I think back on events from my childhood, and they seem to be wavy and shrouded in fog. A lot of my memories are in black and white, and the sound is garbled, as though I’m listening to them through the wrong end of a gramophone. I remember my father was very insistent that I learn English from a very early age. I cannot quite remember why, but there must have been a good reason. He would want me to speak in English with him, and not in our colloquial language (Bengali or Hindi). Most of the instructions that my parents would give in English would be unambiguous – like “Come here Ari!” and “Please be quiet!”. Such clear interaction allowed me to understand what was expected of me, and perform the task obediently.
Sometimes, my parents would use a phrase, that made no logical sense. Not that logic and reasoning were my strengths ever, but even to my under-developed brain, it seemed to make NO sense. I continued to work hard and try to find my way out of this “Phrase Maze”.
I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect my parents had learned that these phrases and comments were guaranteed to stop me dead in my tracks from asking any more of my usually irritating questions. My mom had a classic – “Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed?” – that question almost paralyzed me. My parents had never explained which was the wrong side. Adding to that was the confusion that the bed was set against the wall. So, there was only one side I could have gotten up. There seemed to be add up to the “Never ending” list of things that I just DID not get. I think I spent years wondering which step of my morning routine was causing the problem. Or, was it something I did before I went to sleep. The confusion lingered on.. I never REALLY found a convincing answer.
Even today, I hear my wife telling this to me sometimes.. And I feel compelled to answer, and not with complete certainty – “NO, I don’t think so”
My neighbor’s kid, Rohan, got a tri-cycle (those small little ones that you could drive in the house) for his fifth birthday. When I insisted on one, my father said – “Money does not grow on trees”. If his intent was to throw me off track long enough to forget about the desired item, it always worked. Dad never said where money grew, if not on trees. If he had told me that, I could go and help him get it.. I continued to keep a close watch on Rohan’s dad when he would be taking his morning walk in the lawn of their house. I was convinced I could find out where he grew money. Maybe, he grew money beneath the bushes, or he planted them right next to the rose plants. After few months of trying, I eventually gave up.
I don’t remember being an irritable kid. But again, I may have been wrong because there would be times when my father would be doing some office work, and I would walk up to him for the umpteenth time and ask something like “Where does money grow, dad?” or “Why does the doctor have no hair?”. He would blurt out – “Mera sar math Khao abhi, jao” in Hindi. (translates to “Don’t eat my head, go now”). That one stumped me. I could not co-relate how my question about money had anything to do with eating my dad’s head. I wanted to ask, but it did not seem an appropriate time for such a high risk activity.
My parents would get extremely tensed before my exams. It appeared that he was giving the exams, not me. My dad always had a piece of important advise just before I left home for the exams – “Stay calm, son ! Whatever happens, don’t press the panic button.” I did not even know where the panic button was. I secretly searched the house, but did not find one. At the time, it seemed like a good idea NOT to know where the panic button was. If you don’t know where it is, you can never “PRESS” it.
At other times, when he was helping me study – he would say ” The DEVIL is in the details“. This was another remark that worked wonders on my behavior because I would launch into an imaginary scene in which I was researching through tons of books in search of “THE DEVIL”. I am still searching.. Err. Researching.
When I was six (I think) my father said, that such phrases, were called idioms, and needed to be interpreted in the right context. Forget the context, the word idiom itself confused me even further. It seemed so similar to idiot, the word (well, read.. The name) that I found many people addressing me with all through the early part of my life. I was almost convinced that both these words must have some connection. Was idioms discovered by smart people so idiots, like me, did not get the real meaning or message? Hmm.. more research needed on that one! Till that time, I will hold on to my horses.
Do you remember any phrases that confused you in your childhood?