The Curious Case of Bihari Language and People: Part 3

September 27, 2012

A few months ago I had written a couple of posts on this theme. I am now continuing that thread with this post. Here are the links to the prior ones. Not mandatory to read these first, just clarifying.

https://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/the-curious-case-of-bihari-language-and-people-part-1/

https://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/the-curious-case-of-bihari-language-and-people-part-2/

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“ऊ देखिये, ऊ मऊग के, पीयर बुस्सर्ट पहिन के कईसे कुदक रहा है, बेंग की तरह भोरे-भोर! लगता है भोरा गया है की ऊ दिन कैसे उसको लंगटे कर ओकर कपार फार दिए थे हम.”

The sentence above is written in Devnagari and at first sight would seem to be Hindi both in the script and the meanings. However, I can bet that those non-Biharis reading this piece would hardly be able to figure out the meaning. So let me translate this in simple English.
“Just see that effeminate character, early in the morning he is jumping around like a toad in his yellow shirt. I think he has forgotten how I had stripped him that day and broken his skull.”
Let us  examine some simple words first. बुस-सर्ट  is the adaptation of bush-shirt. पीयर is the Biharification of peela, yellow. Like उज्जर is for white (=ujala), करिया is black (=kaala). Roll the words पीयर, उज्जर and करिया over your tongue and see how easy these are to pronounce and how “colourful” they  sound as compared with peela, ujalaa and kaala! Did I not tell you in my earlier posts that Bihari was indeed a very colourful language?
कपार फारना (break someone’s head) is a popular expression which is used even for the smallest of injuries caused the the vanquished. (Refer an earlier post of mine). कपार is an adaptation of the Sanskrit kapaal, however please do not break your heads trying to link कपार फारना with kapaal-bhaati made popular in the last decade by Swami Ramdev.
Bihari has its share of puns too. See the usage of भोर in the sentence. The former भोर (भोरे -भोरे , very early morning) is the Bihari adoption of the Sanskrit “bhor” as in pratahkaal. However the other भोर (भोरा) is the localization and simplification of bhula (dena). To forget. This is one explanation. The other plausible one is that once fresh morning dawns a Bihari forgets the unpleasant happenings of the previous day. So morning is the time to for forgetting.
बेंग is another interesting word. Of course it means a toad. I do not know what the Bihari word for frog is. (in fact I have difficulty myself in telling the difference between a toad and a frog in English even. बेंग to me not only brings to life the jumping of this creature but also in some ways imitates the sounds it makes while it is jumping around! The word for dog, कुक्कुर, is another interesting one. I wonder what the etymology of this word is. Enlightened readers, please throw some light!
“लंगटे करना” is a major pastime for the Bihari male. No, no, I am not saying that an average Bihari is any more lecherous than an average Indian. However this means to a Bihari is stripping someone’s of his dignity, and dignity is something a Bihari strongly cherishes.
And now for the most interesting word.
मऊग is an interesting word essentially used to deride anyone who has even a trace of feminine characteristics. The Bihari male is supposed to be macho, a MAN. The Bihari word for this is मरद. मऊग he cannot be. Of course मरद is the Biharification of Persian word “mard” which means a male. However, the opposite of मरद is not मऊग, but मउगी. Between मरद and मउगी lies the मऊग. As if in a no-man’s land. Or a no-woman’s land for that matter. For a male to be a man is of utmost importance. There is even a gentle reproach for a man who is not displaying courage. “मरदे ते नाहीं !”. (You are not man enough!). This phrase, by the way, is not pan-Bihari I think used only in Bhojpuri. It was just to give you an idea of the concept called मरद!
The other gender pairings are मरद-मेहरारू (husband-wife), छौंरा -छौंरी   (boy- girl). लौंडा and लौंडी (boy and girl) is popular across the Hindi speaking belt, however not so much in Bihar I think. Correct me if I am wrong. However, this bring me back to the मऊग. लौंडा’s dance is what the मरद of a baraat-party watch through the night in the villages. And invariably the लौंडा  was a मौग who was a clean-shaven young male wearing a false bosom wriggling his hips (and the false bosom of course) to the raunchiest of lyrics to keep the baraatis awake while the marriage was solemnized through the night. This certainly was the high point for any baraati till the 1970’s. Subsequently I have not been to a village wedding though I heard that real female dancers imported from Banaras had replaced the laundas.  I do not know what is the status now.
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The Curious Case of Bihari People: Part 1

December 8, 2010

The seniors crowded around me in the cramped hostel room. And one of them popped the question: “Guess where I am from?”

