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New vocab to swear by

WHAT are some of the first words you learn when you move to a new city with a different language? Apart from the introductory phrases, it’s mostly the gaalis that one picks up while warming up to a new culture. But a closer look reveals that most of these swear words are either rooted in gender and caste biases or have communal overtones. “Slangs embedded in misogyny have always bothered me. Even when two men argue, it’s a woman from a minority community who is targeted,” shares Tamanna Mishra, 36, a communications consultant from Bengaluru. Mishra adds that during the lockdown, she and her friend Neha Thakur noted that online content was popularising politically incorrect slangs. “It seemed to us that a lot of these swear words making their way back into mainstream language are coming from OTT shows, stand-up comedy, etc. We felt this was a shortcut to increase viewership without thinking of the impact of such words,” Mishra says.

The duo then decided that they wanted to change this language of discontent, one phrase at a time. And the result is the crowdsourcing initiative, The Gaali Project. Thakur, a former data analyst from Mumbai, tells us that the duo had been wondering how to spread the word about “clean slangs” for a while. “The hate speech controversy surrounding Facebook triggered us to launch the project in September, inviting people to send us words of discontent that are not casteist, communal, or gender-biased slurs,” adds the 37-year-old.

The duo has been posting #gaalioftheday with memes, paintings, and creatives. PICS/The Gaali Project
The duo has been posting #gaalioftheday with memes, paintings, and creatives. PICS/The Gaali Project

The friends assert that almost every Indian language consists of phrases to vent, without targeting any community, which we don’t use. After amassing a collection of around 800 such phrases, they have been posting #gaalioftheday daily, locating each slur’s origin, history and usage. Take for instance, “kivi mele hoovu”, a slang in Kannada, which literally translates to flower on the ear, but is used to tell off someone trying to take you for a ride. Or “aiyo mudiyala”, a phrase from Tamil Nadu which means intolerable. From playing around with a Raja Ravi Varma painting, to using the picture of a charged-up Rohit Sharma to convey the Marathi phrase “gheun taak [bring them down]”, the duo uses memes, film stills, and fun graphics to drive home the message.

Tamanna Mishra
Tamanna Mishra

Mishra and Thakur cross-check the history and usage of every entry. “We’ve got so many entries which are laced with biases. This shows how oblivious we are to these deeply embedded problems,” explains Mishra. But building the vocabulary has also given them an insight into the beauty of languages in India. “Urdu has the most graceful expressions of frustration. Then there’s Kashmiri; most of their phrases are associated with folktales. For example, “batakh poth” means a duck’s backside, which is said to have the gift of turning the eater into a blabbermouth!” Thakur elaborates.

Neha Thakur
Neha Thakur

When we ask them why they’re building a vocabulary of swear words, they reason that in India, there are enough triggers to put one off. “From traffic to personal lives, there’s so much to rant about. Expressing your frustration is not a bad thing. You just need the right words,” Thakur concludes. So, the next time you’re pissed off, dig into a new dictionary to vent. Our pick to call out a trouble-maker, like the year 2020? “Bawaseer ka naasoor”, Urdu for pain in the backside.

Log on to The Gaali Project on Facebook; thegaaliproject.in

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