Why do we say phrases that make no sense, even to us?
Haylo, all you itching-for-calmness souls. There was just no need to barsao so many e-gaalis on me because I missed writing last week. Everyone is allowed a chhutti once in a while yaar, and now toh we are reeling under the festive spirit, so brain anyway ceases to function normally under the heavy influence of sweets. Basically, I’m giving an excuse for not having anything sensible to talk about this week too. And in absence of serious thoughts, my mind always veers to my favourite frivolity — wondering why we say, what we say. Am sure every culture and language in the world has its own charming oddities but nothing beats the way we in India beat logic. But before you pick up the patriotic stick to bash me, let me declare that I’m awfully proud of the unabashed way Indians, including myself, use certain phrases all our lives without even knowing the meaning, let alone the origin.
I’ve written about such phrases in the past too, but this week, my chain of thoughts started with a recent tweet by popular stand-up comic Tanmay Bhat, in which he questioned the logic behind a popular Hindi phrase Izzat ka falooda. Well, we use it when someone or something has insulted us... but why compare an awful situation like that with a perfectly awesome sweet beverage such as falooda? Did it never occur to the Halwais and falooda specialists in the country to protest? I spent some ten minutes of my - as you can see - highly productive time to think about the logic but finally gave it up and said bhaad mein jaaye falooda. And then it struck me. Where will the poor falooda go? Where exactly is bhaad? We use bhaad mein jao as an expression to basically tell someone to go to hell... but then hell is nark in hindi and jahannum in Urdu. Yeh bhaad kis chidiya ka naam hai. And why do we only say ‘chidiya’ ka naam...why not a crow or some other bird?
Seeking Sri Sri Google Baba’s intervention to find out the origin or meaning of bhaad also turned out to be futile initially, and its only after spending almost all of my highly productive time that day, I managed to find one definition of bhaad as the traditional wood-fired tandoor used in ancient Indian villages to roast peanuts. So basically, when you wish for someone to go to bhaad, you are sending the nut to...umm...other nuts, and he’ll come out nicely cooked and tastier in the process. After all this hard work, mere dimaag ka dahi ho gaya. Dahi? That highly nutritious, pro biotic milk product? Why compare a fed up, frustrated brain with the delicious yogurt? The quest for answers to these earth shatteringly important questions led me to discover samosapedia, a most hilarious database of such phrases on the net. Here are some of the finest gems, this time in English, on the site and my take on each of them.
1. Please do the needful: Anyone who uses this phrase in a letter is basically telling the recipient that ‘I want you to do something, but I don’t have the vaguest idea what that should be’. “Dear Sir, I observed that there were a lot of dogs pissing in the garbage at the blocked traffic light. Kindly do the needful.” (source: samosapedia). The word ‘needful’ that perhaps doesn’t even exist as a noun in the dictionary is being happily used in our official communication, passing the entire burden of decoding, interpreting and acting on what that needful is, to the one who receives it. Badiya hai.
2. Shame shame puppy shame: Uttered all over India, without any discrimination of caste, creed, colour or race, to tell a child that his or her pants are down. Chalo woh toh theek hai but what has the poor puppy done to deserve a mention in this phrase reinforcing national integration? Maneka ji.. are you listening? I saw a mother once even threatening her toddler- tumhaara puppy shame kar doongi. Am sure their puppy would’ve been more scared. Now, toh people even make puppies wear clothes. Shame kyun?
3. New pinch: Refers to the act of painfully pinching a person who has made the unpardonable mistake of wearing new clothes in front of a highly excitable breed like us Indians. Exhibited more by the female gender, regardless of the age, and mostly accompanied by an audible squeal of sheer delight. And oh, we also do something called same pinch. Understandably perhaps, since all women secretly want to kill the other one who’s turned up wearing the same dress or colour, but have to make do with just pinching. I’m pretty sure this new/same varieties of pinches are not delivered by human beings to each other in other parts of the world. We are so lovingly unique, I tell you.
4. Yours faithfully: Almost the entire country commits faithfulness or sincerity towards the others as we sign off all our letters with this phrase at the end. It’s another thing the content of the letter may border on a threat to murder. “Dear Sir, you have not paid the monthly EMI on your loan and we are now forced to send goons dressed as executives to take your car away. Yours faithfully.” How the hell are you faithfully mine under these tough circumstances, my dear bank? I will sue you in consumer court, get exemplary judgments passed and malign your name in dirt. Yours sincerely. Anyway, as you can see, these linguistic quirks are as many in English as in Hindi. And they are fultoo timepass, aren’t they? Chalo then, see you next week after having thought of a sensible topic. Is baar izzat ka falooda hi kha lo.
Sonal Kalra just told an American friend that bhaad is a must-visit in India. The friend is searching for it on the google map. Yours Sincerely.
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