Friday, October 18, 2013

Lokkhi & Alokkhi

Today is Lakshmi (Lokkhi) Puja, celebrated mainly in Eastern India. "I am proudly an alokhhi", someone said in the morning. "alokkhi" is the antithesis of lokkhi, the symbol of wealth. Conventionally alokkhi is loosely used in reference to anything that's bad. It's an expression of bad luck, a euphemism for loss or lack of wealth, a bad omen. Bengali uses alokkhi as an epithet for a bad girl or a bad thought. So when I heard someone saying, "I'm proudly an alokkhi", it made me think.

The first thing I did was check for the etymology of lakshmi, the Sanskrit word, of which lokkhi is the Bengali pronunciation. I refered to the Monier Williams' Sanskrit dictionary. It says the following:

लक्ष्मी f. (cf. लक्ष्मीक) a mark , sign , token
 (with or without पाप्/ई) a bad sign , impending misfortune
 (but in the older language more usually with प्/उण्या) a good sign , good fortune , prosperity , success , happiness (also pl.)

So basically lakshmi means a mark, sign, token, which can be both good and bad. Though Monier Williams doesn't give the origin or the root of lakshmi, but mark, sign etc implies it perhaps comes from the root laksh, akin to Latin locus, meaning direction, aim, mark, sign in Sanskrit.

So this is again an interesting aspect in the evolution of languages and words - the same word meaning both good and bad.

Divine and devil both are akin to Sanskrit deva.

Asura is both god and demon. Ahura (asura) Mazda is the supreme God in Zoroastrianism. Even in Rig Veda, Varuna, one of the oldest members of the Indo-European pantheon, akin to Uranus, is sometimes referred to as the King of Asuras, against Indra, the King of Devas.

Lakshmi too means both good and bad. So lokkhi and olokkhi are both lokkhi!

Good and bad are often just two perspectives which can change totally depending on the prism through which you see. A classic example is the case of a terrorist, say a separatist, who's selflessly fighting for, say, liberation of Kashmir. For rest of India she is a terrorist, but for the people of Kashmir she is a patriot, and if she dies fighting for the cause, she would become a shaheed. Bhagat Singh is a shaheed for us, but was a terrorist to the British government.

A conventional thought, that's generally steeped into our society, often has lots of good and bad predefined, mostly without much of logic. This is good and that is bad, this is lokkhi and that is alokkhi, we often hear people saying. Whenever someone says, ki lokkhi meye, what a lokkhi or good girl, you know that the girl in question surely is a virgin, doesn't drink, doesn't go to parties, very likely sits in the first bench in the class, wears a particular type of attire where the visibility of cleavage is out of question, probably would go for an arranged marriage, and may do all compromises in life, for her parents, husband and kids. None of the parameters that would generally make a Bengali girl lokkhi has anything to do with good or bad, but still a certain type of girl is lokkhi. To refer to a particular type of good boy, we don't even bother to apply the feminine adjective lokkhi to a male - ki lokkhi chhele, what a good boy!

A girl with a typical round face without any sharp feature is often called lokkhi-shree, which may translate to good looking in English, replacing lokkhi with good. There's absolutely no reason why just a particular type of face is good. Still, we so often use these terms so casually, that we don't even think what we're saying.

Likewise we also use alokkhi, or lokkhi-chhara, deprived of lokkhi, to denote the antithesis of lokkhi, mostly without much logic.

Lokkhi and alokkhi in colloquial Bengali usage, like many such words depicting good and bad, are symbols of prejudice, orthodoxy and regressive attitude.

I feel the reason behind the evolution of the opposite dual meanings of the same word - lakshmi in this case, which means both good and bad - is perhaps to create a linguistic conscience, which would point fingers to the futility of profiling something as good and something else as bad. It actually says, what's lokkhi is also alokkhi and what's alokkhi is also lokkhi.

Coming back to the comment, "I'm proudly an alokkhi," I feel, perhaps it's her way of saying, "I'm what I am; I don't care what you call me by - lokkhi or alokkhi, I give a damn."

Technically she is correct, both do mean the same!!

1 comment:

Sudipto Das said...

Correction:courtesy Tanmoy Bhattacharya
Agree with what you write, but there is a slight linguistic problem in what you mention in passing. Actually English locus is related to Sanskrit stha. This is clearer if we go to the old Latin word from which locus derives: it was stlocus. stha means to stand, and comes from Indo-european sta which was more like firmly standing. The -l- is an old causative, and the -c- is an objective suffix. The -us is, of course, the nominative singular ending. lakS probably comes from lag and means "clinging" where lag may be the Sanskrit form of Indo-european leygh meaning to bind: its English reflex is liasion. In comparative studies, one has to worry about such "false cognates" all the time.
The good and bad connotations switching around is actually a very common change in linguistics (think "That was a wicked guitar solo, bro": 'wicked' itself is of difficult etymology, but probably related to magic of making someone lively, see vAja in Sanskrit, but it recently had a negative meaning which is being change by slang). Similarly, awful did mean awe inspiring, but today is a negative word. Awe itself has the same origin as English ail, both coming from a root meaning sick/afraid. Similarly, amuse meant to cheat (ultimately from "causing to stand with one's nose in the air", i.e. stare, with musa meaning nose in Gallic languages, but probably not Indoeuropean), and pompous (ultimately from a Greek word for sending, meaning a procession) was a good adjective.
And mark meaning marked for good and marked for bad are both very common. And, when I first read of the mark of Cain, I did not know whether it was supposed to be good or bad