Bitty Ruminations 58

Posted on July 9, 2011


I did know a lot of swear words in school, and I did use a lot of them frequently. It’s just that they were all in English. If I try to think back on how it all began, I suppose it was by giggling over nonsense rhymes like this one, which offered boys in uniform a sense of stepping over a no-trespassing sign:

When the Germans crossed the Rhine, parley vous
When the Germans crossed the Rhine, parley vous
When the Germans crossed the Rhine
They dipped their balls in turpentine
Hinky-dinky, parlez vous

And then we graduated — what a nice word to use in the context of school, “graduated,” as if we were getting a degree in higher education, which in a sense this absolutely was — to something slightly more hardcore, like this cunning bit of wordplay:

Areshole… Arsehole… A soldier went to sea
To fight for his cunt… To fight for his cunt… To fight for his country…

Eventually, with the arrival of wisps of facial hair, of which we were proud, so proud, the regular, PG-13 swearing (shit! damn!) expanded to accommodate fuck, bugger, so on and so forth. But it wasn’t until I entered college that I realised — at the ripe age of seventeen-something — that there was such a hole in my learning, for I’d never been exposed to Tamil swear words before (well, except maybe something like kundi ,but then that doesn’t really count as a swear word, does it?). And so in college, set adrift in a sea of native Tamil speakers (as opposed to me and a few of my classmates, who spoke a kind of Tamil at home, but mostly English in school, and the kind of Tamil we spoke at home certainly did not include swear words), my eye was well and truly opened, like Ali Baba before the cave of treasures.

It was in college that I learned that “pool” was not necessarily what you swam in and “kunju” was not always poultry, that “sunni” wasn’t always a Muslim sect, and “lauda” wasn’t necessarily an exhortation to speak up, and “coo” wasn’t always the sound of a demure dove, and “votha” wasn’t always something single. This was frankly an amazing education, and it’s certainly what I remember now, more than anything in my Engineering textbooks, many of which were simply bought at the beginning of a term and sold at the end, without ever being dislodged from the rack. I was a constant source of amusement and irritation to a friend from Neyveli, who couldn’t bear to hear me say “ouch” and “yikes,” and he used to burst out, “Ayyo, amma-nu sollaama ‘ouch’ enna vendi kedakku?” And then he’d accuse me of washing my bum in the Thames (which, I assure you, sounds far more colourful in Tamil). And I always thought I washed my bum in the Cooum.

PS: I don’t use these Indian-language words at all, but seeing films like Aaranya Kaandam and Delhi Belly brought back these fond memories of losing my vulgarity virginity.

PPS: And the reason I stick to English swear words is inexplicable — probably the fact that I’m used to them, but also that they seem to be at a distance. They’re like swear words dressed up in nice clothes, whereas the ones in Hindi and Tamil appear naked, too close for comfort — and yes, I know I’m not doing a good job of explaining this.