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      Volume 11 |Issue 45| November 16, 2012 |


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The narrow alleys of old Dhaka reverberate with the mirth and light banter of Dhakaiyya humour.
Photo: Star File


Syed Maqsud Jamil

When folks talk of Dhakaiyyas, it is their trademark humour that draws attention. Bangla cinema comedian Bhanu Bandapadhaya celebrated it in his folksy style. It is the eternal comedian in him and his inimitable style of expression that brought him legendary popularity. So Dhakaiyya humour readily brings Bhanu into our mind. It was primarily an excellence of his trade and the dialect in the process that received eminence.

Dhakaiyya humour is all about the life of the Dhakaiyyas, their culture, how they interact and their attitude towards life. They are an unassuming people with no veneer of contrived social credo. Neither are they brash. Their directness can catch people off guard; there are no pretensions. The most disarming thing about it is that the directness comes with a sweet sauce, humour that will not rile the receiver. The humour extends beyond the coachman and his horse and the chicken and the overnight qawwali session.

As everywhere, at times Dhakaiyya humour can have vulgarity. That however does not debase Dhakaiyya humour and consign it to the proclivity of a crass people. They are a jolly and warm people with a sunny attitude towards life.

Dhakaiyya humour also has another element of characterising people by their physical features or oddities, intemperate habits and even by their trades. A dark-skinned person is called Kala Jabun or black berry, a tall man with stooping gait was a Ged or a vulture, a raucous man was a Dhar Kauwaor (a craven) a skinny opium addict was Suka Lerior (dried feces), a querulous woman or a girl was Kauwa Thutithe (one with a crow's tongue), a woman matchmaker was Futkior (sparrow) and so on.

There was a time when a Dhakaiyya marriage ceremony was a mirthful occasion, a virtual match of verbal spats between the bride and the groom's side. The nearest members of the bridegroom's family were in the receiving end of the verbal barbs showered on them, ridiculing their physical endowments. The father or the shashoor, if he was rotund, the lyrics made light of his corpulence, the bountiful physique of the elder sister the bari nan made her the hapless lady, and the choti nan or the younger sister a lithe lady was chabuk ki charior (the whipping cane). That far it went but the fun did not disrupt the harmony. The two families became best of friends so long as the pair made a happy couple.

The story should move on to the 22 Sardars (Chieftains) of Dacca once appointed by the Nawab of Dhaka. The Sardars continued in their eminence although the Nawab declined in authority. As the story goes, Ayub Khan, during his visit to Dacca, called a meeting of the influential. The Sardars were naturally invited. There was one Sardar who considered himself mighty and had a huge ego. Ayub Khan was speaking in English and the Sardar could not speak a word of it. Some of the participants were venturing into broken English, but the accompanying followers of the Sardar found to their discomfiture that their Lord was losing his eminence by his silence. So they pleaded with the Sardar 'Sardar Saab sab koi English qairaha ap bhi kuch boliye (everybody is speaking in English, you should say something). When Ayub Khan was making an important point, our Sardar got up and uttered 'OK'. A month later a letter arrived from the ministry that the President was inviting a participation of the certain sum the sardar had agreed to give. Kindly come forward with your committed amount of Rs.20,000.00. The Sardar was knocked over and he observed, 'Zindagi mei ektho English kaha uska dam bis hazar, is liye hum English bolte kam' (In my life I have uttered a single English word and its price is Rs.20,000/-, that is why I rarely speak in English).

A Dhakaiyya was adding a floor to his small house. His house had very little open space. So, he kept the bricks on the roadside pavement. Normally the civic authority did not make a fuss unless of course there was martial law or an overzealous inspector on the scene. Something of that sort happened and the inspector appeared. He theatrically demanded to know 'Rastar upor egulo ki?' (What are these on the road)? The Dhakaiyya responded imperturbably, 'Mor jala, eita ki toast biscuit char bhitore chubaiya chubaiya khamu'(Curse be on me! Are these toast biscuits that I will soak them in tea to eat it?). The inspector was flustered and left the place grumbling that the law was not being observed.

Dhakaiyyas are known for resolutely facing the adversities of life. Once, the maternal uncle of the mother of a friend fell into bad times due to his prolific procreating abilities, further burdened with extravagance. To carry on courageously, he started raising a herd of cattle. He applied himself with honour and industry, unencumbered by his family title of 'Mir'. His well-placed relations felt embarrassed that one of their own had become a milkman. His educated and respectably employed nephews bashfully approached him expressing anguish about the infamy brought on the family standing. 'Mamu tum goruala ban gayeo (Uncle! you have become a milkman). The patrician countered with aplomb, 'Kya kaito miah, pesha Habibullah' (Gentlemen what are you saying, every trade is a blessing of Allah). The matter ended there.

Another Sardar was invited to the final of a table tennis tournament and to give away the prizes. After the final was over the Sardar gave away the prizes. He was then invited to deliver his chief guest's speech. He spoke thus, “je jitche uibee bhalokhelche, je harche uibee bhalo khelche, jaraa mare dawat diyaanche nami bohut khushihoichi, jara sabbasi dichen tarao bhalo kajkorchen. Kintuk dhonnobad dite hoile ami oimurg iredhonnoba ddimu je murgi aiandata parche etopitaiche magar fatchena.” (The one who has won he has played well, the one who has lost he has also played well, those who invited me I am very happy with them, those who cheered they have also done well. But if I am to express thanks I should thank the chicken that laid the egg, it has been battered so badly, but it has not cracked apart.)

Dhakaiyya humour is profoundly natural. It is not a contrived skit. It is the kind of humour that added to the joy of the time we lived.


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