With so little of humour in our lives these days, no one should honestly begrudge us this chance of laughing at ourselves
An idle mind is certainly a devil's workshop. In these days of a confined existence, with the coronavirus pandemic running riot all across the globe, the mind works overtime, losing itself in myriad thoughts. There are in us the naughty feelings as well, related to conditions that could probably arise in the case of translations from Bangla into English. We speak of literal translations, which might arouse in the reader or the listener a wave of hilarity.
Think of the stern question, tumi peyechho ta ki? Give it an English turn, as in what have you found? Of course it does not make quite proper sense, but we do need humour at times like this, don't we? There are stubborn people we refer to as gharh terha. How does crooked shoulder sound? Try it out before your friends. There are times when we ask our friends to sing and all too often you will get the response from them, aaj amar golla ta boshe gechhe. Translate it, word for word: today my throat has sat down.
It is all so very silly, but we do need such silliness even in our advancing years. With so little of humour in our lives these days, no one should honestly begrudge us this chance of laughing at ourselves. We know of someone who might be a mojar manush. What if we refer to him in English as a tasty man? Or think of that rosher manush, our juicy man. Something is always lost in translation, but you can be quite sure that when it is literal translation you go into, the possibility of something being lost along the way is rather slim. Dwell on that little girl in the family who is a boi poka, a bookworm. Well, bookworm is okay, but wouldn't the proper term be bibliophile?
But let that be. Have you come across the pretty drooling description of a young man as shaheb-er moto dekhte? In other words, he looks like a sahib. In other words again, he looks like an Englishman, a white man as such and so is rather heroic in appearance. And now let's think of all those oleaginous people to whom sycophancy is second nature. Shey khomotaban lokder ke tel dae. Render it into English: he gives oil to powerful people. It does not get you anywhere, but you just might have a bellyful of laughter. A politician's struggle in the old pre-partition days was referred to in the newspapers thus: He fought tooth and nail for his people. Some smart young journalist, working for a Bangla newspaper, put it thus: tini dnaate nokhe tar jonogoner jonno lorhechhen.
Exhausted? But wait. When someone tells you, shoja angule ghee uthena, you tend to take a good, long look at your finger and that can of ghee before you. A housewife, irritated by her child's pranks, might scream, shey amar matha kheye fello … he is eating my head. Absolute horror there, a hint of cannibalism. We demean someone who may not be very intelligent thus: tar matha mota. Think of the literal rendering of the phrase into he has a fat head. Now go to the term dnaat bhanga jobab. A teeth-breaking response? You can imagine the teeth splintering into pieces at the sound of the words flowing from the one on the offensive. All too often we look askance at people who have enriched themselves through corruption. They are people who have become angul phule kola gachh. Fingers swollen into banana plants?
We come across some bishaal hridoyer manush at one point or another. They are men in possession of large hearts. There are those given to an employment of violent language, as in the warning they serve on people they cannot tolerate: chokh tule felbo or tore kacha khaiya falamu. Translate it. It will give you the shivers. When someone grows too big for his boots, we say tar haat paa lomba hoye gechhe. How would you respond? His hands and legs have grown bigger? And here's one more: My son has grown on milk and rice. Amar chhele dudhe bhaate borho hoyechhe.
So there we are, in this little exercise at humour in these dark times. Remember the story we were told by our uncles ages ago of the Bengali trying to explain a scythe, or kaachi, to his English boss --- and this was in British colonial times: one side plain and one side khaskhadakhas?