A brief glossary of English expressions that have entered informal Bangla (with meanings completely changed)
There is something missing this February, something big and monumental. No Bangladeshi can think of February without the Boi Mela, and hardly anyone born after independence grew up without one happening every year.
But this time it’s different -- the Boi Mela, as we are told, will be shifted to a later date. Of course, that’s a relief because for millions, the Ekushey Boi Mela is a chance to trace the roots of their language, renew the bond with the mother tongue, and rejoice in everything that stands for the definition of Bangaliana.
Anyway, the Boi Mela may not be here but the spirit of Ekushey is in the air -- the smell of spring, the colour of exhilaration, topped with the defiance in the face of corona. Hey, does anyone follow the number of affected anymore? I don’t think so! Which means, life has emerged victorious in this battle. The fear factor is gone, there is caution but hardly any alarm.
So, here’s a look at some English words/phrases that have entered our informal spoken Bangla language with a totally different meaning. Love them or despise them … you may actually be using them, either willingly or subconsciously.
Searching for the ‘system’
System is procedure, though in colloquial Bengali, it sometimes means something dodgy or underhanded which is done to give someone an unfair advantage. Let’s say you are in a long queue in a hospital and feel that unless you get to the doctor within the hour, your schedule for the day will go haywire. So, perceptive that you are, you start making eye contact with people working there who may also be willing to make eye contact with you. Then you slowly move towards him and utter under your breath: Bhai, any system?
Similarly, one can adopt a “system” to inveigle money from the parents for the late night bbq party with drinks. For the party of course, you need to “system” the apartment security so no word gets out.
The other day while walking by the Farmgate overbridge at night, I came across a rather dark spot and suddenly heard someone call out: Bhai, bhalo “system” ase!
When I wanted to get to a rather distant spot quickly and asked the CNG driver if he knew a short cut, he pulled a mischievous smile and said: I know a “system” to get you there. Then the CNG took a few short alleys, the existence of which I did not know and stopped at a large colony with two gates. Using the “system,” he entered through one gate and then came out through the other, saving at least 30 minutes of sitting in traffic.
Mind you, not all meanings of “system” indicate to something illicit; in its wide usage, the word is heavily applied to indicate to ingenious methods to deal with a problem. For instance, if you are worried about money to go for a trip to Cox’s Bazar, friends will possibly allay your fears and tell you: Don’t worry about cash, system hoiya jaibo.
You are adamant to meet your amour for coffee but cannot? Well, you will possibly, with the help of pals, devise a system.
Put up koira dise
Put up means to tolerate something, but when used with Bangla it usually means to sell out someone or to betray another person. This term is usually used among the street gangs of the capital. Don’t be surprised if someone in your area comes and says: Bhai, your closest aide put you up, your secret is now public knowledge.
I distinctly recall how I came about this word. Several years ago, a political cadre in our area was gunned down and when I asked a local, he said: He was put up by his bodyguard.
O to pura ‘bumper’
The word bumper can be used to describe a stupendous crop yield, though in Old Dhaka “bumper” is used to mean anything that has become successful or eye-catching.
Just a week ago, we went to a wedding in Armanitola and the common expression for the bride was: Maiya to English a Masters, dekte sundor, purai bumper.
Size koira de
Sizing up someone means to measure a person from top to bottom though in Bangla it means to give someone a solid beating. Again, it’s a term commonly held during area-wise feuds, especially in the southern part of the city.
The gentler translation of this expression is to clip someone’s wings. In civilized surroundings, clipping is done through a wide range of shenanigans, but out in the open, it’s all muscle power.
One of my relatives, a visitor from the UK, was visibly puzzled when he was stopped on the road and given a firm warning by the local kingpin: Control your domestic help; he reportedly whistled at the garment workers going home at night after work. Unless he behaves, ore size koira dimu …
My relative came back and asked: They threatened to “size” him … wonder what it means!
So, to end, we come back again to the issue of not having the Boi Mela for Ekushey. Everyone I talked to seemed unhappy about it, but there was hope too as most believed that there would be some system under which it will be held. Well, we are waiting for such a way, otherwise how can we make the year a bumper one?
Meanwhile, with the vaccine going around, we have sized up corona … eh?
Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.