A leftover dictionary: Soma Ghosh

 Ad’da              Noun. A jolly, lively, informal gathering, with gossip, singing, jokes and teasing. Ad’da often involves family and friends gathered on a bed or rooftop, in the afternoon. Similar to the Irish craic.


Asha               Noun. Hope, expectation.

A light, pretty word lying heavily upon the civilised daughter who must fulfil the hopes and expectations of her family. What else is the point of a child?


Bari’r ran’na   Noun. Home cooking.

Food cooked at home is superior to food cooked outside the home, due to the belief in prana, cosmic energy channelled through the organism of Creation into the hands, according to the cook and their good, or evil, intentions. There is no food morally superior to mother’s cooking.


Bideshi               Noun. Adjective. Lit. Without Land. Foreigner. Foreign.

See Deshi, below.


Baireyr lok      Noun. Lit, outside person. Outsider. Persona non grata.


Bhadralok       Noun, plural or singular. Polite folk. Gentry. A gentleman.

A bhadralok orders a rickshaw with the merest projection of his voice, a mellifluous command. Arriving at Tollygunge station, he breaks through the waves of child beggars. When their dusty hands grasp his trouser leg, he shakes them off with a flick of the knee. At the ticket counter, shoulders clamped around his ears, he shuts out the sneers of flashing-eyed boys in skinny jeans and plastic flip-flops.

Babu! Babu! Look at the landless babu! Fancies himself!

The bhadralok’s jaw works his pipe. Spitty teeth shine. Keeping his cool.

The boys, cackling, applaud his performance. Bhvah, bhvah!


Bhalobasha    Noun, verb. Love, to love. Lit. to nest, or reside, in goodness.

To love a thing or activity. E.g To love reading.

To love a person. To be at home with a person. To build a home for a person in the sticky nest of your heart. Bhalobasha is not primarily sexual. It’s the love you feel for your daughter, your brother, your father, or a old friend. See Obhiman, below.


Deshi               Noun, adjective. Lit. of this land. Indian.

Patriotic, authentic, salt-of-the-earth type.


Gondogol        Noun. Confusion and mayhem. Dire trouble.


Jachchatyi       Adjective. Appalling, outrageous, gone to the dogs.


Can be used negatively, or positively (humorously).


Negative examples: an appalling traffic jam; an appalling man who is not a bhadralok (see above); an outrageous slut.


A positive example: an outrageously good cook. E.g. my mother, making patties from the hoary greens of my neighbour’s garden. What she can do with runner beans, garlic, ginger, chilli and potato! She minces. She fries till the water evaporates. With little, chapped hands, she pats the mixture into tiny cakes. She batters and fries. Jachchatyi bhaalo!


Mon kharap    Verb. To darken your mind. Lit. bad mind.


You can make your mind light or you can burden yourself over a sorrow. Try not to brood.


N(y)aka           Adjective. Pejorative. Lit. actressy. Pretending, or putting on feelings. Making a fuss.


Obhiman         Noun. Chagrin. Offence taken at rejected love and expressed as emotional pain.

Obhiman justifies angrily pretending to not recognise your child when they call an hour, or day, later than they promised. And so the telephone call that’s a day late becomes three days’ later, the 80 miles, 180, because obhiman is a pain in the arse.


Prasad             Noun. Food that has been offered to the deities in worship and is shared among the worshipers, who partake of the Divine by consuming it. A kind of communion.


Sharbanash    Noun. Disaster.


Shyampu         Coinage. Improper name.


Every Bengali child has a nickname, a diminutive, like a Russian character in a novel, a term of endearment. In Anna Karenina, there is Dolly and Kitty. Levin’s nickname is Kostya. Levin broods, but shrugs off his slump with a laugh and goes hunting, his boots creaking.

Bengali nicknames often end in ‘i’ or ‘u’, to make the person smaller, cuter, dearer.

E.g. a newborn boy with bright blue eyes and a hunched, muscular back, is pulled, like an exhausted, middle-aged man, from the birthing pool. He is very white, exclaims the neighbour. He’s a little Brit, adds the mother-in-law, later, summing it up, though the boy’s mother, a dark Bengali woman, is also a Brit.

In the dead of night, breastfeeding, the mother gives the child a nickname, Shyampu. Little dark one. The boy’s father, who speaks Bengali, doesn’t like it. He says, it sounds like Shampoo. That’s not how it’s pronounced, snaps the mother. You sound like one of the white boys from the estates where I grew up. My gift to this child is darkness. It’s his hidden lineage, his secret power.

The father falls silent.

That-tharika   Interjection. Drat! Dammit! Dammit to goddam hell! Etc.

Thokkan          Noun. Shop. Restaurant (rare).

When used for ‘restaurant’ the shop aspect of a restaurant is being emphasized to contrast with bari ran’na (see above). Household food is cooked; shop food is sold.

The Bengali who eats with her hand at home will use the appropriate cutlery and so on in a restaurant – chopstick, soup spoon, napkin. A mother sits across from a father and a young man. She chucks the son’s old Bengali nickname, like a pebble, into a conversation littered with twiggy jokes, old chaffs. The endearment is dislodged as the steaks and fish are sold on the table and the young man talks about college. The mother picks up her fork, searching in its shining tines for a word, an anecdote, a new game.

By Soma Ghosh


Main image: from ‘The Lunchbox’ by Ritesh Batra

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