December 12, 2019
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Baara Bajey

Baara Bajey
KAZUO Ishiguro, the Japanese-born British novelist who has never been to Japan, once claimed at a literary conference that as a Japanese writer he had the right to be boring because the Japanese were destined to find new ways to be boring. Indians, I thought, have dedicated themselves to finding new ways of being offensive. The best racist jokes are not against Irishmen or Jews, but probably originate in territories not spiritually far from Delhi campus and are directed against their fellow-Indians, Sikhs for a start. The cornerstone of rudeness to Sikhs is the expression baara bajey which simple epithet, inevitably giving out a wrong reading of the time, every schoolboy picks up as something to shout at Sardarjis before running very fast in the opposite direction. The explanation I was always given for this puzzlingly abusive phrase was an evasive euphemism.

An uncle or some elder explained that Sikhs resent the expression because it is a tease about the mounting temperature inside a turban at high noon. It is of course, no such thing. If that were the case all hatted and turbaned creatures would be the objects of the abuse. The phrase originates in sexual envy and in the imputation, prevalent in European societies for black males, that Sikh men are more virile. The provocation originates in an image—the dial of a clock. At twelve o'clock the hands point upwards, symbolic of an erect phallus. In some societies and circumstances, this imputation of perpetual randy readiness would be considered a compliment. But now that both abuser and abused are oblivious of the origins of such flattery, I for one am not about to take the risk and pay the compliment to the next Sardarji I meet.

(Novelist, scriptwriter Farrukh Dhondy starts a weekly column about Indian words in common use in Indian cities)

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