The origin of curses

An untold history of indian gaalis.

ITO Circle, New Delhi. Summer 2009

A Toyota Camry brushed past my Maruti Alto embossing a subtle scratch; Somebody appealed, and somebody caught the Camry driver off-guard like a third umpire. Camry took the brunt of Delhi-Wallah’s enviable collection of curse-words with his entire feminine genealogy denigrated within minutes. The victim, myself, could just mumble to pardon him, and was snubbed off with a hackneyed delhi phrase,

Aap tension na lo. Hum dekh lenge ji.”

(‘Dekh lenge‘ verbatim means ‘will look after’; it practically means a barrage of abuses and may be a slap or two)

Although, its a blasphemic topic to talk about, I was always curious about the origin of curses and abuses in India. Who was the first man on Indian soil to plant abuses on another? I look back at history in chronological order.

Pre-historical mythical era:

A still from Star TV serial Mahabharat
A still from Star TV serial Mahabharat

Ramayana and Mahabharata, the grand-epics of war with epitomic bad-men ‘Rakshasas’ and ‘Kauravas’ never mentioned about any abuse. Else, Bibhishana and Sugreeva would have been blasted black-and-blues with ugliest of abusive inventory. But, nothing! No such mention in Ramayana. Duryodhana and Karna did improvise a bit abusing Pandavas and Draupadi, when Karna called Draupadi ‘unchaste’ (dramatised by these TRP freak serial directors as ‘veshya’ and what not). Ved Vyas too would have scandalised the issue a bit. Still I believe, event was much milder in terms of curse-words as compared to ITO affair. And above all, disrobing kulvadhu‘s pride and womanhood can’t be compared with some random Alto car being brushed. If 100 curses were reason to kill Shishupal, half of delhi would have been dead by Krishna’s sudarshan.

Medieval era:

Ashoka-Colors
Chakravarty Ashok Samrat: A colors channel TV serial

Neither in Romila thapar nor in Satish Chandra’s medieval history, curse-words are accounted.

They might not be apt for a written history, but people like Huen-Tsang or Megasthenes could have mentioned about them. Why would the outsiders care to maintain decorum?

Pali language of those days could have had some encrypted ‘gaali’. But, why didn’t archaeologists find anything? As a natural reflex, they should have decoded all porn and banned stuff first.

May be all was burnt like Nalanda legacy. I don’t quite buy that argument either. Even if somebody nukebombs our country, atleast one curse-word would remain somewhere, on some facebook status, or some piss-sprinkled wall, or some public toilet or some chetan bhagat’s novel.

The muslim invasion and origin of ‘gaali’:

A still from TV serial Jodhaa-Akbar
A still from TV serial Jodhaa-Akbar

Only reasonable period attributable to earliest indian abuses, could be the period of Delhi Sultanate. In one of my childhood textbook lesson on Ibrahim Gardi, Ahmedshah Abdali called him, “Dozakh ke kutte“. And, that stays first documented abuse of Indian history in my memory. As most of these invaders belonged to land of unrest in middle-east, probably those war-cries and angry exhanges had permanently scarred their vocal cords. Words like ‘Dozakh‘, ‘Haraam‘, and ‘sahabzaade‘ crept over the people of India who were already tired of Sanskrit tongue-twisters like ‘kimkartavyavimudh‘. Soon, mutations and combinations gave rise to ‘apbhransha‘. How ‘Haraam‘ would have mixed with ‘Sahabzaade‘, and when ‘Matri‘, the revered maternal term, became ‘madar‘ and later to ‘Mother’, is pretty comprehensible.

Did Mughals really invent abuses?

Mughals or earlier muslim invaders are not to be blamed for curse-words for present day. Arabic language or present day Urdu are one of the most disciplined and respectful lingos, which has a certain ‘adab‘ and ‘lihaaz’, and distinct place for elderly and women. A sharp contrast still prevails between Delhi and Lucknow day-to-day usages.  In Lucknow, some would ask, “Aur zanaab, kaise mizaaz hain aapke?“. In a Paharganj hotel in Delhi, my friend was welcomed by morning chai-wallah, “Aur bhai! neend aayee ya machhadon ne maar lee?

British period

A still from movie 'Lagaan'
A still from movie ‘Lagaan’

Its pretty natural British would have pounded umpteen of abuses during their rule. But, only accounted and popularised abuse is ‘bloody Indian’. British and most of europeans even till date, aren’t much into sex-linked abuses, rather they are into scatological abuses like- bloody, scum, shit, faeces, dirt…and so on. That would have barely hurt Indians who never used a toilet-paper and loved to shit in open.

North-Indian origin: The aryan legacy or something else?

Coming back to counter muslim origin, my other contention is muslims of those days (and some even in present day) had consanguinous marriages, i.e. marrying within the family with some sister or cousin. North-indian Hindus stayed away from such traditions (rather its blasphemic to even think about such relations). Recently, one of the high-class polygamous woman is accused of murdering her daughter on this behest. Abuses based on such incestual innuendos are most prevalent today, and I believe they must have been brain-child of north-indian orthodox hindus for whom an incest could be the worst abuse.

Its not like south-indians would be less abusive, but their inventory must be much smaller than average delhi guy. Sweet-tongued bengalis probably have only one curse-word based on bengali word for stupid- ‘boka‘. In our college ragging days, we were told to utter abuses to the ceiling fan till it stops whirring. People from all states ranging from Bengal, Bihar, Madhya pradesh, Rajasthan tried their best but could not utter little more than filmy abuses like ‘saala‘, ‘kutta‘, ‘kameena‘ etc. But, when a punjabi began his ‘O teri ……’ , ceiling fan was almost shaking and about to fall at his toes.

Award winning scene from Movie ‘Omkara’.

While traditional crime hinterlands of Bihar and UP improvised on double-meaning Bhojpuri songs with roadside romeos uttering some cheap innuendos chewing paan, Sardaars (sikhs) and Jats of north innovated some hard-core abuses. A simple reason I could think is Punjab witnessed gory days of partition and terrorism which made the funniest and most gayful community burn in anger. Abuses may have emanated since Jaalianwalla Bagh and flourised till golden temple incident of 80’s. On the other hand, feudal lands of Bihar-UP witnessed suppression of dalits and lower caste by landlords in a derogatory way. So, the abuses were invented to laugh and scorn at them- subtle and punishing ones.

The days are over, and India progresses towards egalitarianism. From Dr. Dre to Honey Singh; Vishal bharadwaj flicks to Chetan Bhagat’s novels; MTV roadies to AIB Knockout; Rave parties to casual facebook posts. Abuses are a universal vogue entity. Some days back government was contemplating whatsapp monitoring. All they would have had is – porn and abuse collection for next decade. The beeps in movies prompt you to say it aloud, and the **** studded words appeal us the most.

Even if great Subhash Chandra Bose rises back from his grave, he would go back to sleep if he hears, “Bhaag bhaag DK Bose…….D K Bose.” and wonder if his land of ‘dharma’ has become land of ‘curses’.

If you are searching for some funky abuses for Nehru and Gandhi in his letters, remember it wasn’t us. It was the great orator and visionary Bose. Abuses are created by us, and hope next generation doesn’t get hold of them.

Jai Hind!

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Disclaimer: Author has expressed his fictional opinions and interpolations, which does not claim to have any relation to actual history.

Read also:

The complex origin of our favourite ‘gaalis’

5 thoughts on “The origin of curses

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