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