There’s something about cussing in Hindi that gives me immense satisfaction. I think it manages to convey just the right amount of viciousness mixed with nonchalance.
I find swearing in English to be a bit too conversational. Nothing bears this out more, I think, than the fact that I get increasingly potty mouthed when tipsy. I’m a happy drunk, a friend to the world, garrulous and cheerful right up to the moment I head to the trashcan/bathroom to throw up the last vestiges of my unnatural bonhomie. There’re several trashcans scattered around the world that wish most sincerely that they’d never met me. And all of this is carried out with any amount of cussing. I don’t mean anything by it at all. As is borne out by the silly grin taking up half my face.
So what’s a girl to do when she wants to show you she means business? See, I have very specific criteria for cussing: I need something that will convey the information that I’m not to be trifled with, but refrains from giving the impression that I was brought up in the gutter. My parents, various teachers and I spent quite a lot of time and effort turning me into a lady, or at least giving me the semblance of … er, ladyhood. I have to say it wasn’t a very enjoyable process because it basically had just one rule – Don’t Do Anything – but I stuck to it and I’m not about to let some passing irritant take that away from me at this late date. Now, while I speak quite a few Indian languages other than Hindi, all of them uniformly sound pretty darn vicious when you start swearing.
So, Hindi. It can be sufficiently conversational as Suketu Mehta pointed out in his book, Maximum City:
I missed saying “bhenchod” to people who understood it. It does not mean “sister fucker.” That is too literal, too crude. It is, rather, punctuation, or emphasis, as innocuous a word as “shit” or “damn.” The different countries of India can be identified by the way each pronounces this word – from the Punjabi “bhaanchod” to the thin Bambaiyya “pinchud” to the Gujarati “bhenchow” to the Bhopali elaboration “bhen ka lowda.” Parsis use it all the time, grandmothers, five-year-olds, casually and without any discernable purpose except as filler: “Here, bhenchod, get me a glass of water.” “Arre, bhenchod, I went to the bhenchod bank today.”
To the above list I’d like to add “BHING-chudi”, which is what my Mangalorean-by-way-of-Kuwait friend used to call it. Say it with the right emphasis and it’ll probably clear your sinus. Amit Varma, on the other hand, prefers to call it “punctuation“:
Delhi spoils my tongue. For most Delhi males, the most common bit of punctuation is “bhenchod.” They can’t say a sentence without “bhenchod” being part of it, sometimes more than once. Arre, lunch ka time ho gaya, bhenchod, they’ll say. Bhenchod daaru mein dum hai, yaar, they’ll inform you. Bhenchod kal flight ka kya time hai, bhenchod?
I wonder if they proposed to their loved ones like that. Abay bhenchod, shaadi karogi mujhse, they could ask. Aap bahut bhenchod sundar lag rahi ho.
However you prefer to think of it, say that very same word to some lowlife who tries to pinch your bum in a crowded theater and voila! He slinks away, message received loud and clear. What’s not to love?
But my favorites are two phrases that I’ve never used in all my life. One is absolutely misogynistic, the other is outstandingly racist and they’re both the most hilarious things I’ve ever heard:
“Maati Mili, Jharoo Phirri” – I’d come across the phrase maati mili, which literally means “mixed with dirt” i.e. a fallen woman, in some of the older and drearier Bollywood movies. Some mother in law type would fling some hapless “pure at heart but victim of circumstance” type onto the ground and tell her never to show her face around that neighborhood ever again. But the sheer genius of it all escaped me until a Pakistani friend of mine handed me the addendum jharoo phirri i.e. “swept with a broom”.
I just find that image so indescribably hilarious. “That person is so fallen,” I picture myself saying, “that she’s not just mixed with dirt but swept over with a broom as well!” Now that‘s what I call fallen. At that point I expect a whole troop of gerbils to come dancing out of her ass or something.
“Kala kaloota, baingan loota” – The movie was called Bhaji on the Beach and it was directed by Gurinder Chadha long before she found success with Bend it Like Beckham, subsequently making the acquaintance of Aishwarya Rai and deciding the time was ripe to murder the sensibilities of two separate film cultures with the masterpiece (in how not to make a movie) that was Bride and Prejudice.
Sorry, I’m still bitter about the 10 bucks I spent for that piece of crap. It could have bought me at least two over-brewed house blends at a Starbucks, you know.
Anyway, I really hope all of you’ve seen the movie because otherwise I’m just about to spoil a lovely bit of filmmaking for you. Ready? It’s that scene where everybody finds out that the Indian girl playing tour guide has been dating (by which I mean “busy getting knocked up by”) the good looking black guy. At that point, my all time favorite Zohra Sehgal steps up to the plate with characteristic elan and breaks the silence by saying something along the lines of, “Hai hai, yeh kala kaloota baingan loota! Tujhe aur koi nahin mila?”
Rough translation: “Good grief, this blackie who’s so black it’s like he looted an eggplant! Couldn’t you find someone else?”
For the non-desi amongst you, I should probably specify that this is not something that we cooked up just for black people. While I don’t know the origins of the phrase and I have no idea what a “kaloota” is (does anybody know?), apart from Bhaji on the Beach, I’ve only ever heard Indians and Pakistanis use it in connection with other South Asians.
But I was in love. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, but the idea of looting an eggplant is simply classic. Who comes up with these things? The Japanese have their haiku. We desis prefer to swear. We all have our art forms.