Speaking tongues

The mere sound of a language I am not too familar with enamours me. Since human facial expressions do not vary much, although they may have different cultural meanings, it is the way words are used that make people stand apart from one another.

As one who dislikes uniformity, these differences make interactions dynamic. With a working knowledge of a few Indian languages, I do get by quite well. Foreign languages? Mostly some handy phrases that can get me into trouble if used out of context. I did learn a few cuss words in Farsi for a specifically noble purpose when I was young and did not fancy the idea of Iranian men giving the glad eye while running their fingers over prayer beads. Did I not tell you I hate multitasking?

School brought with it French. Except for fragrances and the French Revolution, we knew nothing about the country. Lingerie was pronounced as ling-a-ree. How on earth were we to know that the French employ their tongues deftly but rather sparingly? Therefore, while the deep deserves their reverence, words subsist on the tongue's whim to stay suspended in the mouth as the lips pucker or sneer to form sentences.

Among the Indian languages that gives nary a thought to phonetics or even vowels, Bangla would probably be right there ahead of the rest. The Bengali speaks as though with a mouthful of food that is swallowed rather than chewed.

Recently I received one of those notes that was addressed to "fellow Bongs"...after I had got over the surprise, I decided to write a verse on that mish-tick (mistake):

Aapne humein fellow Bong samjha, yeh tau ghalati hai
Unko poochhoge tau kahenge unnati hai
Shaayad yeh sirf meri aazmaish thi
Sach kahe tau Charulata* banne ki hamesha se khwaahish thi
Hum bhi moonh mein zabaan rakhte hai*
Magar Kali Devi jaisi hamari kahaan latakti hai
Ghaliban Ghalib tau humein halki si bhi gaali nahin denge
Jab Bangla bolne ki zidd mein tabah* ko tobah* keh denge

Tried transliterating it…

You called me a fellow Bong, that was an error
If you ask them, though, they’d say it makes me a winner
Perhaps this was to test me
For to be Charulata was always my dream
I too have a tongue in my mouth
But unlike Kali’s mine doesn’t stick out
Ghalib won’t curse me even in a whisper
As I transform the Urdu bang into a Bangla whimper


* That is a line from Ghalib

Charulata = the main protagonist in Satyajit Ray's eponymous film
tabah = destruction
tobah (ideally spelled as taubah, but deliberately not here) = repentance or used as an exclamation

This is a play on Bangla pronunciation which enunciates 'a' as 'o'.

A literal translation would have broken the rhythm.

But why all these explanations for a mere transgression?!


  1. I only know english,bangla&oriya.The poem was funny,I think you like Bengalis!!

  2. Hmmm...do you know the Fay Language? Wonderin'.
    And...better a Bong than a bongi.

  3. KB:

    I do like Bengalis, but they better be bhadralok with a ready supply of Jhol bhora :)


    Faap sfochfe rfeh jfaayfe faur hfum kfuchh nfahfin kfahfengfe...thfeek?

    Even a bongi on Bondi beach?


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