woman who can carry out conversations in refined Hindustani. But I could hardly think of being attracted to her if her English was poor.
Regarding other Indian languages (two of which I am quite fluent in: Marathi and Bong), I just think they lack the expressiveness of Hindustani. I think it has a lot to do with the Persian influence; somehow some of the most evocative words in the language are Persian in origin.
~fingeek

12:46 PM  
Blogger Adagio For Strings said...

Very interesting! Linguistic inadequacies frequently are. I do find the statement judging english as inadequate to express love a little unfair but that is merely because I cannot get enough of Emily Dickinson poems.

The other interesting thing is also that I have noted (and at the risk of sounding incredibly sexist here) that lots of people and especially women will abuse in english without batting an eye lid and would be completely scornful of using the hindi translation of the same words. This fact also never ceases to interest me.

But interesting post. I am piqued!

12:54 PM  
Blogger Prerona said...

interesting thread of posts - this and the one that set you thinking of this. hope it doesnt set me thinking (or atleast posting my thoughts) on the same subject. i'm afraid i wouldnt come up with any such erudite common features :)

2:47 PM  
Blogger Quizman said...

Hmm..I thought teri aankhon ke siva was about watan (nation) and idealism. Or were you not referring to Faiz line , but instead to the inspiration it gave to Majrooh?

3:59 PM  
Blogger Quizman said...

Zihaal-e-miskin is also sung by Mukesh and Sudha Malhotra.

4:03 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Fingeek welcome back! New blog, too I see, khoob bhalo!

Honestly, in the past, when I met men who spoke refined Hindustani, I was quite willing to overlook poor English, if any. Perhaps that's what has allowed me to spread my dating net beyond Anglophone men, and a very good thing it is.

Aah, the exquisiteness of Persian. But there is a lot of Persian in Bengali too, just not that apparent. Frankly, I don't think that Bengali is less adequate for love than Hindustani (I don't know Marathi so cannot comment on it).

5:46 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Adagio, of course Dickinson is wonderful. But personally she was hardly the first person who sprang in my imagination when I wanted pieces of poetry to describe my emotional upheaval.

Your abuse/swear word observation is very insightful :). I'm equal opportunity in this, and my repertoire is limited to f--k in English and c-----a in Hindi.

Prerona, do write, I'm sure there'll be more erudition than you allow yourself at this point.

Quizman, I was thinking of Majrooh's take on Faiz's fragment, but at least in the first half of Faiz's poem, when this line is employed, he is talking about love. Is he not?

Didn't know about Mukesh and Sudha Malhotra's version. As we discussed earlier, Chhaya Ganguly has a version as well.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Adagio For Strings said...

Adagio, of course Dickinson is wonderful. But personally she was hardly the first person who sprang in my imagination when I wanted pieces of poetry to describe my emotional upheaval.

Now I am curious - who is? (As in who is the first person who springs to mind to describe you emotional unheavels?). At the risk of sounding like a shameless self promoter, check out my very first post ever! I actually began the blog with a Dickinson poem :D.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Sanity Starved said...

Well, "She is Bong" does work like magic; everyone suddenly sits and starts listening.

No, not that. But, one day the guy is checking mail first thing in the morning. Next day, he is more concerned there is not a strand of hair on the pillow after he wakes up. Hmm... Strange things do happen.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Anil said...

Great post brought back old memories, those days when me and my cousin would listen to radio all night just to hear a soulful Gulzar song or to listen to Mukesh croon Dil Jalta Hai to Jalne De all the while praying to our threadbare gods that my neo-Dravidian uncle who viewed Hindi as an Aryan cultural invasion won't catch us.

Also I have to admit that I too am fascinated by Bengali women may be because all the Bengali girls I have known till date are really intelligent also because each and every one of them were beautiful ..

6:05 AM  
Blogger www.gypsynan.blogspot.com said...

You inspired me into a bit of a blog ramble...lovely stuff.

8:14 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Adagio, quite simply Tagore, Ghalib and Faiz. In that order. Will check out your Dickinson poem.

Pidus, this is so interesting. Please do a post about this, I'm all agog.

Anil, you're very generous with praise. I hope all the Bengali girls reading this take note :)

Neo-Dravidian uncle? Yes, sounds similar to my extended family's rants about the Hindi invasion.

Gypsy, I read your post, and loved it.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Deepak Shenoy said...

Very Nice, Thalassa, Thank You.

My wife and I ended up finding each other though ghazals - not the deeply difficult urdu ones but simple, hindustani-speak couplets that seemed to work the magic.

Ulfat ka jab kisii ne liyaa naam ro pade
Apni vafa kaa soch ke anjaam ro pade

Har shaam ye savaal muhabbat se kyaa milaa
Har shaam ye javaab ke har shaam ro pade.

