Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hob-Sen Job-Sen*

Hariken (pronounced harry-ken): Distortion of English ‘hurricane’ lamp.
Usage: As in haatey hariken, ponday lonthon, baajay thon thon. (lonthon again being distortion of English ‘lantern’). Literally, hurricane lamp in hand, lantern in arse, ringing with ‘thon, thon’ noise. Figuratively, to be in dire straits.

The allusion is probably to being caught in pitch darkness with just a lamp in hand. Something that my generation, which grew up in the Calcutta of the ‘80s, can relate to very easily. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The gentle reader who’s spent a part of his/her life in Cal can perhaps recall how utterly enervating it was to spend an entire evening without power in the sweltering heat of the city, with nothing but a haat paakha (hand fan) to alleviate suffering. Meanwhile, mosquitoes played a concerto in A Minor for your listening pleasure and ensured that they were remunerated in blood. However, there was a brighter side (pun intended) to what was generically referred as load shedding. It meant you could forget your homework for the time being, sidle over to where Dadu lounged in his easy chair and puffed on his pipe and badger him to tell you a horror story, while the faint glow of the kerosene lantern provided the right atmospherics. It also meant that you could sleep on the terrace, with a light southerly wind cooling you, till somebody announced the power was back and you could stumble downstairs, clutching sheet and pillow.

The irony was that West Bengal had a chief minister called Jyoti (light) Basu, but its people spent most of their evenings in darkness. But all that changed, once Prof. Sankar Sen, an academician, was made power minister of the state. While Sen ensured that there were no supply side hiccups, Left-backed labour unions took care of the demand side by shutting the last few factories that hadn’t yet been “locked out.” Gradually, power cuts became a thing of the past and “haatay hariken” lost its relevance.

The more modern “ponday baansh,” literally bamboo in the backside, variation of “haatay hariken” is not only vulgar, but also much less evocative.

* Hobson-Jobson is the alternative (and better-known) title of the Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases, a popular collection of Hindustani terms written for a British audience by Henry Yule and Arthur C. Burnell and published in 1886. The title is classically British Indian. It is a cockney corruption of the Shi'ite cry "Ya Hasan! Ya Hosain!" heard during the Festival of Muharram, a natural title for Yule and Burnell's splendidly enjoyable compendium. "Hobson-Jobson" is also used as a term for the modification of names and phrases in the languages spoken in the vicinity of the former British colony of India into English sound patterns, a phenomenon of which "Hobson-Jobson" is itself an example.* Generally such borrowings were used exclusively in British India, forming a unique Anglo-Indian lexicon that contributed to the cultural divide between Britain and her colony. A number of words that were originally Hobson-Jobson have become mainstream in English spoken worldwide. Some examples include shampoo, pajamas, pundit, pariah, veranda, thug, and calico. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

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