The Curious Case of Bihari Language and People: Part 1

“So you say you are a Bihari?”

Their voices sound a mix of concern, some derision, a lot condescending.

“Of course I am a Bihari, I was born and raised in Jamshedpur, Bihar. My parents still very much live in Bihar and their roots are in the western districts of Bihar. Have you heard of Arrah jilla?

They are convinced that I am a Bihari, I seem to have given sufficient evidence. I am sure they have not heard of Arrah jilla, Jamshedpur perhaps they would have. And now they seemed perplexed, what do they make of a guy who insists he is a Bihari and yet speaks with a pan-North accent and more importantly is not clad in a dhoti but in a reasonably presentable pair of denims and T-shirt.

“Oh! So you are a Bihari?”

“Indeed! All the way!!”

They do not know what to quite make of me.

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I am at my hostel in IT-BHU with my batch-mates who stay in the same hostel. We are all trying to get to know each other in our new environs. We have all come to the campus from different parts of the country qualifying the grueling IIT-JEE. And we are all stressed with the incessant ragging in the first few days of our arrival. This is in the early 80’s. And this was well before Bihar spun off into another state, Jharkhand. (Jamshedpur is now a part of Jharkhand, but I cannot reconcile myself to this and I still call myself a Bihari. After all, during all the years I lived there it was still in Bihar. I do call myself a Jharkhandi whenever Mahendra Singh Dhoni is discussed, “He is a fellow-Jharkhandi”, I want to shine in reflected glory! Dhoni is from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand. It is another matter that his parents originally belonged to Uttarakhand though Dhoni was indeed born and raised in Jharkhand. Just like I was!!

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One of them breaks the ensuing uncomfortable silence. He wants to start some small talk.

“So you must speak Bihari at home?”

From a non-Bihari perspective, a perfectly reasonable observation to make. Tamilians speak Tamil, Bengalis revel in Bengali, Gujaratis converse in Gujarati. So it is logical that a Bihari communicates in Bihari. States like Kerala are but a minor aberration, they do not speak Kerali, but an altogether different language, Malayalam! Ok, I am joking, Kerali could have as well been a name for Malayalam. This language is spoken across all religious groups and across the length and breadth (whatever breadth the state has). And she/he calls himself a Malayali and not a Keralite. (There is a small exception to this- the denizens of Palghat- who can’t decide whether they are ghar ka, ya ghat ka; but that is another story).

“No, sirs, I speak Bhojpuri at home.”

“Bhojpuri?” says a puzzled classmate.

“Yes, Bhojpuri!” I am now exulting in my newly discovered unique status.

Another round of silence.

Till an enlightened one exclaims, “Oh, the language in which Amitabh Bachchan speaks in some his “villager movies”.” Adalat, Ganga Ki Saugandh and Don were recent releases then, they were all pan-India hits and the memories of these movies are obviously still pretty fresh.

“Well, kind of.” Here was a golden opportunity to bask in the reflected glory of the superstar’s though I knew he did not speak pure Bhojpuri, he spoke in Avadhi. More accurately put, in a mixture of Avadhi and Bhojpuri. And I do not quite agree to the unstated belief that Bhojpuri is spoken only by villagers.

This places me in some kind of a context. So I am from the ilk represented by the Big B. But it still flummoxes them that I am neither a paan-chewing types nor a dhoti-clad one. And I am not from a village!

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Bihar is blessed with many strong and widely spoken dialects. Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magahi, Angika and Bajjika. The now spun-off Jharkhand too has its own dialects- Santhali and so many others. And surprisingly there is nothing called a Bihari dialect or language. Or maybe there is!

After having spent years of introspection and deep thinking I have now come to the conclusion that during all my days in Bihar, and during my interactions with Biharis thereafter- whereever these may have been- I have been speaking to them in a dialect which cannot be labeled Hindi, Bhojpuri, Maithili or any other. It is a unique language which can only be called Bihari. That pan-Bihar super dialect which can be understood by all in Bihar.

Sample this:

Ee chhokadawa kaanhe kaan raha hai jee?” (ई छोकरवा काहें कान रहा है जी?)

