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Words of wisdom

  • Published at 06:03 pm April 15th, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:56 pm April 15th, 2017
Words of wisdom

We have just finished celebrating our Bangla New Year 1424. Thus, I felt the need existed to acquaint readers about the role played by adages in our lives.

Proverbs, adages, or “bochons” are short pithy sayings in common use. In origin, they belong to the same stage of ethnic and racial history as ballads and folk songs, and are sometimes related to the fable and the riddle.

Bochons and proverbs are found all over the world in every ethnic community. They provide an insight into the effects of cultural conditions, language, and local variations on expression. They form part of codes of behaviour, and exemplify the use of the sayings in the transmission of tribal wisdom and rules of conduct. Often, the same adage can be found in many variants. This process is similar in the case of Bengali adages.

In Bengal and its adjoining regions, bochons transcended boundaries and found expression with comparative similar meanings in other languages and dialects spoken in the Indian States of Orissa, Assam, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu, and also in Nepal.

Another common element in the proverbs and adages of Europe and that of Bengal is its fondness for homely imagery. This is so, because, in both instances they originated from rural sources. In Europe, they refer to pot and kettle, sheep, horse, cock and hen, cow and bull, dog, and the events of everyday life. In the case of Bengal, the adages and bochons refer to domestic animals and economic activities involving daily life.

All bochons and adages, however short they might be, have a singular characteristic: They generally have philosophical content and connote a special meaning. Such expressions are usually formulated on the basis of broad experience and not on emotion.

They are mental in character and social in nature. As a result, some Bangla linguists refer to adages as being “crystallised forms of human experience.”

Bangla adages normally have dual meanings -- a literary and an inner meaning. Normally, the importance of the bochons lies in the significance of the symbolical meaning. As a consequence, sayings with metaphorical quality are more easily recognised as proverbial. This is what distinguishes it from an idiom. From that point of view they are really signposts and in a manner of speaking “fragments of an elder wisdom.”

Bengali proverbs and bochons normally consist of a descriptive element that contains a topic and a comment. Based on common sense, they have in the villages of Bengal over the years, assumed the unwritten status of morality. They also reflect the ethos and, in more ways than one, the cultural identity of the people of this region.

Bangla adages usually have a theme and a distinct meaning. Some of them rely on the contradictory nature of the construction while others are comparative or complementary in nature. There are proverbs and bochons that deal with principles of social science, politics, and even economics. There are also bochons which deal with the weather, weather patterns, the supernatural, flora and fauna, and also the importance of astrology in daily life.

A careful analysis of the early economic history of Bengal indicates that farming and being associated with agriculture was considered very honourable

Mohammad Hanif Pathan, in his publication Bangla Probad Parichiti realistically identified the difficulties associated in the collection and publication of proverbs. He also correctly explained the significant factor of adages being based on oral tradition.

This creates its own dynamics and practical day-to-day interaction. It also moulds collective experience and helps in the evolution of terminology and idioms.

A historical appreciation of Bangla bochons and their relevance to rural Bengal would, however, be incomplete without reference to our ancient seer Khana.

Sayings of Khana form part of this country’s traditional agricultural norms. They also constitute, in a manner of speaking, a body of suggestions regarding public health.

For many centuries, these have contributed towards understanding of this country’s evolution in civilisation and culture. In Khana’s bochons, most of the references are to paddy, bananas, and various types of vegetables. They are sometimes also philosophical in content. In her rhythm and prosody, Khana appears to be mostly under the influence of a particular period of medieval Bengali grammar. Another distinct feature is the great similarity between Khana’s sayings and proverbs in Uriya in Kanara, Telegu, and Nepali.

This association between bochons and Bangla as a language has old roots. Different excavations carried out in 24 parganas, Mednipore and in Birbhum in the present day Indian State of West Bengal have indicated clear evidence of a continuing civilisation rich with agricultural knowledge.

A careful analysis of the early economic history of Bengal indicates that farming and being associated with agriculture was considered very honourable. Numerous references exist in Khana to the important role that farmers played in the economic history of Bengal. This was also evident in the poetry of the famous medieval poet Mukondoram, particularly in his work “Chandimongal.”

Khana particularly noted more than once “goru, joru, dhan, ei tine rakhe maan,” “jar golai nai dhan, tar abar kothar tan,” and “jar nai goru, shey shobar horu.” In all these sayings, Khana underlines the importance of having healthy farming animals and farm implements, for, essentially, these were, and still are, the factors for creating wealth in a rural household.

Surveys conducted in the near past in different districts of Bangladesh have revealed that though the inhabitants have not formally read about Khana, her adages, practiced locally, continue to have an unconscious impact on their daily lives.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]