I often ask my students whether they can put it down on paper what exactly they feel when their best friend wins something that they covet. There is happiness, there is sadness. There is excitement, there is envy.
No single word is there in English to spit that feeling out when we share our friend’s jubilance half-heartedly. My intention is to convince my kids how incomplete language is in communicating our feelings.
But it is not the problem with the language, I learned. It is the problem with the particular language.
When we go through the words and expressions of other languages we find how they address many of these inadequacies. We desperately want some of them in English to express ourselves fully.
For example, the word Potto in Japanese means that state of indifference or preoccupation when we don’t notice what is happening right in front of us. (Does the Malayalam word, ‘pottan’ (a fool) evolve from that? No chance).
A bizarre word from a foreign language is also a prism through which we see the quirkiness of another culture. It reveals new lands and people, customs and rituals, strange to our wearied eyes. A trip through them becomes a journey not only into cultures far away from us but also into the mysterious and evasive feelings deep in our heart.
We may not be able to put a name to them, but we always feel a vague fluttering within.
Er…ehm…Have you ever tried to get attention from someone by clearing your throat aloud? It could be in middle of a discussion. Or she could be standing a few millimeters in front of you in a bus stop. You want only her to turn back not the entire bus stop. You clear your throat aiming at her. Malaysians do this trick a lot. They call it berdaham.
Talking about women, the Japanese are rich with experiences. Pleasant as well as bitter.
Tell me frankly buddy. Have you too been fooled like me many times in life by a callipygian figure with long hair and beautiful legs walking down the street in front of you? Enamoured by the perfect shape you string along leaving your friends, life and schedules behind. This is the one girl you have been waiting all your life. The vision of her feeding your kids at your home someday would suddenly emerge before you as you walk.
At the first chance you get, you overtake her with a whistle on your lips and turn your head around romantically for that first glance. By now you have bet all your eggs on her beauty being convinced by the promises writ large on the back cover. Kaboom! One glance, you know what hell is. The 18-year old girl in churidar turns into a 65-year old grandma.
You curse the whole of Punjab for inventing this homicidal dress. They speak not a word about the wearer’s age. Unlike the saree.
Take heart. The Japanese boys suffer more than us. Only they have the word for those women – bakku-shan (does it mean ‘back shine’?).
So, an ideal beauty should look toothsome from all eight directions. Happobijin is Japanese the word for that.
Mamihlapinatapei is that moment of shared look of longing when both the boy and the girl know each other’s feelings but yet neither is willing to make the first move.
Mamihlapinatapei! Try to pronounce it. Love is so fleeting that by the time you complete uttering that word both the parties might have grown tired, averted their glances and retired to their homes. Let them go. I am more concerned about the poor Chilean poets who have to squeeze in this JCB of a word often into the fragile world of poetry. It takes almost a poem.
After love comes the wedding.
After marriage I wanted my wife to continue with her studies for getting a job. But Divya was more adept in leaving courses and jobs quicker than they could manage to serve them to her. Every time I get home after enrolling her into a course I see my wife welcoming me at the entrance with a smile. “Manu chetta, it is not that good as we thought. I quit it.”
She developed AC allergy when at the technopark, assignment allergy when at the BEd centre, text book allergy when she joined for PG. ‘I would be happy at home, Manu chetta’, she declared. Shhh…now come close. I cannot utter this word aloud at home. There is an interesting word, ‘Popohana’ole’.
It is a Hawaiian word for those women who refuse to go to work and live on their husband’s earnings. But I declare that my wife is definitely not that.