Kauno kapaar phaar dihis hai  iska.” (कोउनो कपार फार दिहिस है इसका )

Chichiyana bann karwaiye uska, nahi to ankhiye kaadh lengey ham.” (चिचियाना बन्न करवाइए इसका, नहीं तो अन्खिए काढ लेंगे इसका.  )

This is understood by all Biharis, irrespective of their mother-tongue, but barely by anyone else. Neither among the Bhojpuri-speaking population in the adjoining districts of the neighbouring state Uttar Pradesh, nor among the Bhojpuri-speaking diaspora across the globe. Only Biharis can understand this.

I translate below:

“Why is this kid crying?”

“Someone has hit and cracked open his skull.”

“Stop his crying, or else I will pull out his eyeballs.”

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My next few posts would deal with the curious nature of the Bihari “language” and the perception of Bihari people.

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25 Responses to The Curious Case of Bihari Language and People: Part 1

  1. sudeep says:

    Very well said Santosh Jee. Bihari however is still Hindi spoken with an accent unique to Bihar and has words from the popular languages spoken in Bihar – Bhojpuri, Maithili,Bajjika, Angika, Magahi.
    कानना = रोना (मैथिली)
    कपार = माथा (भोजपुरी,वज्जिका)
    चिचियाना = चिल्लाना(भोजपुरी,वज्जिका).This is not very different than the vernacular adulteration /enrichment which happens in other parts of the country where Hindi is popular. the bambaiya hindi in Mumbai, Punjabi mixed Hindi in Delhi , the dakkani mixed Hindi in Hyderabad (परवा नक्को = don’t worry)…So my take: is Bihari a new language ? No it is Hindi with a richer vocabulary and a खींचुआ accent. Being a bihari myself notice the word kheenchua which came so naturally to me.

    • santoshojha says:

      Thanks, Sandeep, for giving the origins of the words. I was not aware myself. And I like that observation about Bihari being Hindi with a richer vocabulary!

  2. yayaver says:

    Sir, Loved it too much. This is going to be interesting series. Will love to read more !

  3. Biswarup says:

    This was v good.
    Next-please write something on Bhojpuri lok-geeti ( the naughty kinds)
    I have a few CDs with me in B’lore if you want to refresh your memory.In fact today morning itself-i Was listening to this on the way to office-

    ‘Patna jaibu, Aara jaibu
    Ki jaibu Khairulla mein

    Kahe Jilebi ko tarse sasurji
    Bada maja Rasgulla mein..’

    ( Translation impossible)

  4. Madhumita says:

    Nice one!, please write on Bhopuri geet on marriage (the girl’s side ladies sing when Barati arrives).

    during Jamshedpur days, my mom used to chat with one Ojha aunty in our building.(one from ground floor balcony and the other being at 1st floor balcony) Aunty used to speak in Bhojpuri mixed hindi wheras mom used to speak in Bengali mixed hindi…whoever used to listen to that chat, all used to murmur “kaun kaya bol rahi hai aur kisko kaya samajh me aa raha hai bhagwan jane”…..but the chat used to continue sometime for hours. Am remembering those conversasion while reading this post.

    will wait for the next one 🙂

    • santoshojha says:

      Bhojpuri geet can get pretty risque, especially when the baraatis are sitting down for dinner! Do you really want me to write about that!

  5. Sandeep says:

    Brilliant one and I totally associate myself with this. It was amazing to know that few phrases you mentioned no one else then a Bihari would understand. Let me tell you I passed the test🙂, rather it was as if normal Hindi language to me. I remember when I first went outside Bihar to a hostel in South by Hindi took words liberally from Bihari and hence left many of my friends left out in understanding what I was saying. Luckily these people were also not too good in Hindi and they concluded that I spoke Sudh Hindi. Will wait for your next post.🙂

  6. squarecutatul says:

    I found it infradig to talk in “Bihari” lingo myself when I was in “Bihar”.

    It is noticeable that the “Bihari” lingo is quite colourful and fell of witticisms, as can be seen from the snippets posted by you. Incidentally I had little difficulty understanding the gist of that.The term “Kaanna”=to cry is used as “kaandnaa” in Jharkhadi lingo, if there is any such lingo.

