Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Beep, beep

Publication: The Times Of India Delhi;
Date: Oct 11, 2011;
Section: Editorial; link- http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/edit-page/Beep-beep/articleshow/10306893.cms
Page: 14
Beep, beepFamiliarity breeds contempt, goes the adage. This also holds true about the words connoting contempt. My fear is that epithets once considered the choicest are getting devalued due to their overuse. Profanities cannot be treated lightly. They have their own significance, an ‘estranging’ effect as the formalists in literary criticism would perhaps say. They jar, intensify, condense, turn ordinary language on its head and render the meaning more perceptible.

Ask a policeman its worth and he would sing encomiums. A common man regulates his blood pressure by chanting the swear-mantra when the current goes off, discusses the price of petrol, vegetables, milk, describes the systemic frailties of the country or refers to a politician. The ‘SMS’ industry is raking in the moolah as most of the messages exchanged do not deal with lofty thoughts.

There were times when even the innocuous ‘abe’ in addressing a person was frowned upon by elders. No sooner did he hear the words ‘I swear’ that one of our English teachers would send the boy reeling with a rap across the face, though the poor boy would only be referring to vowing while explaining his conduct. The comic books of yore would denote a character’s venting anger by the universally understood symbols of percentage, spiral, star grid etc (% # * $). The adjectives uttered were left to the reader’s imagination and experience. Cuss words were so sparingly used in society that during the initiation rituals, fresh entrants in engineering and medical colleges had to undergo special training to attain knowledge of the meaning, usage and appropriate pronunciations of these words in chaste vernacular. The seniors were obviously concerned as they knew that the newcomers had been only bookworms until then and had to be initiated in the practical world.

Swear words have had their place in our culture as well. The singing of ‘gari’ – raunchy songs – holds an important place in the wedding ceremonies. The festival of Holi is another example. They perhaps are instances of society’s mechanism of venting against established social mores in favour of the dominant. It might be Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s ‘carnivalisation’ at work where there is a momentary disruption of hierarchies of a social structure.

Invectives shock because of their uncommonness. Imagine the jolt if even the most sacrilegious of us hears a respectable elderly man or a lady mouthing foul adjectives. Times, however, are a-changing. Words considered offensive earlier are being ‘automatised’ (in the formalist terminology). Addressing one (who really was not one’s) ‘saala’, not very long ago, could lead to serious repercussions in mutual relation. But now, no more. Now, ‘saala’ is just another word for exclamation, just like another ‘S’ word – ‘shit’. Sentences in the western part of UP and Punjab seem incomplete without a fair sprinkling of the ‘B’ word. Social sites have sanctified the ‘F’ word and it is used with aplomb by teenagers as the elders cringe with embarrassment.

Bollywood has had a vital role to play in taking our vocabulary to new heights. When kids start lisping ‘saala’ and ‘kaminaa’ – grand adjectives to what was once considered the sublime emotion of love, and the art of dance – the words become part of everyday speech. It seems that it won’t be long before Dada Kondke’s puns will be taken as the figurative language of our film industry; after all, the language in some of today’s films is being dubbed as that of realism. As Shelly would have said – if ‘saala’ comes, can ‘D K Bose’ be far behind? My only fear is: How shall we express our disgust when all words for it become part of the routine!