Monthly Archives: January 2016

Take Care

Recently, watching TV programmes on some Bengali (an Indian) language channels, I was struck by a particular expression repeatedly being used by several anchors signing off a programme by way of taking leave of the viewers (who were assumed to be diligently watching the programmes from afar). The expression is: ‘Bhalo Theko’ or ‘Bhalo Thakben’. The former invocation is used with people on relatively intimate terms with the anchor, like some of the participants, and the latter is reserved for the general viewer in a more formal and respectful manner.

 

Afterwards, on listening carefully to conversations (including those using the phone) among relatives and friends (Bengalis again) I noticed the occurrence of this parting sentence more often than not. Though I have difficulties with this expression, let me state the one that is of immediate consequence here – the title of this post. I do not know how to exactly translate the expression to English in as compact and perhaps elegant manner as apparently possible in my native tongue of Bengali. ‘Be good’, ‘be happy’ or remain good or happy may be a literal translation but it is not a very happy one, at least to my mind. Of course, under the American cultural suzerainty that many Indians willfully accept nowadays you say ‘I am good’ in response to ‘How are you’. Perhaps ‘be good’ may be globally acceptable. But being an old-fashioned Indian, a Bengali from an earlier generation, I thought this was not quite appropriate.

 

Perhaps the person ending the conversation wants to leave the interlocutor in a happy and satisfied mood. Thus wishing her well or hoping for her wellbeing is the polite thing to do. But expressing a good wish in an imperative form currently fashionable (not just, it seems, in Bengali) as an idiom signalling parting is little awkward, isn’t it? As if it is a responsibility of the person(s) being wished to take care to be well, and more importantly remain well till the next meeting so that the wish so piously expressed is not belied. Whenever somebody asks me rather ceremoniously at the fag end of a rendezvous to ‘Take Care’ (in today’s standard English), I make it a point to respond ‘you too take care’, not just as a matter of form but with an impish delight from the knowledge that the guy too would become as burdened as a result of this polite skirmish.

 

‘Good luck’ or ‘all the best’ are common English expressions that come to mind in a similar (though not necessarily same) context, but these seem more specific and to the point than hoping for a more nebulous well-being in general that seems to be implied in the colloquial Bengali expression in question. Perhaps luck is after all not so far-fetched in the context of being or remaining well (in the sense of keeping the body and soul together) in many parts of India today, including Bengal. Thus, ‘all the best (of luck)’ may approximate, though not literally, the expression ‘Bhalo Theko’, never forgetting the luck in parenthesis.

 

This brings me to the issue of concern, which expressions such as ‘Bhalo Theko’ or ‘Take Care’ are designed to convey rather demonstratively. Perhaps this is a reflection of certain unspecified anxiety with regard to many aspects of our urban life – its quality and most certainly its sacrosanct nature. The quality is not only iniquitous and widely variable, but also unstable with no guarantee of a stated specification to which a state or a local self-government can be held accountable by a citizen, with a chance for quick and satisfactory redress in case of sub-standard delivery. More dangerously, nothing is inviolate, neither our corporeal existence nor our soul mapped into garrets in a soulless city of growing anonymity and unknown elements. Our exaggerated expression of mutual concern gives away our billowing sense of insecurity and trust deficit.

 

Time was when one used to take leave of a friend or an acquaintance with a simple wave of the hand, with a half-muttered ‘so long’ or an unselfconscious promise to meet again shortly (‘Phir Milenge’ in Hindi, ‘Abar Dekha Hobe’ in Bengali). That was a promise that never doubted the validity of a pastoral ordinariness of our lives, and its inherent peaceable and uninterruptible nature.

 

(This is a slightly modified version of a short article entitled ‘Those parting shots’ published in the newspaper ‘The Hindu’ [http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/those-parting-shots/article7418332.ece])

 

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The tree

When I happened to step into the balcony of my flat in the morning after a night of torrential rain accompanied as it was with a vicious gale, the first thing I noticed was a bit of a void in the direction of my line of sight which normally did not intersect with a part of the balcony and a good part of the terrace of the two-story house in the neighbouring bungalow society right outside the boundary wall enclosing ours. By then I realised that a stout and big branch at the upper flights on the right side of the Krishnachura (‘Royal Poinciana’) tree I am used to seeing from my balcony was no more, being substantially broken down from the main stem and was precariously dangling above and across the boundary wall with a medley of sub-branches, leaves and flowers further threatening to go where gravity would pull them to. And that meant on top of a lot of spanking cars parked on either side of that wall.

Three things bothered me, in no particular order. Both my neighbours in the opposite two-story house and I would forego a part of the privacy (without having to pay any premium for this privilege) naturally provided by the leafy branches of the tree. The latter, which had a symmetrical expanse as it diverged upwards, well nigh lost it, much like a human shorn of an arm from the shoulder. A cuckoo that used to station itself on some branches and from the leafy incognito issued its unrelenting calls since early morning fell silent, probably confused by the mayhem had gone to a safer abode.

By mid morning there was a flurry of activities on both sides of the wall involving responsible men and a few concerned women, watchmen, safaiwallahs and later one or two babus in grey safari suits from the municipal corporation in-charge of the garden department. They paced up and down the sidewalk, looked up the tree and estimated its broken segments, furiously argued among themselves. An hour later, a thin agile young man armed with a chopper climbed up the tree and bracing himself at a convenient junction on the stem, methodically chipped at the sides of the broken branch before chopping it off close to the corresponding Y-joint, the huge panoply of branches and leaves and flowers being caught hold of and drawn safely down by two more workers from the department standing below. Some further pruning later those workers pulled the remains of the tree, much like an animal carcass, across and out of the colony on to the main road en route to its designated transit area of the municipal ward awaiting further denudation and decapitation towards an appropriate utilitarian end.

Presently, the reasonable and the practical men and women from our colonies, having successfully resolved the fall out of an act of god went their ways. Safaiwallahs got busy with their daily chores. Babus sped away on their two wheelers. Then the tree was left alone to reflect on its bruises and cuts. The places where the chopper had amputated the branches were looking white in the rising sun, bright and raw.

Perhaps in time the injured stem will be washed by rain of any memory of a presence and tanned by sun, collect grime and look like the others. Hopefully, its fecundity would serve the tree well and it might shoot out new arms thereabouts or elsewhere and grow leaves on them and again aspire for the sky, no less, and fill the void in the direction of my line of vision. When the air will rise, the tree will slowly allow its bruised hope to flow up and down the sinews of the branches for them to be swayed, with leaves aflutter and flowers aflame. In time the pint-sized birds will think nothing of their busy flitting across the branches and resume their preferential perch on the lightest among these dangerously tempting gravity. And the cuckoo will be back to pull me out of my slumber with amazing persistence. May be the tree will survive. And so will all those that animate nature.

Perhaps there would be no need to be despondent about this act of god or its human follow up. But I am not sure if nature would be always so resilient or forgiving.

(This is a slightly modified version of a post published in another blog of mine sometime back)