By TD Fuego
All that glitters is not gold, goes the saying. Even so, I am not sure how many of us realise how different and distant our local Bhojpuri is from the original, genuine stuff that is spoken by the natives of UP/Bihar. This was brought home to me some 20 years back by an Indian colleague who hailed from the Bhojpuri belt. We were driving along the M1 one evening in June 1991 when a farming programme, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture — I think — came on the radio.
“Kisan bhai, namastey. Aaj plantation cane ke charcha karabja. Jane la ki Juin ke mahina mein hai sa, ta cane planter ke samay chal al ba,” the speaker began something along these lines. “Tau, pahila kam, maati ke preparer karey chahela. Jadi matya raide hoy, ta oke binner chahela kare ke. Okar bad, dari kaat ke, fimya aur phospahate daal ke, cane ke bouture bichha ke ene six pouce maati se tope diha. Jadi, pani nahi awa ta tohar caro mein, tau chahela camion citerne se manga ke ke aroser kare ke.”
At this point, my friend asked me what language this was. In spite of my insistence, he would not believe me that it was Bhojpuri. Only after I had dropped him off and was sitting at home later that evening, contemplating, that it dawned on me that he was absolutely right. What we had been listening to was not a Bhojpuri programme at all, but an insular, patois version of the language.
How very different this was from the sweet, lilting, musical language of Biharis that I came to discover much later. Whilst ours tend to sound rather rough, even shamefully uncouth unless spoken by the rare connoisseur of the language, the Indian version is delivered with such a beautiful, lyrical lilt that it makes for one of the best sounding languages in the world, even better than Gujarati which is also very melodious when spoken by a native. Contrast these with the heavy, Broomwade sounds of some other Indian languages.
Lali and Lohasing
To all Bhojpuri lovers, I can fully recommend the delightful Bhojpuri serial “Agale Janam Mujhe Bitya Hi Kijo (AJMBHK)” which is currently being screened on MBC-TNT10 on Sunday nights. These days, most Indian serials seem to portray rich, opulent Hindi speaking Gujrati or Punjabi families living in Mumbai, which resemble each other. It makes such a pleasant change, therefore, to watch AJMBHK that revolves round the life and times of a Thakur family and their relationship with the common folk, based in rural Bihar.
The storyline is simple enough. In his search for an heir that his barren daughter-in-law is unable to give him, Thakur Lohasingh buys Lali, a young girl from a poor low caste family, who needs the money to cater for the needs of her younger siblings. The deal is that she conceives a boy by sleeping with the younger son of the haveli, thereby ensuring the family line of the Thakur. But, once this mission accomplished, she is to leave the large, luxurious mansion forever. Of course, this being an Indian melodrama, things don’t quite work out that way.
Granted that the storyline sounds somewhat farfetched, but the whole piece — which is set in a genuine rural surrounding rather than the overlit, artificial surrounds of a Bollywood studio — is so beautifully crafted and the actors so good at their art that one can easily overlook the rather thin plot. Of course, Lohasing is superb as the autocrat who must be heard if not exactly obeyed at all times, and Lali provides the sort of understated but efficient replique that can only come from a fearful wretch who has nothing to lose but her virginity — paradoxically a debt of honour for the money paid by Lohasing to her father — to a man she barely knows.
What the programme lacks in the way of depth is fully made up for by the portraits it paints of the customs (rit/riwaz) of Indian village life. Here, the unquestioning subservience of the common folk is lucidly juxtaposed with the unquestionable power of the Thakur. What this man cannot get through his immense authority, and it is immense, he just buys it with a briefcase stuffed with bank notes! Even his family members tremble when he speaks with a voice that seems to be carved straight out from one of Thor’s rolling thunders.
But, what really makes this serial worth its weight in gold is the beautiful Bhojpuri dialogue which is delivered with a simple, captivating beauty by the actors. I have no idea which states they hail from, but they are all so good that the audience is easily convinced that they can only be natives of the Bihar of our ancestors.
A Thing of Beauty
Up to now, I had never really given a thought to how different the Bihari language sounds from mainstream Hindustani. Most of the words are similar, but that’s where the similarities end and its regional accent takes over from its roots. For example, the word prem is pronounced pa-rey-m, with this soft, melodious lilt on the rey syllable. As Keats would put it, it is a thing of (rare) beauty and a joy for ever.
Examples like that abound throughout the whole programme, but the reader will have to judge for himself by tuning in to TNT10 on Sunday just after 8 pm. Delectation guaranteed!
* Published in print edition on 14 September 2012