The Dreamheron Diaries - স্বপ্নসারসের দিনলিপি

Friday, August 03, 2007


The Bengali word udashin (and its various forms: udash, udashi, udashini) is one of the most image-conjuring words. As soon as I tell you "He is a man of udash-udash nature", you flittingly glimpse in your mind a serene man alone in a bucolic setting, sitting by a river, looking vacantly to the sky and thinking faraway thoughts – or not thinking at all. What is more, the word finds a more natural home in poetry than prose. If I ask you to cite from literature a sentence containing this word, you immediately start, in your mind, scanning the poems of Tagore.

So, what does the word mean? I have a small Bengali-to-English dictionary. It gives the following translations:

Udash: a. Indifferent; apathetic; disinterested; sad; gloomy; blowing at random (wind blowing at random); Be in a listless state of mind.

As technical translation, this will do. But it captures little of the image. And here is the interesting thing: Using more words, or different words does not help the translation. The word seems to me to be not translatable.

The same is true with the word abhisar (abhisarak, abhisarika) which the dictionary says is an "Appointment of lovers" ('Tryst' or 'Assignation' would be a little better). In the Bengali mind, the word creates the elaborate image of a desolate champa-scented garden under full moon, with an udash wind causing a faint stirring of the leaves, where an idealized male and an ethereal female with fragrant flowers in her hair bashfully approach each other. All of these that single word conjures up.

How did these elaborate images develop in the Bengali psyche? There is no good answer. I could try to be pedantic and come up with answers. But I prefer to leave the situation as it is. Let the mystery be! Let the scent of the abhisarika not be chemically analyzed!

There are other such words. Biraha is the next one that comes to mind. There are also image-conjuring words in the English language that are likewise not translatable to Bengali.

When a person of one culture starts to sense the imagery of such words in another culture is when he truly begins to understand the latter culture.