Nursery of Cursery: The Joy of Inventing New Gaalis

Social Commentary

Nursery of Cursery: The Joy of Inventing New Gaalis


here are so many ways boarding school can traumatise you. There’s the fear of being bullied or shamed, the spectre of sexual abuse is always looming in the background, and you can spend your entire life fulfilling the inadequacies you were once made to feel so keenly. In my case, the spectre is the use of what was cutely referred to as “bad language”.

In my lovely little alma mater nestled in the Himalayas, if you were caught defiling the pristine air by uttering a swear word, like say, “fuck”, or “bitch”, or even “damn”, the consequences were severe. Your school prefect would haul you up, take a hockey stick to your ass, and make you wash your mouth with soap. You were then made to go around school with a placard hanging from your neck, which read, “I am a bad boy who uses filthy language.” This actually happened to a friend.

So petrified was I of this humiliation that I don’t think I ever uttered an expletive in public until I passed school. And then, it’s like I promptly fell into a tub of filth. Now I use fruity language to express a range of emotions: utter joy, total disgust, abject fear, unreserved anger. And I am very befuddled by my own behaviour.

I know some part of this is me playing out my childhood fantasies, finally breaking the rules with no consequences. But there is a paradox here, because I love the elegantly written word. I love poetry and can drop the right Tennyson or Eliot quote in any situation. I read compulsively and love the theatre. I consider myself a man of refined taste. Why then, has my spoken vocabulary shrunk to the size of a shrivelled dick?

If I had a good therapist, s/he would mine my subconscious to lay the blame squarely at the door of another person. The nursery of my cursery was monitored, I think, by an early mentor who shall remain unnamed. In college, straight after classes, a bunch of us young actors would go to his decaying mansion on Sardar Patel Marg and rehearse for plays that we would put up at Delhi’s prestigious Kamani Auditorium.

This man was a genius when it came to swearing. He would swear at his actors, set designers, carpenters, girlfriend, and drivers all the time. But his swearing was fair and without discrimination. I picked up so much from him, particularly during the gaali competitions we used to have. During one of these, he pulled a mic-drop moment on me, when he said, “Saari gaali tokri mein, tokri teri bhosdi mein.” Loosely translated, that means, “All the swears in a basket, and the basket up yours.”

Such thrill, such liberation, to be able to twist a language into this crude, unsophisticated Play-Doh profanity, to achieve the satisfaction that no amount of rebuking, yelling, or reprimanding can offer.

Yet recently, when my 13-year-old daughter accidentally let slip an inadvertent “fuck”, I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do.

After you’ve eaten the forbidden fruit, what hope of looking back? From there on, I actively began to cultivate cursing into my speech. Each time I let my imagination loose and created a deeply original and wildly inventive gaali, it was like getting a fix.

If I indulged in a spot of pop psychology, I’d say that this deep sense of satisfaction, so rare today, is the reason cursery has exploded all around us. Part of it has to do with the atomisation of culture, the TV-fication and simplification of ideas and thoughts, and the consequent breakdown of language. The fact is, people do speak this way all the time, peppering their daily communication with “shit piss fuck cunt cocksucker motherfucker. And naturally films, TV, art, and literature reflect this reality, adding to and amplifying the trend.

Maybe we wouldn’t consider it so gross if we’d read In Praise of Profanity by Michael Adams. The writer argues that labelling bad language and profanity as taboo is a form of oversimplification – and that it is a valid form of communication. Adams tells us what I’ve long suspected: That we swear not only to release ourselves from the constraints that bind us, but also to come closer to the people around us. I’m certain that the young team in my office is glad that I can let out a well-timed, well-aimed, and well-intentioned “fuck”, instead of constantly dropping Tennyson or Eliot around them.

I’m surprised I’ve never had a serious discussion with them about the word “fuck”. It is easily the most universal abuse in the world. What is it about the word that makes it so popular? We’ve all tried options – fish, feck, frick – but nothing comes close to that delicious, anticipative rumbling of “fuhhh” followed by the sudden Germanic halt of “cckkk” that does a venerable job of an exclamation mark for every utterance. There are the untold joys of prefixing (fucking idiot), suffixing (motherfucker), and trochaic-ing (absofuckinglutely). And then there is that liturgical profanity to end all profanities, Holy Fuck.

But even as I continue to soar on the wings of fuck, I doubt I will ever be able to break free from my roots. In strong contention to the phonetic perfection of fuck, is the equally satisfying “behenchod” with the same Germanic hard landing. Or the very, very casual flow of “chutiya”. (As a feminist, I feel compelled to add at this point that almost every gaali is misogynistic, but when we use them, they’re already stripped of their literal meaning. They’re simply audio releases from our soul into the ether, and you’re a chutiya if you take offence.)

Yet recently, when my 13-year-old daughter accidentally let slip an inadvertent “fuck”, I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do. I could tell from her expression that she was expecting a yelling. But all I did was narrow my eyes a little. What else could I do? She’s heard me use it so often, I’d be surprised if it didn’t find its way into her vocabulary. And who knows, perhaps it may give her the untold, if sheepish, joys it has given me?

Osho once said that if God is dead, then we need another word to replace him. And that word is fuck. In this brilliant speech, he holds forth on the many joyful ways one can use fuck. I find new meaning every time I hear it. And then, because it’s Osho, he ends with a great climax: “And it is very healthy too. If every morning you actually do it as a transcendental meditation.”

I do. You know, for some inner fucking peace.