Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bongs and Slang

Indians, being repressed, are not very forthcoming about the wonderful repertoire of slang that exists in our different languages. A punjabi always reminds you that you slept with your mother and that your sister probably has a cock, a bong can tell you with some conviction that you (even if you are a virgin still) have had sex with a fool umpteen times, and Malayalis generally confuse people with mongrels. By now you probably have an idea that we are dealing with creativity at its best. However, the middle class (which forms the majority of the urban Indian populace) would have none of it. They learn everything at school, practice the choicest of slangs with their classmates, but pretend to know nothing when it comes to mixing with people of other age groups. For example, a group of 14 year old boys, despite holding masters degrees in slang, would use normal language when they meet 20 year old seniors or 40 year old dads, who all, in their respective groups, are comfortable using this different lingo altogether.

Slang has its benefits. It makes expression easier and less convoluted. A Bengali word like Baal (which is akin to "balls" and literally means pubic hair) can be used to express anything from chagrin to disgust to disagreement.
"The Democrats will win."

You can also choose to use it generously whenever you find yourself cornered in an argument. It is very effective against logical argument of any kind. It can make a universal truth sound like a blatant lie.

"The sun will rise in the east."

And you don't have a good comeback.

I heard of one Bengali who got himself in trouble when he tried using this in Punjab. He said "baal" to mean "balls I will go with you," but the Punjabi thought it was the English word ball (which is pronounced in Punjab as baal) and took offence thinking he meant "balls." Although the essence was the same and the effect would have been similar if the Punjabi guy knew what baal really meant, we are dealing with serious semantics here.

However, slang not being included in popular literature means that in a language like Bengali, to write about a fictional account of two people fornicating, you have to resort to very archaic words from a dictionary by the famous AT Dev. I don't know much about him, but he has been immortalized in the famous rhyme about the Bengali dick. There are no proper, popular, acceptable terms for the various body parts that are involved in a foreplay or the real act. AT Dev, I believe, borrowed everything from the famous poet Kalidasa of the sixth century*.

The current Bengali langauge available for literature, with its nitombo for the butt and ston (with a soft t like in Perestroika) for breasts, is way too Victorian for authors to try writing about sex. But has it deterred them? No way. If you read the recent novels that are being written, you would wonder whether any Bengali character has not had an affair outside her/his primary relation. The latest literature, sometimes set in the US (too many Bongs there, I hear), sometimes in the posh localities of Calcutta, are all about gigolos and married women hankering for sex outside their marriages (primarily the reason why I want to make an investigative trip to Calcutta next gather empirical evidence for/against all that is being written). I wonder why the usual everyday slang, despite being used every day by everybody in his/her comfort zone, is not being accepted in the language used for literature.

As I write this, my six year old son turns in his sleep and swears "saala," making me cringe. I can't blame him. He doesn't use it as a swear word. He has picked it up from Pappu can't dance saala. Saala, for the uninitiated and the Americans who read this, means "I'll do your sister."
It is perhaps the only term that has been rendered harmless by overuse. It has been used in popular songs, and you can see Bollywood heroes keep saying "abbe saale" all through any Hindi movie. It has almost become synonymous with the word dude. When I was growing up, saala was a taboo term. Today my son can sing a song with saala in it and I pretend not to get alarmed.

But there are so many rich, creative, beautiful slang terms out there for us to accept and make our own. The day we will be able to make slangs part of our everyday, generic vocabulary, we will be able to revolutionize our languages. Literature in native Indian languages will become much easier to translate. But, if no one heeds my advice, we will be drowned in the onslaught of the "fuck yous" that have invaded the lingo of our generation now like a horde of Huns. Every Indian boy or girl can nonchalantly say "he is so full of shit" about their teacher or use "fuck you" instead of a nice and crisper "baal" to express disagreement.

Stop our languages from this invasion. Spread the swear word. Call your neighbor a bansod instead of the oh-so-boring "good morning, how is your Earl Grey tea this morning, dear sir?"
You will feel liberated. Try it alone in front of the mirror first and then go out boldly to face the other world. Imagine screaming "bokacHHoda" with your dad and raising your fists up in the air when Sachin scores a century. Doesn't the idea feel good? It kinda grows on you, like the warmth inside a blanket . . .

*I have no clue which period Kalidasa belonged to. Not something we have been encouraged to learn in our English schools.


ATANU said...

Well documented article ...worth reading ...especialy when it comes to a charracter like me. I said that keeping in mind my foul mouth which has got used to both bong and American slangs. God bless all slangs

nowheregirl said...

post a list of your favourite slang words next :D

Oreen said...


may your slobbering tongue full of expletives be graced with beef i miss you, man!

nowheregirl, our lists should be are not bad yourself i think...:-D

Pinku said...

Wow Oreen,

You are a dicktionary on slang...and i think inorder to promote it you must leave your current vocation and open an university for the propogation of the same.


Good read....Though I am the kind that still cringes on hearing those expletives and moms and sisters inspite of living in Delhi all my life.

Oreen said...

i know i know... this was the other, essential me peeking out after a long time... will go back to my otherwise suave, charming self in a few seconds from now...


Lazyani said...

God bless you Oreen for having taken the cover off! And there is the Oreen that I know.

I remember that the JU hostels had inter hall Khisti(slang) competitions and some of the original creations would be worthy of a Nobel, no less.('Baler Abar U cut'-- Literal meaning: having a pubic haircut in the shape of the Hairstyle of the great Uttam Kumar- Usage Meaning-- Wastage of time, energy and money on useless activity,or creation of a position of grandiose for an otherwise useless object)

But I guess, that if these slangs make it to the dictionary , then the fun would go out of the charm of making a uncharted uncharitable comment.

So I recommend the creation of an alternate dictionary of such words and we can even have a foreward from A.T.Deb, if he is still alive.

Winnie the poohi said...


May be you should start a course for slangs :)

addled said...


Mampi said...

Wow, what a Gyan.
What would the world do without you?

sukumbho said...

You have a valid point: why cant we use the everyday slang/taboo words in our lit.? The 'Hungry Generation' and 'Kaurab' did it, and even now it's used somewhere, but they're not considered mainstream Bangla lit. Incidentally, my favorite (not a slang) is: Jangiyaar abaar bookpocket! (Literal meaning: The underpant cant have a shirt-pocket; Usage: Daringly impossible/imaginary thought).

Pinku said...

what plans about visiting Delhi?? We were discussing you in the morning today...and i was really hoping you will pay the city and us a visit soon.

Puzzled Private said...

I consider Kannadigas no less than equals in this battle.. maybe a notch higher, if you may..

Only yesterday, driving down city side, I saw an auto Rickshaw. There's nothing much about seeing ricks in the city (you can see one every millisecond, if not nano) - just that this one had a wordart sticker stuck at it back that read "PACHHA"!! For the non-bongs - this is a cruel yet masculine way of addressing your buttocks, or its human equivalents.

Add to that - there ran a dagger right through it - between the C & the H - blood dripping all over..

Now am not very creative with either language or my posterior. Such works of fine art terrorize me more than anything else. It hurt me all the more recognizing the fact that we live in a society of terrorists that not only fire at will in railway stations but also derive pleasure from stabbing someone's butt in public view!

Anonymous said...

ROFL...that was too good. Especially liked the part on 'feeling liberated'! Wondering why I didn't stumble on your blog earlier. Will come back for more.

Rupa said...

wow, u guys r bold!