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A wit-wit situation

columns Updated: May 08, 2010 22:23 IST
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Who said Indians don’t have a sense of wit? Trawl the Net and you’ll discover how inventive and clever we can be. But what has really surprised me is how good we are at devising puns and rhymes. In fact our command of multiple languages and cultures makes the possibilities seemingly endless.

My cousin, Nalini, has sent me a collection of home-made aphorisms gleaned from the world of Twitter. They were part of an infectious and exploding response to Swami Nityananda’s exposé. There is a theme that runs through all of them — they poke fun at the twin lives of the Swami.

First, there are straight puns. As is conventional, these juggle around simple homonyms i.e. two words that sound the same but have different meanings. However, in each case they’re also placed in apparent opposition to each other.

The simple ones are: ‘Missionary by day, missionary by night’, ‘Pray by day and prey by night’ and ‘Dear God by day, Thank God by night’. One step better are those that combine different cultures and languages to achieve the same effect. Here are a few: ‘Ram by day, ram by night’; ‘Bangalore by day, bang galore by night’; ‘Holy by day, holi hai by night’ and ‘Swami by day, Show me by night’.

Next are the aphorisms that rely on a very apposite sense of rhyme. Once again, notice the cross-cultural and multi-lingual use of words: ‘Sandalwood by day, Tiger Woods by night’; ‘Monk by day, Old Monk by night’; ‘Monk by day, bonk by night’; ‘Renounce by day, pounce by night’; ‘Chamatkar by day, balatkar by night’; ‘Sri Sri by day, Stri Stri by night’; ‘Shiva’s disciple by day, Chivas disciple by night’; ‘Swahaa by day, Aaah aaaaaha by night’; ‘Moral by day, oral by night’; ‘God-man by day, lay-man by night’; ‘Discourse by day, intercourse by night’; ‘Seer by day, leer by night’; ‘Mahadev by day, Kamdev by night’; ‘Shivlinga by day, cunnilingus by night’.

However, my favourites neither pun nor rhyme but rely on an inspired twist in meaning. Some are astonishingly clever. Here are a few: ‘Spiritual by day, spirited by night’; ‘Saffron by day, blue by night’; ‘Do-gooder by day, Good-doer by night’; ‘Incense by day, incest by night’; ‘Divine message by day, divine massage by night’.

But the winner falls into a category of its own. It relies on one of the world’s favourite nursery rhymes but then pulls it apart only to put it together again in a completely different way with the meaning quite different to what our parents originally intended. Here it is: ‘Baba by day, black sheep by night!’

Now if only Mani Shankar Aiyar had taken recourse to such wit, his description of Arun Jaitley could have met with ready smiles rather than protest. In response to being called a ‘half-Maoist’ by Jaitley, Aiyar referred to him in the Rajya Sabha as a ‘full-fascist’. It’s a tired and clichéd epithet and I can’t see why the BJP is offended. It’s certainly not Mani at his best.

Borrowing from the Cambridge Union, here are a few things Mani could have said: ‘When it comes to Mr Jaitley’s comments, it’s a case of mind over matter. I don’t mind and he doesn’t matter!’ Or, better still: ‘As for Arun Jaitley, he’s a finely balanced man with a chip on both shoulders!’ Or, best of all: ‘What can I say about Arun Jaitley? The poor chap’s a sheep in lamb’s clothing!’

The views expressed by the author are personal