Setting – Somehwere in Delhi in 2008, soon after the infamous Monkeygate scandal invoving Harbhajan Singh, aka Bhaji, and Australian player, Andrew Symonds.
TILAC – The International List of Approved Cusswords
- Son of a b**ch
- . …
- . …
“What the hell are you doing Dhruv?” I asked. I leaned forward to get a better look at the list he was preparing. I was not mistaken. It was indeed a list of cusswords.
Without lifting his head, Dhruv replied, “This is TILAC – The International List of Approved Cusswords!”
“The WHAT???” I gasped.
Dhruv raised his head and gave me a smug look. “I know! Isn’t this a revolutionary idea?”
Noticing my blank look, he exclaimed. “Didn’t you get it? Haven’t you heard about the Monkeygate scandal – the great Bhaji-Symonds controversy?
“What has that got to do with this?”
“Everything!” said Dhruv in an exasperated tone. “See, the root of the controversy was that Harbajan, our beloved Bhajj, cussed Andrew Symonds in Hindi. Nothing revolutionary, just the typical North Indian expletive, equivalent to Motherf****r. Symonds, not knowing Hindi, assumed he was being called ‘Big Monkey.’ Now, nobody except Bhaji really knows what he said that day. And though the Aussies downgraded their charge of racial slur, they’re not really happy about it.”
As I tried to get a word in, Dhruv hurried, “Just think about it from their viewpoint. The Aussies have a tour coming up in Pakistan. Now what’s to stop one of the Pak cricketers from calling Symonds a monkey and then coming up with a rhyming cussword in Urdu?”
“Nothing, I guess,” I conceded.
“So, I’m going to propose to ICC that they come up with a list of 101 approved and standardized cusswords. I have already written down 21 cusswords in TILAC. I’ll send TILAC to them as an open document to which they can keep on adding cusswords as they get approved. Each international cricketer will be asked to memorize TILAC. As long as they use a cussword from TILAC in the field, no fine or charges will be levied against them. But beware a cricketer who uses a cussword that’s not in TILAC! Not only will he forfeit his match fee, he might also be suspended. This way, there will be no chance of any further controversies and cricketers can focus on playing cricket.”
I could see where all this was coming from. Ever since Dhruv was certified as an ISO auditor, he’s been bitten by the standardization bug. One day he had the gall to suggest that I make another chapatti for him as the one I had given him was larger than the standard 4.5″ chapattis that he claims I usually make. Of course, after an icy glare from me, he hastily started eating the offending, non-standard chapatti. Well, I don’t mind his standardization as long as it is not for something I cook or wear so I just asked him about the two things that had struck me most about what he had said.
“Why specifically 101?”
“You know, 101 is such an auspicious number. By using that number, we can virtually guarantee international peace,” Dhruv, the eternal Brahmin, said enthusiastically. “And did you notice—the acronym TILAC sounds just like “Tilak,” which is again so auspicious.
I’ve never comes to terms with the conflicting streaks in Dhruv’s nature. He saw no irony in using an auspicious number for cusswords. I shrugged and moved on to my second question. “All the words in your list are in English. Don’t you think that gives a definite edge to English speaking countries? I’m sure all the Asian cricket playing nations will protest against this injustice.”
“You have a point there,” Dhruv conceded. After nibbling on the back of his pen for a while, he said, “Well, I could cut down on the English words and add about 10 Hindi cusswords along with their translation in English. Then, it’s up to the ICC. It can ask a representative from each of the cricket playing nations to add 10 cusswords from their native language.”
He paused for a moment and then continued in a strident voice, “In fact, now that I think about it, TILAC should be a joint work of all cricket-playing nations. And why limit it to cricket? Don’t soccer players sledge each other? Don’t hockey players hurl insults at each other? In fact, why limit TILAC to sports? Don’t our politicians call each other names? Didn’t Saddam Hussain yell expletives at President Bush? I think all nations should come together in the preparation of TILAC. TILAC will be the next great harbinger of international peace…”
As he paused to take in a deep breath, I interrupted “I hate to say this but I think your TILAC is going to spark regional wars much before it gets a chance to bring in international peace.” Ignoring Dhruv’s hurt look, I rushed on “If you just include Hindi cusswords, what will Sreesanth do? I’m sure he knows a few, choice Malayalam ones that he would want to use.”
“You’re just saying that because Sreesanth is a Mallu like you,” Dhruv said irritably.
“No honey. It’s not that,” I cooed. “Leave Sreesanth, don’t you think Saurav would know some good Bangla ones and Bhaji would be more comfortable with some Punjabi ones.”
