A Misplaced Idiom

Madhab Chattopadhyay

My father was born at a village named Hetampur in the district of Birbhum in West Bengal. Later on, he migrated to a place near Delhi called Hathras, where his father was working as a headmaster in a local school. Being brought-up in a Hindi-speaking environment, my father learnt the language very well. His vocabulary in Hindi was highly appreciated even by those whose mother tongue was Hindi. It was the medium of education for him and he answered the test papers of various subjects (history, geography) in Hindi during his Matriculation Examination.

When he moved to Kolkata after getting employment, he got a house constructed at Chandernagore in Hooghly district of West Bengal, where my maternal grandfathers and maternal uncles resided through generations. It was a French colony during the British rule in India. Hence a lot of encouragement was provided to learn French. It was not surprising therefore that some eminent French scholars who hailed from that small town, got established in highly honourable academic positions in various parts of France and India. High academic standards were also maintained in the teaching of other languages like Bengali, English and Sanskrit. But Hindi was an out-of-the way language there. My father had no problem in speaking Bengali. However, the admixture of various Hindi words in his vocabulary like ‘tu’ (you) or ‘kom-se-kom’ (at least) drew the attention of rickshaw-pullers, shopkeepers and others with whom he interacted. Aware of his weakness in Bengali, he tried to compensate it by introducing idioms from time to time. But since his childhood was not spent in a Bengali-speaking environment, he was not well versed with the exact connotations of all the idiomatic expressions in Bengali and his attempt to improve his expression most often landed him in embarrassing situations. Let me highlight an example here.

The marriage of my sister was finalised in March 1975 with a professor. During the hectic search for a match for her, my parents made earnest requests to many people to look for a suitable bachelor. One evening, a gentleman visited our house with the details of a prospective bridegroom. My father first thanked him and then informed him that he had already finalised my sister’s marriage. “It is indeed a very good news” said the visitor “Now I have a look for a match for my daughter”. My father wanted to encourage him by saying that he was a capable person and hence he had nothing to worry over the issue. But instead of saying it in plain Bengali, he chose to emphasize his point with an idiom by saying “Why are you worrying? After all, you are a ghughu”. The word in italics literally means dove (the bird) but figuratively means a cunning and shrewd person. My father, to the best of his belief and knowledge had thought he had “glorified” the visitor with this expression. Hence he was highly surprised to note that instead of being grateful for the “appreciation“, the gentleman was taken aback and looked stunned. He left in a short while after exchanging some pleasantries. The moment he stepped out of our house, my mother started admonishing my father for his faux pas. He was trying to defend himself by elaborating what he wanted to mean. But when my mother explained to him the actual meaning of the word, his feelings of shame and guilt knew no bounds. This incident led to a drastic cut down in the use of idioms in his future conversations.

One Response

  1. Debashis Basu October 22, 2016

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