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|Volume 11 |Issue 33| August 17, 2012 ||
Of body in how-how, of Senseless Parties . . .
Syed Badrul Ahsan
A truck capsizes on the road. So what's so new? Nothing, really. Until it occurs to you that the road is not exactly the place for any vehicle to capsize. For something to capsize, you need a body of water, a pond, a river or a sea. But that's not how a newsman from outside the nation's capital looks at the situation. You then take it upon yourself to rectify conditions, indeed bring the entire report into proper, standard English. And you sit back and wonder: what if people sank in the river and boats drowned?
There is a certain need for absurdity in life. You can't go on being serious at every turn, despite all the privations you might be going through. If life was always meant to be serious affair, we would all be nuns and priests, minus all those paedophiles we keep hearing about. The entire world would be peopled by priests. But thank the Almighty that He has, together with the bounties we need to live and thrive on, given us people who sometimes tickle us into laughter. Think here of the former American vice president Dan Quayle. He made a wonderful fool of himself when he corrected, incorrectly, the spelling of the word 'potato' done by a little schoolboy. In all his pomposity, Quayle stepped up to the blackboard and, to the bizarre delight of the children in that classroom, added an 'e' at the end of 'potato'.
Which reminds you of that particular moment in your reading of the newspaper when the news item told you of a round potato dealer being murdered. Now, of course, murder is a most despicable thing. But what did leave you worried about that news item was the question of roundness. Were the potatoes round? Or was the corpulence the preserve of the murdered dealer? You can wrack your brains all you want. If you wish to spend your time thinking of something that doesn't really matter, be my guest. And while you take time to decide, here's a bit of a quiz for you: a news headline gives you the pretty intriguing bit of information --- 'man killed by senseless party'. Senseless? That pushes you into that old idea of malapropism, where a man informs his friend thus: 'Following the cooperation there was so much building that my wife became unfit and I had nonsense.' Unravel that mystery now, if you will. Give your lazy brain a little jog and the truth will reveal itself: 'Following the operation there was so much bleeding that my wife had a fit and I lost my senses.'
Which takes you back to that 'senseless party' thing. The reporter here simply tried to translate, literally, the term 'ogyan party', a.k.a. a group of criminals who somehow first render their victims unconscious and then rob them almost of everything, sometimes even of the clothes they have concealed their modesty in. So there you are, left wondering why a party of senseless people could have killed a man. But let that be. And move on to this young woman who informs you, in all sincerity of feeling, that a television channel plans to air a programme 'in the memorial of Humayun Ahmed'. Do we blame the woman? Why must English be so convoluted in some of its expressions and phrases? If news comes in from somewhere deep in rural Bangladesh that a woman has been bitten by her husband, what's so wrong with that? A man's got to do what a man's got do. Seriously speaking, though, the answer to the biting question depends on whether the biting was being done in the fullness of love or ecstasy. You see, passion being a many-splendoured thing, it is entirely possible that the man here has been biting his woman. But why couldn't he simply nibble?
Ah, but you tell me that the actual word ought to have been 'beaten'. That makes sense, with all these cantankerous wife-beaters around us. But why must we be sensible all the time, especially when we have this paramount need to laugh at our or someone else's expense? The woman you care for deeply tells you, when all the romance is done and day is about to break, that she loves the bondage she has with you. Bondage? Slavery? Yes, she is using a wrong word. But how do you go about telling her she should be speaking of bonding? It is never a polite thing correcting the mistakes of people you love, especially after a most satisfying session of giddy love-making. Well, there you go. Silence is often a most necessary thing, particularly in these times when the English language is going through so many changes. There was a time when you felt gay in the sense of being happy. Your gaiety filled the room. And today? Try telling people you like your friend because he is gay. Chances are you might be laughed out of the room and you wouldn't have the faintest idea what you did wrong to deserve such degrading treatment.
And then there are some people who really do not know what they are talking about. Think of the opposition politician, here in Bangladesh, who months ago got so carried away by his disdain for the ruling party that he waded plain into absurdity. This government, he bellowed, was engaged in eve teasing with the entire nation. You ask yourself: with politicians like this one, who needs to watch a stand-up comedian on television? Eves and teasing apart, there is forever this embarrassing condition we face in our part of the world once we decide to bring the English language into our conversation. You proudly tell us of someone who is your bosom friend. Now that conjures up a whole scene of sauciness, of downright suggestiveness. What has your friendship got to do with the bosom? Besides, it's only the female of the species who can properly lay claim to matters of a bosomy sort. How does a man, with a mere chest on display, come into the picture? And that is not all. There are some carefree, uninhibited people around you, those who consider you to be their intimate friend. Intimate? You are shocked at this cavalier attitude towards intimacy.
English, yes. It does give us the headache at times. But then, there are all those moments when it sends us rolling into raucous laughter, in our clime. How would you respond to someone who informs you, with a straight face: 'My body how how does?' And, hearing him, someone in the corner makes a snide remark: 'Now understand the push'? In our society, young people, when they describe their relationship in English, will tell you they are having an affair. An affair, as in an illicit relationship? Not a romantic relationship? The parliamentary reporter of some English-language newspaper might tickle your senses one day with his unintended humour: 'Protesting the minister's remarks, the opposition members stood on their legs!' Where did their feet go?
And did you hear of the 'judge who was hanged the criminal'? And what about the student who, having told you 'I born in 1965', was informed that 'was' had gone missing before 'born'? You then asked after his father. Pat came the response: 'My father was died.'
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
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