Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Vinaka Seona Smiles for discussing Hindi baat.

from w
Mostly I've read her breezy column in the Fiji Times and some of her short stories, but here Seona gets occasionally serious about humour and the languages of Fiji. Seona was married to a Fiji Indian man and her stories are about the ups and downs of living with relatives.  Seona's husband died two years ago and an excellent eulogy gives bountiful information about this marvellous family.
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A language of laughter

Seona Smiles
Thursday, July 09, 2015
The "unsmiling Indian" was nowhere to be seen at the fourth Kaise Baat held at the University of the South Pacific last week. Nor, for that matter, were petulant iTaukei, grumpy Europeans or unsociable others.
Kaise baat is a popular exclamation in Fiji Hindi that roughly translates as "what's up or what's happening". It is the title of an annual series that aims to provide a platform for discussions on, in and about Fiji baat — otherwise known as Fiji Hindi.
It is an opportunity for those who know this language, that was born in Fiji's plantations and lives across all Fiji cultures today, to celebrate a valid, vivid, dynamic linguistic heritage.
In the past these events have involved serious academic papers, literature, traditional music, song and dance and other insights into this unique Fiji language.
This year the event looked at Fiji Hindi humour with a program that hilariously undermined the myth of the "unsmiling Indian" of Fiji found in writing by authors from James Michener to Paul Theroux, among others.
The magic of the event was that it involved as many people of non-Fiji Indian ethnicity as those who learnt Fiji baat at their amma's knee — and many who happily swung between baat, iTaukei and English languages with as much ease and enjoyment as the mirth inducing moments allowed.
This ability to crack the joke multilingually was led by the bati ni tharia, Nimilote Naisorotabua and Nemani Bainivalu, who brought their wisecracking style from the iTaukei language television show, Bati ni Tanoa.
Following that lively tradition, a group of students from USP Labasa Campus who formed the Cheenikum/Sukalailai Theatre Troupe threw around some seriously comic dialogue in three languages that also conveyed stern health advice.
The troupe found academics and linguists an easier audience to play to than diabetes patients queueing for medicines in the crowded health centre (who probably wished they had eaten better and exercised more before they got sick) and brought the house down with a scene from Adhuraa Sapnaa — Ank Do Drishyq Ek (Act 2 Scene 1) by the late Raymond Pillai.
The course of tracing Indo-Fijian humour from folk traditions to digital renderings also involved roof-raising folk music (bidesia/pachra) with Rakesh Chand Bobby and Group, some witty Bollywood freestyle mash up by the Masti Arts dancers and a great performance by the still-great Jimmy Subhaydas, Eddie Wilson and their musicians.
Subhaydas was an immensely popular singer of iTaukei songs as well as in Hindi before retiring to his village on Ovalau to fish.
Eddie Wilson rocked the program to a close with an all-time favourite from way back, Ek Hans Kajora.
According to writer and philosopher John Ralston Saul, multilingualism remains the source of movement and growth in a civilisation. It is the role of writers and intellectuals to carry words, images, emotions and ideas back and forth between languages.
He also says comedy is the least controllable use of language and therefore the most threatening to people in power.
So it must have been a rather subversive gathering to explore multilingual humour, although the Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts and National Archives of Fiji, Dr Mahendra Reddy, opened the program with some well chosen words in English about the need to preserve Fiji baat and how it was common currency between ethnic groups.
With my limited ability in Fiji baat and iTaukei languages, I missed some of the best jokes of the evening. I am more in the category of providing the humour when I try to join family discussions in the vernacular.
Teaching me to pronounce the word "horse" (goddha) in Hindi is considered hysterically funny and leads me to sound like an out of work cheerleader auditioning for a squad by demonstrating how well I can say "drah, drah, drah".
Not to mention how I seriously confused the dog by apparently shouting "hornet, hornet" at him when I thought I was telling him to go "outside, outside" and other such incidents.
It's enough to turn a single language speaker mute.
But even I have picked up many of the words in common currency and according to my daughters, who are the products of a multilingual household, most Fiji people can understand the other languages enough to know the swears, get the rude jokes at the bus stop and speak enough to tease their cousins.
Jolly good, because John Ralston Saul says if we always act in a respectable manner, then comedy is dead. People (except perhaps for heads of governments and those in charge of financial policies) shouldn't worry about sounding responsible every time we open our mouths, because gravity is a lot less useful than irresponsible inquiry.
So if Fiji baat seems a bit funny to those people who promote "proper" Hindi — which also has its place, no doubt — we need to also feel proud of it and be able to celebrate this richly nuanced idiom that has infiltrated the first languages of us all to add vibrancy and colour to our everyday speech.
* The views expressed are the author's and not of this newspaper.

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