“You are always trying to find fault with my brainwaves.” He got up abruptly and started moving toward his study.
“You could always expand TILAC to a 1001 list,” I called out after him.
He gave me a haughty look and closed the door of the study. No doubt to research on regional cusswords on the Internet. Whatever he might say, Dhruv pays a lot of attention to what I say. I went into the kitchen to start preparations for dinner. As I sat chopping vegetables, I chuckled at the thought of what his friends might say if he asked them to send 10 expletives in their mother tongue. Knowing Dhruv, he would probably start an online forum asking people to contribute to his list. But jokes apart, I had to say there was something to Dhruv’s idea of a list of approved cusswords. If cricketers were forced to use only approved cusswords, they would probably stop using them at all. After all the “fun” would go out of it. And that would probably be for the better. I started imagining a world free of cusswords. By the time, my vegetable stew was cooked, I had convinced myself that Dhruv was on to a good thing. Even if TILAC might not make the world a better place to live it, it would at least rid us of controversies like the Bhaji-Symonds affair that had marred the Indian tour of Australia in early 2008.
The shrill ring of the bell interrupted my musings. As I moved to the door, I realized that I had not hear a sound from Shravan, our 11-year old son, for a long time. He must have slipped out earlier. I opened the door to find Mrs. Arora, mother of Shravan’s best friend Somu. Mrs. Arora lives in the block next to us. One look at her was enough to confirm that this was not a neighborly visit. Mrs. Arora looked furious. And on either side of her were Somu and Shravan, both looking slightly dazed. Obviously, they had got a good doze from Mrs. Arora. I wondered what Shravan had been up to. I had never seen Mrs. Arora so upset. Before I could open my mouth, Mrs. Arora marched in dragging Somu with one hand and pulling in Shravan by his right ear.
“Do you know Mrs. Pandey what your son was doing?” she demanded angrily. It must have been something really bad because she usually calls me by my first name. I looked at Shravan apprehensively who immediately started shaking his head.
At this moment, Dhruv joined us. He must have heard the ruckus. He turned to Shravan and said, “Come on, tell me. What did you do?”
“Arrey, how will he tell you? He must be ashamed of himself. It was such a good thing that I had kept the door to my room open so I heard everything he was saying.”
“Mrs. Arora, just tell us. What did Shravan do? Did he hurt Somu?” I asked.
“No, no Mrs. Pandey. This is much worse. I wouldn’t have bothered you if it had just been a fight between them. Everyone knows children fight. That is normal. But what your son is doing, that is not normal baba,” Mrs. Arora said shaking her head.
By this time, my heart was thudding furiously against my chest. What had Shravan done? Had we been neglecting him? It couldn’t be drugs. He was too young for that. Was it…?
“Mrs. Pandey, you won’t believe me. Your son was teaching my son CUSSWORDS!” thundered Mrs. Arora. “And that is not all. Do you what he was hiding from me? THIS!”
Mrs. Arora thrust a sheet of paper in front of us. Even without looking at it, I knew that it must be the list Dhruv had compiled. Shravan must have pocketed TILAC while our backs were turned. I turned angrily toward Dhruav. After all, this was entirely his fault.
“We….I….that list,” blubbered Dhruv looking from the list to Shravan.
“Pandeyji, I can’t believe how an 11-year old could come up with these words. Imagine a child actually preparing a list of cusswords!
“Uhh…woh…it’s the influence of television jee,” lied Dhruv while silently pleading with Shravan to keep quiet.
“No aunty,” said Shravan. “Papa made that list. I saw him making it.”
“Hain?” The surprise on Mrs. Arora’s face would have been funny if the situation was not so tense. “Somu, I forbid you to ever play with Shravan again. If father is like that….” Unable to find suitable words to express her anger, she tore the sheet into four pieces and threw it down in front of us. “Chal, Somu.”
She turned and led Somu out with a firm hand.
And that was the end of TILAC – the great harbinger of international peace.
Categories: Short Stories
Leena T Pandey
I have been reading voraciously since the age of five when I first discovered the joys of reading. I would lap up anything in print. Unrolling an emptied newspaper cone with one hand, stuffing roasted peanuts in my mouth with the other, all the while devouring the printed content on the cone with my eyes, was one of my first experiences in hedonistic pleasure.
In fact, sometimes I feel that I am on an adventurous journey through the secret dreamworld of other people's imaginations, interspersed with occasional visits to my own life to attend events like graduation, first job, marriage, and so on.
As a true-blue reader, I think I am uniquely qualified to comment on and critique other people's works of labour. I can tell exactly what puts the average reader to sleep, what sets their pulse racing, and what has them salivating for more.
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