A woman with the potential to make it big. It is not that she cannot: she simply will not.
The closest anyone has come to being an adopted daughter.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Saugata, Hindi and all That

You guys remember Saugata, right? Saugata Basu, my classmate for five years, who has already made two appearances on my blog - here and here. When we set off for a stay of one year or more in Delhi, all of us were prepared to converse in our national language to some extent. We lacked expertise, but were never short on enthusiasm - and no other person demonstrated this more than Saugata.

This post is going to be about two incidents. Two well-defined, distinct events that have been etched in my memory forever.


This was the first time. We were equipped with bedding and all (we were informed that the ISI Delhi hostel would provide us with the bare minimum of naked cots), and boarded the Rajdhani Express from Kolkata. This was some time in the second half of July.

Rajdhani Express was, as expected, reasonably chillier than the sultry Kolkata afternoon. The five of us - Partha, Vivek (who refuses to be addressed by his full first name), Sayan, Saugata and I took up five berths out of eight in an AC-3 "group". The other three seats were occupied by a gingerly middle-aged man and an entirely unrelated woman and her son (who was five or six).

We were given royal treatment (by fresh graduate standards): we were handed out soft pillows, white sheets, smug blankets, clean towels and ribbed condoms. Okay, not the last bit. We fastened our pieces of luggage to the railway berths using bicycle (?) chains and padlocks, and after a decent meal, headed off to sleep.

We woke up at various points of time. We had breakfast. The polite, honest-looking attendant arrived to take away the eight sets of pillows, sheets, blankets and towels. Thirty-one of the thirty-two items were found: not the eighth towel.

It was Saugata who first noticed where it was. He blurted out with all the spirit of a wannabe Hindi-speaker: bhaisaab! us shishu ke nichu mein hai!!

The attendant understood.


The dry Delhi summer melted into a delicious, golden autumn, then a barren, depressing winter. It was  not until February before the Sun had begun to peek again on a regular basis.

ISI Delhi had the excellent habit of assigning students as mess-managers every month on a rotational policy. Saugata and I were among the four in charge of February 1999.

For bulk vegetable purchases we typically went to the Okhla Subzi Mandi (in an ISI Delhi car). For small-scale stuff, though, we usually ventured into the markets of Katwaria Sarai, where greengrocers stood in a line, selling their products off carts.

Saugata, despite his relentless enthusiasm, could not really gather the expertise required to communicate (and especially negotiate) with Delhi greengrocers. So he needed to be chaperoned on every trip. On this occasion it was me.

The usual scenario was like this: Saugata typically started the conversations, and then, when he ran out of Hindi words (the count of which, well, was possibly less than twenty), the other person took over.

It was different this time. Mind you, Saugata's typical Hindi sentences consisted of one word each, so the following conversation is not overpunctuated.

Saugata: Pyaaz?
Greengrocer 1: Aath rupya.

Saugata: Pyaaz?
Greengrocer 2: Dus rupya.

He looked at me. I knew the expression. I knew the question he was dying to ask. I know that he had been pulled back, albeit unfairly, by a limited Hindi vocabulary. Then his face lit up (it was a miracle that he didn't utter eureka!), and the question emerged.

Saugata (pointing at greengrocer 1's merchandise): Aath. (pointing at greengrocer 2's merchandise): Dus. Kiyun?
Greengrocer 2 (rather nonchalantly): Mera pyaaz badhiya pyaaz hai.

Saugata's face, now focused in concentration, became quite a spectacle. Once again, it was evident that a relevant question had formed in his mind, but was simply not making it to the endpoint for lack of words. Then it happened (I can swear on anything that these were the exact words I had heard).

Saugata: Uskya pyaaz. Chhotiya hai?


  1. And could the green grocers maintain their stand or did they fall of laughing?And how did you react?

    1. Greengrocers in Delhi do not laugh. They remain terribly calm and composed even in the absurdest of situations.

      As for me, I was used to Saugataisms for over three years by then.

    2. Ok fine, they might be RamGarurer Chanas. But now you seem to imply that "Saugataisms" were not related to Hindi alone!

  2. porte porte khub haslam-megh kete jawa jholmole hasi...r ekgada tukro ghotona-amar babar r jethur erom osadharon hindi-bhabchi r phik phik kore haste haste charpashe chokh bolachchi.mon bhalo kore dewar jonyo thanks..:)

  3. i'm falling off my desk at work! don't write such funny lines, damnit!

    1. Sitting on the desk is a poor practice anyway, Korak.

  4. amar baba bombay'te taxiwala'k amar mastuto bhai'er byapare (se tokhon nehaat'i dudh'er shishu) bolechilo "bachcha kandta tha"

  5. Erokom bondhu bodh hoe sob group ei thake... amader IITK te chhilo Arunabha orofe Bama... je ekbar Kanpur er ekta dokane giye khoj korechhilo, "Dudh jisse ata hain uska mangss!"
    Ar ekbar football khelte khelte penalty box e dnarie wind die asa ekti Kanpuri chheleke bolechhilo, "Bhaiya, Tul do, tul do!" Bechara bujhte na pere hotobhombo hoe ball ta baire mare!!

  6. I want to meet Saugata Basu :)

    and promise we will never make fun of "raste mein gart hain" or "bag guta raha hoon" :D

    "tum to bhoot samajh mein kalonko hain raat mein ghum raha hain" "din ka alo phut gaya hain" :D

  7. One of the few competitors I can think of is another newbie Bong girl visiting his elder brother in Delhi. When a friend of her brother dropped by and enquired after him, the girl confidently replied, "Woh to ghum raha hai" to indicate dada's little siesta. It was only after the astonished frinend's next question, "Ghum raha hai? K[n]aha ghum raha hai?" was answered with "Kyun? Ghar mein bistar ke upar?" that realization dawned.

    Enjoyed your piece. - Arindam-da

  8. ...And there's that timeless gem uttered to that sugarcane juice vendor just outside the gate in Katwaria Sarai, of course - but too famous/familiar to bear repetition, ones' sure?

    1. Nooooooooooo! I don't know this!! Please share!!!

  9. Come on! How could you have spent a year in ISID without hearing of this tour de force? Anyway, since the action is attributed at least to two distinct individuals, let's not try to pinpoint identities. In brief, the highly inviting looking iced "ganne ka ras" available on SJSS Marg just outside the gate elicited the following request from our man: "Ek glass ankh ka pani dijiye to?"

    (One wouldn't be surprised to hear that the request was complied with! But history is silent on that point.)


  10. Delhi and it's infamous Bengalis. My father a resident of Delhi since 1956,told his collegues on the day of his retirement,"Hamara tumhara bich me sobh samparka atut rahena chahiye".:D:D:D

  11. I have another incident to share......

    In Bangalore, one of my Bangla friends dad came for a visit. He went out to buy vegetables with me......and asked(repeatedly) ..... ''Eei Lonka koishe diya"...the vegetable seller had no idea about the question.

    Another time, in a train there was a Bangla family tavelling....early in the morning the lady on the upper birth got up and started asking to the fellow passengers....."Humara chotee kothai"....some even asking why is she asking for her chotti which is on her head.

  12. Is ka kuch protikar hoy na re byata?! :D