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Amritsar Calling: The expletive repository of the nation

Amritsar Calling: The expletive repository of the nation

The folks in Amritsar are accustomed to a more colourful rendition of the mother tongue, way more deep-rooted to the expletive traditions than we refugees.

My father once told me that the most derogatory term in Kabul was Pisreh khanzeerast. Thus, calling someone the son of a pig in Farsi was sacrilegious to the hilt. Shamshirs and Pulwars would be drawn out of scabbards and gunpowder added to the muskets as a consequence of such abuse. Heads were set to roll. We had a shop you see, a branch office at Afzal Market, so the educative experience. In our home though, the wildest swear word was Dad calling my sons Ullu da Patha, and that would set the boys, then just onto their two feet, in a tizzy. And for them to repeat that in front of old relatives became a game which had them all rolling with laughter. That I was the owl, and the butt of the joke was inconsequential and actually bothered me not at all.

That was all that we from the Pak Peshawar belt were capable of. And being called a pig, a cute porcine at that, or an owl, wise as it is, is kinda light-hearted banter in our present circumstance.

The folks in Amritsar are accustomed to a more colourful rendition of the mother tongue, way more deep-rooted to the expletive traditions than we refugees. Here, the habit of punctuating every half-sentence with the choicest abuses, of at least a Myeen as a hint of one, is a sign of bravado, something that sets apart the men from the boys. And what better medium than Punjabi to carry the expression? The moment you adopt this format, it’s a catalyst to comradeship, perhaps even an initiation to the brotherhood of Ambarsar. So, either you abuse well and thus be accepted, or not enrol and thus be segregated and ignored.

My mum would talk of this as rust of the tongue, zabaan da jangaal, coming off. Except that the rusticness of the Ambarsari tongue could set WD40 a challenge since the supply of insults is almost infinite in their vocabulary. As soon as a couple of citizens gather up and a few abuses sang forth, eyes light up with interest, the body language changes, adrenaline rushes and excites, hearts start pounding and souls unite. Pure pleasure ensues.

The galis and mohallas of the walled city have been the repository of this colourful oral legacy of an otherwise holy city. If you were to test your eardrums to the vocabulary of the typical Lalla, the tradesmen of the bylanes, you would bear testament to it all, the extent, and the diversity. The mother, the sister, the wife, parts of the genitalia of both sexes, the butt are all subject to the inclusivity of Gaal Punjabi. The permutation-combinations thereto are in many scores and juicy as can be. Those of us who do not relish this scourge, the usage can be an affront to the senses, truly sexist and terribly chauvinistic. But the beholders are many and so are the exponents.

And if does liquor be flowing, then the choicest and the lustiest profanity flows forth with abandon. Just the other day, my neighbours had a few friends and relatives over by a bonfire. They singed my senses and my audible devices within minutes. And to think that half the gathering was of women was unthinkable, but true. The fact is that on many occasions their laughter and banter was louder than that of the men. Khudah Kasam. This is a trait adopted by the fairer sex, one that has become evident more of, of late. First, it was just an odd cuss word thrown in for shock and awe, then more fluent flow to drive home the comfort of usage. Emancipation of sorts if I may.

The children learn swiftly as well as if incubated for a cause. The teachers in school pull ears and punish, but the influences are many, from parentage to peers, from the shop keepers to the common man on the street, siblings, and cousins as well. And the Ambarsari kids take to this abhorrent verbal tradition like fish to water. As it is, adolescence is always a time of rebellion, of exposure to the vagaries of discovery, and for the prolific adoption of all that is less mundane and more exotic. Sounds like a lot of fun, more fire to a heated moment, impactful to peers, and something that bugs the elderly. Perfect.

The English lexicon falls terribly short by comparison. Frankly, these days it seems to be stuck to one F-word. I believe, especially after seeing much of Netflix lately, that the F-word is the most passé excuse to lack of vocabulary, expletive or otherwise. The Ambarsari thesaurus, on the contrary, has a pregnant bounty of thoroughly effective and mirthful engagement in langue Punjabi. Battameez for the audacious, murakh for idiocy, bhaareh da tattoo for the sycophant, bhutanee da for one with deeper demonic intent, ser phireyaa for that rowdy kind, khasmaan nu khaneyaa a hot favourite with no real translative substitute, dangaar for the downright ass, phaphe kutnee for one who has the ability to cause constant pain, rich effrontery to name a few of the type the editor may permit to print. You could actually roast and burn a person to the hilt and yet laugh it off as good humour.

But the serious big abuses, the colloquial choicest, can make the opponent livid and equally responsive. Perhaps we need to open our repository to the world, as an educational degree or a certificate course. Spread the good words around to improve the prowess and richness of other languages. An export of sorts. Maybe even patent the profanity before the other stakes claim. We have so much to spare and much to share. In contrast, they have so much of learning to do to embellish their tongue, and we to globalise our hidden talents. Copyrights thus must be filed post-haste, lest Lahore next door lays claim for some of this shared heritage.

I am a bit of a prude on the profane spectrum. Thus, almost all friends and associates desist from engaging with me openly. So, one has been left out in the cold on more occasions than not. It’s that kind of thing. Especially in those growing years, if you open up your heart and soul, you become privy to all the fun. Only then flow the tales, the luscious gossip, the pornographic pictures, and the Playboys. Or the brotherhood sets you apart, even ostracises you. Such is the predicament one has suffered from this sheer lack of vocabulary support from the beginning. But the fact is neither of my parents nor even our relatives engaged in the lexicon of the expletive. Therefore, the quandary of absorption and usage, and the dearth of capability. Alas. No regrets, however, since no tongue cleaners needed to be put to use and the sheer beauty of the languages enjoyed to the core.

One still recalls when we friends, old Franciscans, went for an uphill trip, a dozen of us just out of school. At the bonfire, where alcohol and banter were in full flow, song and dance happenstance, legs pulled and secrets divulged, a robust show of “knowledge” ensued. As if one were playing Pictionary or antakshry. Amidst this competition of the foulest, a buddy much like me was enthused to curse the worst curse possible. Fairly afflicted by the booze he tried really hard but could not go beyond the kutta. Ridiculed, prodded, and encouraged further, he rendered the haramzada. That by then he was at the end of his tether, red-cheeked and crimson eared is not enough to say. However, all of a sudden there was this sense of accomplishment in his demeanour, and generous air of acceptance in the group. Such was the limited stockpile available to us, the unenlightened souls.

In fact, why blame the Ambarsari or the Punjabi, for misogynistic cuss? Come to think of it, all the four-letter words and even the five-letter abusive English verbiage in use, by the emancipated gender-neutral generation of contemporary millennials, is female-centric. And there are no gender exceptions here. Both the sexes in this generation, the happening crowd of this city, use it equally in common parlance. Perhaps we need to emancipate ourselves entirely from this scourge once and for all and go back to the richer legacies of our tongue.

All said and done, the colourful spectrum of the Ambarsari Punjabi is beyond compare. So next time in town, ask anyone on the street for a lesson or two. Better still engage in an argument in the walled city environs and record the flow. Believe you me, you will equip yourself for the world at large, with ample shock and awe in your armoury, for life.

(Gunbir Singh is an Amritsar-based author, environmentalist and philanthropist )

©Indian Express

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