Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Of Culture differences and Insults

Since I am a native of Andhra Pradesh, I know a bit of Telugu. Having stayed in Delhi all my life, I come across people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds: Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali, Oriya, Tamil, Malayali, etc. When I was in primary school, it was a fun passtime of some of us to learn words of the other's native language. Keshav was a particularly keen one. He had not only learnt counting to ten in Tamil, but also in French and used to flaunt his superior knowledge to all the rest of us jealous beings. There were many Hindi speaking friends of mine who wanted to learn how to say 'Hi' or 'Thank You' in Telugu. Nighi (Punjabi) – who was my neighbor new the Telugu word for 'water' when she was 3.

But that was when all of us were little. Now everyone wants to know how to swear in a language foriegn to theirs. Though I get a lot of requests to learn curses in Telugu, I can do little to help out. As I learnt all my Telugu from my parents, I had little to go about. And this was a handicap that left me disappointed in my knowledge of 'my people' several times.

It gives you an unreasonable pleasure if you can curse in other's languages. There is also the occasional multiple meanings to the same phrase heard by people of different cultural backgrounds, causing much amusement.

Shitiz (from Rajasthan) did a part of his schooling in Hyderabad. A few of his classmates – who were also from a Hindi background – latched on to the Telugu word 'Randi' (meaning 'Please come in' in Telugu and 'whore' in Hindi) and used it to beckon their teachers: “Madam Randi... Madam Randi...” to raucous laughter. Of course the teachers had no clue what was going on.

Someone, on his trip abroad, met a girl called Marit. Though there is not much of a literal double meaning in Hindi, it had enough for any hostel dwelling Engineering student to crack up at the name and repeat it just for kicks. Typically and inevitably ungracious remarks like, "So, did you 'Maar-it'?" followed by chuckling became the norm.

When in a dull mood, one can remember the current UN Secretary general. Not that he's an inspiring figure or anything. In fact, I have on good authority (my father) that he's the dullest chap to head that dull institution. But his name is Ban Ki Moon. Now, if you don't know why its amusing, then I suggest you ask Debasish, who uses this name as his pet swear word.

Of course, all such cultural faux pas don't end up in general amusement. Take, for example, the recent controversy involving Harbhajan and Symonds over racist remarks. Symonds saw Bhajji tap his bat on Brett Lee's back, and immediately unloaded some foul Aussie abuse on him. Bhajji reacted with his own native curses starting off with a “Teri Maan Ki...”. Unfortunately, due to Bhajji's Punjabi accent, Teri was reduced to Tree, and Maanki coming together was heard by Symonds as 'Tree Monkey'.

Now that was clearly a racist slur. Though both Harbhajan and Symonds have monkeys as ancestors, Harbhajan's remark was thought to have implied connotations to Symonds' tree-dwelling forefathers as opposed to Bhajji's more sophisticated ground dwelling ones.

I blame Sachin for the whole misunderstanding. He should have called a Press Conference to assure us that all Bhajji said was 'Teri Maan Ki'. This he did not do, as he had too much respect for the mothers of the press fraternity. Of course things would have been different if it had been Sourav.

*Clarification: 'Someone' does not agree with whatever has been written and claims they are 'lies and offensive'. While I do not pretend that everything I write on my blog is true, I do not intend to offend anyone either. My sincerest and unqualified apologies to him for unintentionally causing pain and suffering.


  1. dude its too long again will read wen in mood :P

  2. ofcourse saurav wud hav kicked ass!!!

  3. ever realised what a great way bond can be formed by abusing your friend in his own language, which is different from yours.. or if your friend abuses you in your own language..
    probably better than the bonding achieved by sharing a cigarette if not quite upto getting sloshed drunk together and revealing everything..