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)

Meanwhile, mosquitoes played a concerto in A Minor for your listening pleasure and ensured that they were remunerated in blood.

*clap clap clap*

Btw, it might please you to learn that "Tomhaar ponday baansh" was the first Bengali sentence I learnt. In my infinite naivete I'd go around saying it loudly and never understand why Bongs would gaze at me askance.
Just to imagine Jai going around proclaiming 'tomar ponde baandh' is hilarious. I wonder what would have I done if really confronted with his Bangla blitzkrieg.
talking about the former CM, I remember clapping loud, yelling "Jyoti Babu chole gelen" whenever there was 'load shedding', as a kid.
Even the word 'load shedding' has lost some of its charm, replaced by the more sophisticated-sounding 'cable fault'. I wonder, whether people from other parts of the country ever called it 'load shedding'. My cousins in Kishanganj preferred the more robust "Line chole gelo re!"
Btw does anyone remember, 'Haathe lonthon Kore thon thon/Jonakira Day Alo...
Very enlighting and ofcourse funny.. From someone who wrote the Harry Potter piece this is but expected..
hey master of verse...
great to see you comeback with a bang.
great reading. and that description part was so entertaining.
on an unrelated note...
whenever there was a loadshedding me and my sister would add to the huge growl all across the locality saying "jyoti basu chole gelo".
when it used to come again, we would greet it back with "jyoti basu chole elo".
dont know the logic, but it was great fun. we almost waited for the current to go...everyday and we kids would go sad if the electricity department had a good performance. sadly gone are the days now.
Jabberwock: I must say you had very nice Bong friends, who taught you innocuous things like this. Compared to you, I grew up with a bunch of vipers, who taught me things that were not at all suitable for my age.
Chaila Bihari: Since you came a few generations after me, I don't think you know that for a brief period of time "load shedding" shirts were a rage among us kids. Some local apparel company had hit on the novel idea of launching these black shirts with silver and white stripes and calling them 'load sheding' shirts and they sold like hot cakes.
Kaushik: Since you belong to my generation, you will probably remember or have heard about the 'loadshedding' shirt phenomenon.
Ghetufool: Other than Jyoti babu, probably no other chief minister can claim to have been so inextricably linked with the day-to-day lives of the people of his state.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Oh, you Calcuttans needn't think you had a copyright on load sheddings -- we had them in Jampot and we called them load shedding as well. Since I grew up in a crowded and over-friendly colony, LS would mean protracted adda sessions on the streets, with the elders discussing politics, cricket or mothers-in-law, and the kids playing hide-and-seek. I was perhaps the only kid who looked forward to the electricity coming back so I could dive right back into Enid Blyton, priggish bookworm that I was.
And then there was this eccentric ancestor of mine who told his servant in 'Hindi': Hum aage aage jata hain, tum pond-mein pond-mein aao.
as always beautiful. u must write more often coz this is like waiting for a wee bit of rain after a long spell of bloody hot weather.
great post! evoked nostalgia..
Marauder, no offence meant, but methinks Jampot all its heritage & 'kaalchar' from the hot seat itself — i.e Cal.
Sue: Your comment reminded me of this interview I had seen on TV years ago. This Bongophile firang lady, who had learnt to speak Bengali, was being asked by the interviewer whether she had had problems mastering the language. To which this memsahib replied, "Hayn, ponday, ponday problem hoyechhe." Obviously, she meant "poday, poday" (i.e., in every step).
Anon: Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I too want to write more frequently, but...
Shuv: Thanks, dude. BTW, that's a nice blog you've got.
Chaila: Good to hear you weighing in for good, 'ol Cal.
Has no-one heard of the version that ended with bogoley Boshumoti? Commonly used to describe the hopeless Bangali bekaar.

Another trivium evoked by your post title ... apparently there was a saying that Jaat maarlo teen Sen - Keshob Sen, Wil-Sen (Wilson's Hotel, which stood where the Great Eastern now crumbles; the mingling and dining were anathema to caste barriers) aar Ishti-sen (the STATION! Travelling together on the railways, for obvious reasons, was anti-caste).

Gasping thanks to both Sue and you for "bringing up the rear".

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