  7. Raghav says:

    Sir,
    Bihar truly is a land with many dialects, from west (BHOJPURI) to east (MAITHILI) the variance is tremendous. The one dialect, which I know, too varies from districts to districts. The BHOJPURI in SARAN is considered as softer, than what people speaks in AARAH & BUXAR (epicenter of Bhojpuri land).The BIHARI what language media and Bollywood movies shows is just a different ascent of Hindi and few words of BHOJPURI jumbled here and there in a sentence (MY OWN OPINION).

    I am eagerly waiting for next blog on my birthplace, and dialect I is use to communicate with my Mother.

  8. Gini says:

    Gorgeous! Just loved the typical Bihari words and honestly my favorite is ‘chichiyana’!! After having read your beautiful note I can’t help feeling nostalgic about our ‘Bihar’! I mean call it ‘Jharkhand’ or ‘Bihar’ I don’t care. Hey I can clearly remember two ‘theth’ bihari songs which I’d like to mention
    1. Dulhin dheere dheere chalihe sasur galiya……
    2. Arrah(looks like it’s quite famous) hile Chapra hile Balia hile la, lachki jab kamariya tori , sara duniya hile la…….
    I think the second song would have easily qualified for a ‘Bihari’ Idol song!
    Well, interesting stuff! Cheers

  9. biswarup says:

    sir,
    Like I said-I have cds of bhojpuri songs.
    The social-psychology of a long tradition of risque songs in an otherwise conservative environment is v unique.

  10. Lalitha says:

    It sounds like the days when we lived in Delhi and Lucknow and it was assumed that all South Indians spoke a unique language called Madrasi! At least in your case, the assumption that you spoke Bihari was made after learning that you were from Bihar! I do hope things have progressed somewhat and people in the North now realize that there are four states in the South, and the languages spoken in those states are not derived from the names of those states!

  11. Richa says:

    lagta hai aaj aapke saare posts padh hi loongi… bahut acha hai..

    Richa

  12. vikash sharma says:

    sir, u gave a nice introduction about bihari language. but i do not fully agree with u , as per i know bihari is not a language but is a group of language . this group include languages like magahi bhojpuri maithili angika and vajjika . out of these languages maithili has allready being given the status of complete language an has been included in group of national languages by indian government. rest of languages are fighting hard and soon they will also get recognized .

    i will not blame u as in 80s and 90s they were considered dialect of hindi but now it is very clearly known across the linguistic society that they are different languages with their own literature work.
    and as bangalies , malayalies , punjabies etc etc we biharies also have our own languages with their grammar and literature which are together called as bihari

  13. vikash sharma says:

    if u want to conform please read about bihari languages on wikipedia

  14. vikash sharma says:

    nice to see your reply sir , i had not expected that i will get reply ,……………thanks for this gratitude . well your father had done phd on bhojpuri kavitayn , its very impressive….. i adore him. actually sir i feel that bhojpuri has not get justice by putting as a mere dialect of hindi when it is clear linguistically that it belongs to eastern group of indo arayan languages where hindi is of middle one.

    • santoshojha says:

      Vikash: If someone (such as yourself) can take the trouble of reading a stranger’s blog and posting a comment, then the least one can do is to give a response. Thank you for logging in again.

      PS: My father’s thesis was on Bhojpuri kahavatein ( and not kavitayein)

  15. ASHISH PRASAD says:

    HEY FRIENDS I M ALSO A BIHARI BUT NEVER VISITED TO BIHAR SINCE MY CHILDHOOD. SO I HAVE VARIOUS QUARIES . CAN U PLEASE HELP ME OUT . SERIOSLY WAITING FOR YOUR REPLY.

    YOUR FRIEND
    ASHISH PRASAD

  16. ram kumar says:

    Hi, I liked this blog very much, just wanted to know which state is Jamshedpur in after being out of India for a while and can feel the love for this city by the residents born and raised out of this beautiful city….Ram Kumar, a truly wonderful write up on the language

  17. pratap of hinoo ranchi says:

    Haan haum v hooye pale bare hai aur hooan ka vassa sabhi ke upar apna chhap chhora hai, maslan ek dost mithai khane ki dawat dete hue:- chal bhai amar ghore chal ekdom var thariya sajjal aachhe” matlab come & have dishfull of sweets @ my home.
    O.k bye for now friends. May this lingo long live

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