Proverb – Bengali, India

“I slept, and I dreamt that life was all joy. I woke, and saw that life was but service. I served, and discovered that service was joy.”

Rabindranath Tagore

When I sat down with my informant and began to describe folklore, and to encourage him in the right direction I asked if there was any game, riddle, or saying that was repeated to him as a child.  Without hesitation he began to translate this short poem.  The informant described the prevalence of this item among the folk group of the Bengali people, by emphasizing that “every child learns this poem.  Every Adult tells it at some point to every child they know.  You have it in school, in your home… everywhere.”  He went on to tell me that it can be found, as in his own home, written and framed in his bathroom,  on refrigerators, scratched into public benches.

Upon further discussion surrounding this poem, the informant was praising it as a perfect demonstration of Bengali socio-cultural values. “In Bengali, we don’t have a word for funny.  My mother has no concept of a punch line.  I couldn’t think of a Bengali joke if I tried.  But it doesn’t mean we are unhappy.  We are taught that we must find and work for our own joy ourselves, we don’t have the quick, escapist kind of humor that Americans sometimes rely on too much to bring them joy.”  And thus, in a culture that produces a twenty one year old who can readily admit to an inability to tell a joke, this fantastic alternative finding joy and is repeated and put into action by the Bengali people.

So ingrained in the cultural and so integral are the values in describes, I believe this is the absolute statue of artistic communication among Bengali people, it so precisely articulates values which the entire culture shares, it is the answer to the search for happiness.  The mere fact that it is values and pieces of wisdom like this which ultimately replace typical humor and ephemeral joy we see in American and other cultures.