One of the things I love about being a Bong is our language: the melodious, clean , rounded sounds of our vowels and consonants, the forms of respect accorded to each address based on one’s relationship with the addressee, and the meanings behind names. I find great beauty in my language, little that I know of it. Often these days, I meet people, both in mumbai and kolkata, who are ashamed of speaking in the vernacular, who stubbornly answer in english even when you address them in bengali. I find it annoying. Anyway, that’s not why I started this post.
One of the pet Bengali phrases that was once commonly used and is slowly dying is ‘ebar ashi’. Used as a signature at the end of epistles, and also in speech, its direct translation would be, “now, let me come.” But it is actually a form of goodbye and the ‘ashi’ or ‘come’ is actually a promise to ‘return’ soon. Whenever we Bongs bid goodbye, we never say ‘jachi’ or ‘I’m leaving/going’. It is always, ‘ebar ashi’ – ‘let me go now so that I can return soon.’ More beautiful still is the ‘ebar ashi?’ - the question mark lends a dignity and sanction to the addressee that should be at the heart of all meaningful interaction. I don’t know if similar forms of leave-taking exist in other languages but I have asked my marathi and gujarati friends and it seems that they don’t have anything like this.
I don’t know anything about the genesis of my mother tongue so it leaves me free to imagine how things came to be. I imagine this graceful leave-taking must have its roots in the young boys who had joined the Swadeshi movement and who touched their mother’s feet and bid ‘ebar ashi’ before leaving their homes for the eternal home. Or maybe, it was the only consolation a husband could offer his wife as he left home to eke a living in some far off land. For, poignant as these moments must have been, can you imagine a more hopeful and pregnant goodbye than this?