“What the f**k is that a***hole saying,” I said to myself. “He deserves a hard kick on his b***s.” An intoxicated passenger was hurling the choicest of native expletives at the bus conductor. Such verbal diarrhoea isn’t the monopoly of the inebriated only; there exists perfect competition in a gathering of the masculine kind. Every sentence, in some cases almost every word has a preceding or succeeding gaali (abusive word). Following the universal tradition, most describe in a concise structure of a word or two, what the utterer intends to do with the recipient’s close female blood relatives or accuses him of doing the same (or some variations thereof).

For some the gaali culture signifies male bonding. But such bondings are best restricted within the confines of bachelor pads. It’s not that I don’t ever use swearwords (the beginning of the post gives some indication), but I try to restrain myself. Not all surroundings and people appreciate such explicit descriptions of incestuous liaisons. The gaali-culture has predominantly been a male domain, though I have witnessed the abilities of a few extraordinary women in this discipline. But variations of the evergreen MC and BC (suggesting incestuous relationship with mother, sister) replacing the female relations with their male equivalents won’t sound that effective.

Women often get caught in the crossfire at the office or elsewhere. Many of my female friends and colleagues have described the quality of language used by some of their friends or colleagues in unappreciative terms. Some even ponder whether this can be termed as harassment (of whatever kind). I feel uncomfortable when someone I hardly or casually know, converses with me using the same word as different parts of speech. This privilege is reserved only for exclusive buddies.

Some might pretend to find the foul-tongue of the native variety a bit downmarket and would prefer to limit themselves to the shits, cattle shits, damns, illegitimacy and the golden oldie f**k. The MFs and SFs are much lower down in the priority list (though some derivatives make interesting utterances). But in times of sheer frustration or extreme anger they give up their guard and let the floodgates of the vernacular open.

Here in India, kos kos pe paani badle, barah kos pe baani (the water changes every mile and the tongue every twelfth mile) and so do the gaalis. Many of us on landing at a new place attempt to pick up the local variations. The excuse that everyone gives is not to use them, but to comprehend when someone else does. When outstation friends come home for vacations, the local tea-stalls ring with more words of the vile sort in languages surpassing those listed in the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution.

The gaali may seem reprehensible and its prevalent practice is indeed not welcome. But as a medium to vent out anger and restraining oneself from causing physical harm – this profane practice does some social good. The gaali is also the power of the weak.

We school kids were shocked when the character of Phoolan Devi yelled, “Behanc**d!” in Bandit Queen. Brought up on censored films on Doordarshan – where even the word ‘bastard’ is still silenced – got to hear perhaps for the first time, the language we hear daily on the streets booming from the speakers of the dilapidated theatre. The unadulterated language of everyday life can’t ever echo inside a multiplex, it’s too harsh for the scissor-hands.

The saala (brother-in-law) – a supposedly less risqué and popularly used abuse across the barriers of generations and protocol – is in fact an upmarket BC. It implies that it is not the recipient of the gaali, but the utterer who has intimate relations with the female sibling of the recipient (not an original observation, read it somewhere). Think about it.

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