Jokes and Humour: A Crucial Difference

A little note on the subject by one of our greats:

Shoroshota onek shugobheer jinish, tar modhye aekta gota jibondorshon dhora achhe. Roshikota koto shomoye chhNedo kothaye dNaraye. Amader shoroshota amader rokkhakoboch.

Leela Majumdar, Paakdondi (1986).

What the translation amounts to, in my rather inept hands, is this: To be “shorosh” is a condition superior to being merely humourous. Humour can often descend into cheap shallow flippery, but the condition of being shorosh has entire worldview/ideology inherent in it.

So what is “shorosh”, then?

Shorosh (pronounced shaw-rosh), literally, means “with the juice”, where juice is a poor substitution for ‘rasa’. In Bangla, howeve, rasa or rosh usually refers to a state of good humour. Unlike hasya rasa or comedy, ‘shoroshota’ is a subtle predilection for taking reality with a pinch of salt, perhaps a touch of irony, but entirely without malice. A person whose humour is of the sharper, somewhat malicious or cynical variety would be referred to as as a “sleshattok” person, “slesh” being that particular sour turn that frustration and bitterness sometimes lends to humour.

I think I am with Leela Debi on this one.

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26 comments

  1. OK, listen up: it’s OK to post in Bengali, it’s not OK to post in Bengali in Latin script. How the hell do you expect the rest of us to auto-translate? 😦

  2. @joanne – the stuff that just got written here cannot be translated into English without losing a large part of the essence, but Ruma Chakravarti might do a good job. The Bengali script is beautiful but I find it difficult to use on the computer (Ok, not impossible, but difficult and a trifle irritating), and I suspect even Rimi does not have the patience, despite all good intentions. Kind of like me.

  3. Yeah, sure, give me excuses 🙂 A lot of my Greek friends also wrote on my wall in Latin script. I started replying in English written in Greek characters, which drove home the point that Greek (or Bengali) written in Latin script looks just as absurd. Case in point : “Σορόσοτα ονέκ σουγκομπχέερ τζινίς” – does that look like Bengali to you? I didn’t think so.

  4. The funny thing about us, Joanne, is that we frequently do write English in the Bangla script, but since, as Lali points out, it is a trifle annoying to download compatible add-ons/softwares, this usually happens in handwritten snatches of
    conversations. Notes passed during lectures, meetings or conferences, for example. I apologise, however, for displeasing your aesthetics 🙂 Perhaps you’ll forgive me if I provide a(n inadequate) translation?

  5. I like you, Joanne – I would do exactly as you have said. I have a Polish niece and can’t figure out what goes on with her other than checking pictures and get quite annoyed at times. But I think Rimi does not want you to read sub-par translations of wonderful pieces of literature in Bengali, to the point where she prefers you not to know about it at all. BTW, in all of this, our translator par excellence friend Ruma Chakravarti refuses to take up the challenge….Ruma? You here? (I cant believe you have gone to sleep already!)

  6. Shorosh (pronounced shaw-rosh), literally, means “with juice”, where juice is a poor substitution for ‘rasa’. In Bangla, howeve, the rasa or rosh usually refers to a state of good humour, but unlike hasya rasa, ‘shorosh’ means a more subtle predilection of taking reality with a pinch of salt, perhaps a touch of irony, but entirely without malice. A person whose humour is of the sharper, maliciously cynical variety would be referred to as as a “sleshattok” person, slesh being that particulal sour turn that humour sometimes takes.

    So what the translation amounts to, in my rather inept hands, is this: To be shorosh is a condition superior to being merely humourous. Humour can often descend into cheap shallow flippery, but the condition of being shorosh has entire worldview/ideology inherent in it.

  7. Woohooo! See Joanne, I told you she was good, din’ I? Ruma, just WOW! I should get off the friend list of all you people, you guys give me a right royal complex:-)

  8. Ah, interesting distinction indeed! (So the last line would be “our shoroshotts is our worldview”? – ‘amader’ being the only word I believe I recognise…)
    Thanks for taking all this trouble to placate a curmudgeonly Greek. Now I’ll go off and google Leela Majumdar 🙂

  9. Joanne: Rasa – Sanskrit for juice, but also in a more elevated way, essence – The Nine Rasas of Classical Indian dramatics ( Like Anger, Love, Wonder, Sympathy etc are supposed to cover most shades of human emotion) – Rasam – Hot&Sour Soup in South India prefixed with its flavour such as Tomato or Lemon Rasam – and our Eastern countrymen/wmn like to aspirate sibilants (and sibilate aspirants? 🙂 so it becomes Rosho

  10. Thanks, Parshu – i’d never made the connection between rosho(golla), rasam and the Rasas. Which shows how much I have to learn. But on Rimi’s original note: which writer would y’all say is an example of this particular brand of humour in India?

  11. Dont know about writers – but in a lighter vein if I can pun in a language I understand the barest smattering of – there is an entire worldview inherent in a Bengali dish called Shoroshe Ilish.

  12. Shorshe ilish. Mustard ilish. The ilish fish is the only thing that retains its flavour in the pungent mustard sauce. Shorshe prawms are a big favorite too, but personally I find prawns to be so delicate that they lose all the flavour in mustard sauce. Now Rimi N and the others are going to howl…I’m waiting 🙂

  13. I have, in fact, a recipe for shorshe ilish languishing in my drafts folder awaiting the uploading of pictures. I shall get to it immediately (within the next few months). Gautam, I am not a big fan of prawns in shorshe if I want to enjoy the light flavour of prawns, but I do love the sythesised flavour prawn heads cooked in mustard sauce with generous amounts of grated coconut and green chilies gives to the final concoction.

  14. And Joanne, close, but more accurately, “Our shoroshota informs/provides the basis for our worldview”. In other words, we look upon the world through the prism of good-humoured… well, good humour. And I would personally insist Sukumar Ray trumos Poroshuram and most definitely trumps Sanjeeb Chattopadhyay. Poroshuram is a delightfully cynical commentator on life and the human condition, and a great favourite of mine. Sanjeeb C. does not merit that because his humour needs to simplify and stereotype life before he can comment on it. He does some very canny sketches of characters and trends in the city, but his writing has a decided socially conservative, women-mocking, contemptuous-of-progress tone. I would strongly recommend Sukanta Chaudhuri’s translation of Sukumar Ray’s selected anthology of poems (The Select Nonsense of Sukumar Ray, 1987, OUP).

  15. By the way – and with profuse apologies to our hostess for this further digression – I recently discovered that Armenians all download a programme that automatically transcribes Latin characters into Armenian. This would be great for Indian languages, but I suspect it doesn’t work with syllabaries 😦

  16. All Indian scripts including South Indian ones have the same origin ( Brahmi) – (they only look different because we made squiggles that had to be legible on different species of local leaves, with differing venations) – so that “indigenous program would probably be easier to write – I realized how phonetically accurate Indian scripts were as my kid was learning to read in elementary school – Roman would be full of confusing inconsistencies – such as Sugar, Not Shugar – But Devnagari? A needle-point accurate match between spoken and written Hindi – I guess it makes a difference if a culture invents its own phonetic script rather than borrow one like English did, from invading Romans
    Qualification: the imported Arabic and Persian words esp. with glottals are hard to write accurately in Devanagari but in everyday use in speech – and apologies for nerdoloquting!

  17. to Joanne, above: there are also people like me, who speak and understand Bengali but do not know how to read Bengali script – for me, it is important that the Bengali sentence/post/thought be written in Latin script so that I can participate in that conversation.

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