The great art of remonstrance

The great art of remonstrance


Of all the ways my childhood was different from my children’s, perhaps the most striking one was how we were scolded. My mother had some choice terms for us. The mildest were emme (buffalo) and katthe (donkey), but there were good ones when the occasion warranted.

Shani (Saturn) was for times when we generally acted like mini representatives of the planet of ill luck, while peede (chronic disease) was usually thrown haplessly at us when we ignored orders to not walk around while the floor was still being mopped.

Clearly, she had access to a decent thesaurus. My father, although a man who loved words, had no rebukes worth their salt, and when the situation called for something severe, he usually gritted his teeth and left the place.

The scene at home wasn’t much different from others I saw around me those days. “Monkey!” “Pig!” and “Dog!”—in various languages—were shouts that little ruffians frequently dodged as they fled the scene of crime. Apparently, the animal metaphor was greatly favoured, but more precise terms that told us exactly what was wrong with us, like gamaara (bumpkin), hottebaaka (glutton), maigalli (work-shy layabout) and mushandi (unsociable churl) weren’t uncommon.

I often wonder how children in today’s urban India, probably more comfortable with English than our own languages, would react to these expressions if they could understand them. And imagine how hard it must be for a parent to hold on to her anger while translating those jewels into English. While my mother could wither me with a sharply hissed somari, today’s mom would have to do with the wimpy and pretty ineffectual “lazybones”.

When I began parenting, I was sure I was going to be a model of patience. The trick, I’d read, lay in gentle remonstrance and the calm withdrawal of rewards. But tranquillity didn’t last long. Early travails led me to test the waters with donkey and monkey, but understandably, they made no dent on children raised on Eeyore and Curious George.

When something stronger was needed, the unfamiliar words were met with blank stares, and my fund of invectives slowly dwindled.

Those forgotten terms would have remained buried in my memory if not for a recent chat in a high school WhatsApp group. A friend brought up the subject, setting off a chain of flashbacks in us all. In the happy reverie that ensued, many old favourites, and some that were new to me, were dredged up. Goobe! Kodangi! Pekara! Bepp-lashtaka! They flew all around me and, once again, I was home.