Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Super Chomu

In the real world there are many identifiers of a chomu--watching reality shows, quoting your mum in a conversation or, as my mum says, writing blogs which are are a pun on the name of a major newspaper.

But in cyber space nothing identifies a person as more of a chomu than commenting on random YouTube videos. Nothing. That was what I thought till today. However, with this comment on an audio clip of the song Masakali, cyber chomuness has undoubtedly reached a new apogee:

The man (Faraaz should be a man) noted down the exact seconds for which he did and did not like the song. He then calmy, went on to call the lyrics 'boring'.

It is precisely at moments like these, that the theory of Intelligent Design does seem a bit improbable.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pitha Versus Papa

This is a Yahoo! Answers page which asks a fairly innocuous question: How should one address family members in Hindi or Bengali? Fairly simple question, you'd say, and I'd agree. However, there is a twist in the tale:

So 'Sa' thinks that nani is Hindi for maternal grandmother but she also opines that papa and mummy are the Hindi translation for father and mother, respectively!

Weird, isn't it? Well actually, it's not. You might think that Sa's a bit soft in the head (and she might be for all you know) but this answer is, in an Indian urban context at least, spot on.

There is a particularly Indian mindset that we have, or maybe we're just misinformed, that language is something that's ossified in time and place. Which is absurd. The vocabulary of any language is an entity which, like the culture of a people, is in a constant state of flux. It changes; and one of the principle ways it does that is by borrowing from other languages.

For example, today the word 'jungle' is a pukka English one. Of course, the word has its roots firmly in India where it's still used. But that doesn't make 'jungle' any less of an English word. At some point in time, enough people calling themselves English speakers, started using the word 'jungle' as a synonym for 'forest' and voila! you have a new word. Why follow different standards for the reverse?

Anyone studying Hindi in school would, I'm sure, have noticed the rather vast difference between what's written and what we speak. It's like the recomended writers (Premchand is the only exception I can recall) are writing in this make believe language—one of the things that made me hate studying Hindi in school. Back in primary school (which we used to call junior school) a Hindi teacher of ours had expressly forbidden us from using the word paani for water. Paani, she said, was an Urdu word and we were studying Hindi (ironically, there's a fairly popular band by the name 'Jal' in a country that does claim Urdu as its National Langauge).

Now, without getting into the Hindi/Urdu thing, this is plain stupid. Most Hindi speakers would, almost exclusively, use the word paani for water. Just picture yourself saying, 'Ek glass jal dena'. Uh huh! Not happening. If just on the basis of origins (paani is of course, a Persian word) words were to to be kicked out of languages then English, for example, would lose more than 60% of its vocabulary (OED stats here).

Sometime in in the past, enough Hindi speakers decided to use the word paani and therefore today it is a Hindi word no matter what ma'am might say. And if today enough Hindi speakers use the word 'papa' to mean father (and I think they do, even going so far as to suffix a ji, as in papaji) then it becomes a Hindi word. This is how languages (and the mind of the great Sa for that matter), work. It's as democratic as you can get.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Normal Born Brother-in-Law

Rabri is apparently in a bit of a spot because she used the word saala in a campaign speech. This is what the sister of Jalebi had to say:

"Who is Lallan Singh? He is Nitish Kumar's saala. Everyone knows this. I say this openly. This is why Nitish Kumar holds Lallan Singh's hand all the time whether they are in a meeting or a rally"

Which brings us to Hindi's most popular gaalisaala. Although I've always known what saala literally means (wife's brother and not, as it's often translated, brother-in-law) I never really did explicitly connect it to the expletive. That was until I read (the brilliant) Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh where he translates the word as 'I would like to fuck your sister'. It was then that the beauty of my mother tongue(s) dawned on me in their full glory. I mean, which other language would convert the name of a family relationship into a vile verbal abuse used casually in normal conversation (the book also mentions sasur as a gaali but I've never actually heard anyone use it as such).

Of course, most people hardly give a though to what saala actually means, using it as a sort of catch-all gaali. Incredibly, most would consider saala to be less offensive than, say, chutiya, which is absurd. I mean, god damn it we're all chutiyas—almost. How it is a term of ridicule is beyond me. What next? Two legged guy?

However, this precise meaning of saala makes some uses of the word rather absurd. For example, when women use it. What does it mean when a girl uses saala? Or the much used saali, for that matter? They're completely meaningless.

Of course, it is a bit unfair for the ladies. Most expletives, Indian or firangi, are extremely gender biased. Dissing female members of the family is the way to go. I mean, guys would call another guy a 'son of a bitch'—that's four syllables—but not call him a dog. Go figure.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Ad in the Delhi edition of the Times of India, 2nd April, 2009.

Without touching upon the utter hypocrisy, absurdity and futileness of having the concept of a ‘dry day’, can’t the Government even proof-read its Dry Day announcements?

If today is the 2nd (which it is), do tell me how the 3rd, the 7th and the 10th constitute the ‘Next 3 Days’?

P.S: By the way, this is how Urban Dictionary defines 'Dry Day'.