Until I came to Delhi my interaction with the Rashtrabhasha were limited to 3 types of encounters, as a third language in school between the classes of six and eight , interactions with Rickshaw pullers which was conducted any peculiar pidgin language, and Hindi films.
The third language was a test of memory and was limited to a very rudimentary level of ‘k’ for ‘kaua’ and my spoken Hindi consisted of adding ’hai’ at the end of Bengali sentences.
“Tum kidhar jata hai, kitna bhada leta hai” a language which only the poor labourers from our neighbouring state and fellow Bengalis would understand.
The only Hindi film I had seen before coming to Delhi were ‘ Hathi Mere Sathi ‘and ‘Sholay’. I am sure you remember the iconic dialogues of Sholay. “Kitne aadmi the?” “Kub hai Holi” “suar ke bachhe” . No doubt these would come in handy in certain circumstances but not very useful for day to day conversations.
Although our school had a large proportion of non-Bengali students there was a dictum that only English is to be spoken in school and whenever the rule was broken the vernacular used was street Bengali, which everyone living in Kolkata seems to know.
On my arrival to Delhi things did not improve much as the college I attended was highly Anglicized and students from all over the India attended, making English the only common language. I could practice my broken Hindi only when foraying into the city.
One of the things one needs to know in a new city is how to find public toilets. I learned that in Delhi these were facilities marked DI NA NI in Hindi. Much later I learned that these were the initials of Delhi Nagar Nigam. At that time having no clue I often asked passersby where the nearest DINANI was. Meeting with very puzzled looks I mimed desperate need for relieving myself, something very embarrassing to do in a crowded street, till directions were given.
We usually think in one language and translate in another. Much is lost in translation, and the meaning often changes. Post college, when I joined the productive workforce, it was in the government sector, and the lingua franca was our Rashtrabhasa. Written work was in archaic English, but spoken word remained primarily Hindi, as the staff spoke no other tongue.
I slowly started picking up the lingo, but with many a faux pas. One example strikes the mind. A colleague wanted to borrow my matchbox, those being the unenlightened days when you could smoke at the workplace. I wanted to say that it was lying in my desk drawer, and translated literally as, “ Machis ki dibba drawer ke andar laite hue hai.” I could not understand the uncontrolled amusement that this simple statement evoked, till it was explained that translating back in English it would appear that my matchbox was catching a nap.
I was a faculty member in a training institute in Delhi which catered to our industry, and had to often concede to strident demands that I teach in Hindi. Those classes grew immensely popular not for the content but the language, and caused so much merriment that the institute insisted I switch back to the language of our colonial past.
But the classic double entendre of twisted in translation was done by my roommate, a fellow bong with an even more tenuous hold on the language.
At that time a few of us friends were sharing a flat and had a lady do the cleaning for us, while the more skilled amongst us did the cooking. We wanted to ash the lady, let us call her Kantabai, whether she would cook for us. As most of us left for work early, the job of negotiating the deal fell on Tublu, who left last.
On the fateful day, our friend was in the shower when the lady arrived. So he came out in a towel and started off….
“Er, you know, I say, Kantabai….” And he was stumped as he couldn’t remember the word for cooking in Hindi.
So he improvised, intending to ask if she could take on additional duties. He however framed it as
“Eh… er… I mean…. Aap yo dusra kaam bhi karte hain?”
Legend has that Kantabai giggled and left.
For the Rastrabhasha challenged let me clarify, worded thus, it was an improper proposition. Clad as he was, we were lucky to get away without a harassment charge.

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  1. Tublu was lucky indeed!

    Talking of movies and our Rashtra-bhasha, wonder if you have come across ‘Chupke Chupke’ by Hrishikesh Mukherjee? Rip-roaring stuff and a great commentary on our linguistic purists!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, literal translation from one language to another has really amusing consequences. In New India, we decided to auto-translate a motor policy into Rashtrabhasha. Suddenly found excesss under the policy was shown as “adhik”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh!!! Gosh!!! The guy was lucky towel bhaiya…ram ram ram!!! I think we share the same thing in a way…I speak fluent Hindi but cannot write but decided to learn to write the script. An Indian born and brought up in Phoren, I was bored with Hindi classes in Primary school but now I regret. And, Hindi is one of my favorite:)

    Happy Independence Day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Humor is observed in all cultures and at all ages. But only in recent decades has experimental psychology respected it as an essential & fundamental human behavior.

    Historically, psychologists framed humor negatively, suggesting it demonstrated superiority & touches vulgarity

    But research on humor has recently come to light, with humor now viewed as a character strength. Positive psychology, a field that examines what people do well, notes that humor can be used to make others feel good, to gain intimacy, or to help buffer stress. Along with gratitude, hope, and spirituality, a sense of humor belongs to the set of strengths positive psychologists call transcendence; together they help us forge connections to the world and provide meaning to life. Appreciation of humor correlates with other strengths, too, such as wisdom and love of learning. And humor activities or exercises result in increased feelings of emotional well-being and optimism.

    Sir, your writing has all traits of good quality humour which is classic & eternal The fluidity in writing shows the excellent command over the language and also reflects the cerebral power to understand and appreciate humour which acts as panacea especially for all types of persons who suffer from extreme anxiety syndrome and diminished spirit .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Let me tell you about a real incident I was witness to in my childhood. As you know we lived in Howrah, and I used to go to a neighbour’s house with a big garden to play in. There was a widowed Didima, bent and frail, who had severe “chhuchibaai” (cleanliness freak). There was an outhouse toilet in a corner of the garden, which was cleaned daily by a gigantic bihari jamadaar, bare bodied and in a short dhoti.
    One day there was a big commotion, and we all ran to the spot. Didima was rebuking his head off, and he was standing in front of her with folded hands and head hanging in shame. He had apparently absented himself for the last three days. She was shouting, “Tum teen din se tatti nahi kiya, aaj tumko tatti karna hi padega, hamara saamne, hum dekhega”.
    The guy kept murmuring “haan maaji, haan maaji, haan maaji”…..
    So much for Rashtrabhasha.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ♡ Excellent presentation on learning the national language Rashtrabhasha, with very impressive examples (especially the matchbox one)🍀💐💐💐🍀. Very impressive image.

    ♡ Today on Hindi Diwas, ironically National TV Channels reported heated debates on Hindi as one of the Official Laguages !

    ♡ Praiseworthy Conclusion:

    “For the Rastrabhasha challenged………………
    ..to get away without a harassment charge”.

    ♡ Indeed, you are a versatile writer and on any given topic, you bring out excellence 🌻🌻🌻!

    ♡ Best Wishes,💥

    Liked by 1 person

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