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Manipuri Idioms, English Sum


The best thing about the English language, for ESL people in a hinterland called Northeast India, is that it does not preach. Maybe the Christians in this part of the world would disagree but for animists like us, the language does not say our origin is from Iliad or the Odyssey, unlike our adopted religion of Hinduism that says that we came from the Mahābhārata. This should not also mean that English is the ultimate language. I believe in the Universal Friendship Organisation’s view that one day, all of us, the entire humanity will speak one language and there will be eternal peace in the world. And I’m not high.

Today, we have some Manipuri idioms and proverbs translated into neutral English. For long, people have been taking about Indianism that causes me constipation whenever I hear any argument from its perspective. What would you expect when someone says she has shifted from Delhi to Sydney? When you are asked about your good name, it means your first name. When you are asked for a visiting card it means your business card and if you are told about ‘doing the needful’, be sure that the British has left a thousand years ago but the Medieval English remains. 

A Manipuri is pretty much an Indian if we are talking in terms of the existing political reality but in the words of teenagers, our reality sucks, because there is little about Manipuri that is Indian and vice versa. Leaving aside the political craps, let’s see five Manipuri idioms and proverbs that are quite popular in the Imphal town and their literal meanings in English.


1 • Manipuri: Chaaningmallabasu lektuna tok-ee.

Like the French would say, ‘Envy goes beyond avarice’, if we are too desperate to eat we end up just licking it. Perhaps, it is because nobody sells ice cream in the town, so we simply lick everything we can get just like many people have been doing these days, particularly after knowing there are a lot of privileges and benefits in being a scheduled tribe.


2 • Manipuri: Kei kiduna chellaga sawom oknaba.

Frightened, and after running away from the tiger, you come across the bear. This one is quite common in many languages. It’s when you are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, between Scylla and Charybdis, between a rock and a hard place. I’d like to add ‘between Ibobi and New Delhi’. 


3 • Manipuri: Lamgi sun-na machi saangba helli.

Wild cows have longer horns. Or you can simply say the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. One hundred million years ago, Buddha preached that our desires are limitless. One hundred million years later, the situation has hardly changed. Is it human nature to see things that we don’t have through a rose-coloured glass? Let me answer my own question: Yes, it is.



4 • Manipuri: Nongmana nga, nongmana ising.

We cannot always blame ourselves so why don’t we bring in other living beings to describe our predicaments. One day it is a fish, and on another, water. It implies our lack of conviction and focus. Elsewhere in other parts of the world, it is said that ‘indecision is the graveyard of good intentions’; however, as things stand today we believe it—it is realistic as well—when the American all-rounder, Jimmy Buffet, says, ‘Indecision may or may not be my problem.’


5 • Manipuri: Mi yaamaga thi yaami.

This is too direct that many self-righteous people would find it obnoxious. It means the more the people, the more is the shit. And in our present respectful and disciplined society we have added that the more the shit, the crazier is the dog. Simply put, too many cooks spoil the broth. Defying the creed of the existing groups, we can be self-righteous and preach that a revolution needs not a thousand people but a few committed individuals to work and realise our political aspirations.



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