“No, sir, I can’t.”

Ee kaa? What do you mean, no? You have qualified through the JEE and you can’t answer this simple question. Where am I from?”

JEE is the popular abbreviation for Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Exam (IIT-JEE), one of the tougher exams in India then, and even now. I could not see the relationship between a JEE qualifier and one being able to answer questions on ethnicity. But this was a game, this ragging, I had to play along.

I was a fresher in the engineering college, a ready recipient of absurd questions and humiliations. Of course I knew pretty much where this particular senior was from. The “ee kaa?” was a dead giveaway. It was there for all to see his diction, and more importantly it was there in the question itself. Bihar. Loud and clear. I could even guess which part of Bihar he was from, perhaps from the Mithila region where they speak in their typically sweet, sing-song way.

I played along some more:

“Delhi, Sir?”

Naaaaheen…, take another guess”.

And this “Naaaheen” was another give away”. He was a Bihari, in bold, underline and italics.

“Punjab, sir?” He said no, rather reluctantly. I was now enjoying this game.

“Sir, Bengali?” “No way, you idiot, what makes you think I am a bangaali?”

And so on it went:

“Coorgi?”

“No.”

“Kashmiri?”

“No!”

“Surely Gujarati!!”

Like a good travel guide, I was taking him around on an enjoyable all India trip. And I was the one enjoying it!

“C’mon, yaar!”

“Now this is really confusing. Let me now try some really unlikely places.

“MP?”

“No!”

“UP, I think.”

Naaheen. You are close!”

“Sir, kahin Bihar toh nahin?”, I feigned this rather saddened and defeated tone when I uttered the “B” word. I had known this game very well for days now.

Ee kaa, saaley, smart ban rahe ho?” This senior was really smarting under the realization that I had called him a Bihari. And then his friends started tittering, and one of them told him, “Abey saaley Bihari, ab chhodo do na, bolo do na ki tum Bihari ho!”

He gathered his wits: “Yes I am from Bihar, and I was born and brought in Bhagalpur, I studied in St Michael’s, Patna. (As if the mention of the popular and respected Jesuit school spared him of the “stigma” of being a Bihari!). “And no one has ever guessed that I am a Bihari!”, he added triumphantly.

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You may be laughing at this rather frivolous-sounding narration. But variations of this conversation have happened in umpteen number of situations. Be it a chance meeting with a stranger at the airport, or at the market place. At the office when I am interviewing someone for a job, or a friend of a friend I meet at a random party; at any random place. You know what I mean…..

Variations of such chats are:

“My parents are from Bihar, but I studied in Pune (or Delhi, or Ahmedabad, or Raipur – any place but Bihar!).” (Means: I am not a Bihari, my parents, poor folks, are, varieties)

“Yes, I do visit Bihar, once in a while, my grandparents (“grandparents” always said in English even in a Hindi conversation) live there.” (Bihar-is-limited-to-my- grandparents types; not my parents and I)

“Bihar is a nice place, Biharis are nice people.” (the-oh-so-condescending ones)

“I am a member of the US chapter of “Bihari International”.” (I-have-roots-in-Bihar-but-I-live-abroad: the globe-trotters) I could go on-and-on.

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As I have mentioned a number of times on this blog, I was born in Bihar, to Bihari parents and Bhojpuri is my mother tongue. When asked by someone, I state this, matter-of-fact. And I am even married to a Bihari, we have children who are, lo-and-behold, also Biharis! Not that we go around talking about this- or hiding this. That is that, just a statement of facts. It never fails to astonish me as to why some Biharis go the length to hide this demographic fact.

Being a Bihari is neither a crime nor a matter of shame. Just like being a Konkani, a Kannadiga or a Kashmiri is not. It is just a statement of a demographical element of one’s origins.

You would have realized if you have been reading my posts that I am not a jingoist. I am not here to say either “Jai Bihar” nor tell you about the multitude of lubminaries Bihar has produced.

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To those who titter and use the term Bihari in a derisive manner, I have a small question: “Why?”

And to those Biharis, who hide their origins, Why do you? Why??


The Curious Case of Bihari Language and People: Part 1

August 5, 2010

“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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