Category Archives: semantics

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])