You can't translate that - English just doesn't cut it, as I found out on a late night attempt on one of my favourite nazms (http://theunknownindian.blogspot.com/2005/11/language-barrier.html)

Swear words: I know there's a big argument for that refined Hindi and all that, but there's something about using swear words in it that make it a lot more "comfortable", especially when screaming at auto drivers. But nothing in Hindi comes close to the versatility of the f*** word in English. (http://tinyurl.com/czyrv)

10:12 PM  
Blogger Bonatellis said...

fascinating read, this one ...

i think it's most natural to express/appreciate intimacy in the language that one is most comfortable with ... not that I am particularly weak with English, but "refined" Bengali has always been the preferred medium for me if the other person responds to the same language, of course ...

but I wonder how "refined" Hindi would sound to a Bengali ... if a girl ever told me "kya main tumhare osth pe ek chumban kar sakti hoon" (pardon me for the grammer), I really would be hard-pressed not to offend her :-)

and great work again, the previous one ...

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Sanity Starved said...

:D Post about what - Bong girls rock, or guys acting stupid?

See. I just mentioned the three magic words and already you have people confirming. Interesting the sorority is taking note. I expect it to be in your arsenal already.

2:19 AM  
Anonymous AB said...

The bilingual thing that you are talking about does strike home. Especially because I keep hearing S talk to her boyfriend K in Mallu when they are feeling particularly lovey-dovey:-)

What a number of songs you have on your post! But yeah I love cheesy Hindi songs as well.

And who knew Bong women were so popular, yay!

3:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is something I don't understand. I was born in Bengal and spent 20 odd years of my life there - and I am yet to meet a single beautiful Bong girl. So where are these beautiful and intelligent Bong girls, people are waxing eloquent about :)

As for shuddh Hindustani - absolutely love it. I guess that's because I can't speak Hindi fluently (frequently have to throw in English words), though I am fluent in reading the language.

Interestingly enough, vocabulary wise, I am strongest in English, even though that is not my mother tongue.

11:32 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Deepak, that's very sweet, bonding over poetry.

Magar yeh ho na saka aur ab yeh aalam hai..........kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai.

Yes hard to translate indeed. I'm all for swear words, even when they are used as terms of endearment between friends :)

Quite correct Bonatellis, and yet value judgments are made. I can't speak either French or Italian, but I'd infinitely prefer an expression of love in Italian rather than French, because it sounds so much sweeter to me.

Oh, I wasn't advocating that sort of refined Hindi at all :). More the Hindustani kind. "Main tumhe chum loon"? will do just fine.

12:44 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Pidus, yes, yes Bong girls rock, and how the world loves us :)(well apparently not all).

AB, see, I get at least one confirmation for my bilingual theory. I'm sure there are more. I know a couple where the girl is Indian-American and the boy is Indian. They invariably use Hindi when they want to be lovey-dovey with each other.

And yay for Bong girls!!!

Anonymous, that's because the blogging Bong girl sorority hasn't been posting pictures :). But seriously, "not a single beautiful girl" sounds a bit extreme, perhaps Bong girls are just not your type?

12:50 PM  
Blogger Heh Heh said...

Gracias!
Dating net, eh? :)
I agree with Anil. Bengali girls certainly do form a large proportion of the interesting people i have known, and the proportion is significantly larger than what one would expect from a random draw.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What crap. why are you trying to justify your lack of a proper verbal English education or the lack of a propensity to learn the same? Or is it the quintessential bong tendency to find excuses in their bong-ness for everything under the sun, at play? Good for Compulsive Confessor that she has an opinion. You, on the other hand, only have lame excuses. Your pretense ain't workin' missy.

8:43 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Oh wow, hear hear! Fingeek, I think I should ask my boyfriend to take a look at the comments here. And then he wonders what I'm on about when I talk about being Bengali :).

9:23 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Anonymous mon ami, I'm trying very hard to sort your comment into decipherable parcels.

If you didn't quite get it, let me explain. This is not about whether I can speak proper English or not, it is about the qualities that appeal to me in a potential date. I did not attribute this predilection of mine to my Bong-ness.

That pretense comment is puzzling. Are you trying to say that as my lack of a "proper verbal English education" makes me unattractive to those who possess it in fair measure, I pretend to be disinterested in them? A case of sour grapes, then?

Perhaps.

9:39 PM  
Blogger MAHARAJADHIRAJ said...

Mikra what about the vocabulary of unspoken love... isn't that as, if not more, fascinating?

11:49 AM  
Blogger Bonatellis said...

T_M: i think "can i kiss your ears" (for the lack of anything better) sounds distinctly more arousing :-) the language, i mean ...

6:53 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Dhiraj, the vocabulary of unspoken love is often yearning, beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. Such is the fodder of poetic imagination!

Bonatellis, you are so very polite :). It does sound better in Greek, but I'm not telling!

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ami Tumake Bhalo Bashi


what does this mean

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://joubonjala.com
ami tomake bhalobashi.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Satish said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Satish said...

One interesting article and all this commentary makes me jay.. makes me wonder if its just the response a girl's writing gets :)
I must confess I have not read the primary piece of writing but the comments and the conversation have left me at the very edge of my seat. I M FASCINATED!!

6:56 PM  
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9:47 PM  
Blogger VUONG said...

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ビジネス英語 メール
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2:40 AM  
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紙箱
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2:41 AM  

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