The “Maa-Behen” Of It All

Every civilization the world over is characterized by a word or phrase that immediately places it in a class by itself and uniquely identifies it. For 21st century India, it’s “maa-behen”. For the Hindi-challenged, it literally means “yo’ mama & sista”.

It all started with the “gaali” (cussing). If you ever want to swear (which may be more often than you want if you’re in India), you have the maa-behen gaali, which is an evolved and eclectic class of invectives that includes the Indianized version of “mofo” or “mutha-fucka”.

Pound for pound, a maa-behen gaali is the meanest badass when it comes to linguistic intimidation, achieving in a short volley what other words struggle to do even with increased decibel levels and aggressive body language thrown in. Because it hits where it hurts the most – below the belt.

So, let’s say your buddy ditches you for a late night romp with his current flame, who do you take it out on? That’s right. The poor sap’s mama. A “teri maa ki…” (your mama’s…) settles scores quicker than your buddy can remember his mama’s name. Those three innocent-looking dots there? Use your imagination, silly! Effective, no?

Add a “behen” to the gaali and you have just doubled the badass quotient of the gaali. For, now, the hapless sap has to remember not only who his mama is but also who his sista is, apart from imagining what the three dots are doing (or going to do) to them. Quite a predicament, if you ask me.

If you ever doubted that India’s a maddening, melting pot of cultures where its values clash harder than its lorries on the roads do, here’s the inexplicable proof – the mother of all contradictions if you will – the maa-behen lingo finds mention in the most revered of contexts too. Surprised?

The typical Indian guy reveres his mama like nobody’s business. If ever there were a reverence-for-mama industry, the top ten billionaires would be all Indians. Hell, all billionaires in that industry would be Indians. And all Indians would be billionaires. At least, those that had a mama.

As immortalized for ages by that classic one-liner in Deewar when Bachhan gloats, “Aaj mere paas gaadi hai, paisa hai, bangla hai, naukar hai, … Tumhare paas kya hai?” (Today I have cars, money, bungalows, servants, etc. What do you have?) To which Shashi Kapoor nonchalantly deadpans, “Mere paas maa hai.” (I’ve got mama). Riches getting mothered by relationships. Sweet.

In fact, Indian movies have immortalized two constructs that have had a stranglehold on fawning cine-goers for decades: “maa ki mamta” (mama’s love) and “behen ki shaadi” (sista’s wedding). You’ll find heroes in most Indian movies jumping over mountains fueled by the former and grabbing at stars to accomplish the latter. Like, who needs Superman or Green Lantern?

So, what gives? With so much reverence for Indian mama’s floating around, why the maa-behen gaali then? Hee hee. You forgot to read the fine print, dipshit. The reverence is for MY mama, not YOUR mama. Capisce?

With Indian politicos asserting their might as headline-grabbers in recent years, move over, maa-behen. It’s time for a new lexicon: maa-behen-didi (mama, younger sista, elder sista). There’s an Amma (equates to “mama” in South India) who distributes TV’s like pancakes, a Behen who answers each probing question from society or media with a new statue of herself, and a Didi who revels in chasing away businessmen for daring to, well, do business.

Actually, Indian politics is replete with such larger-than-life family figures with self-anointed titles of entitlement and endearment. Take your pick from “Tau” (elder uncle), “Bhai” (brother), “Beta” (son), “Damaad” (son-in-law)… well, that list is lengthier than the list of expletives you can string using maa-behen-didi.

Which brings me back to the gaali. A maa-behen gaali today, can therefore be above the belt, unlike its predecessor of yore. For those three dots (remember them?) can now mean something entirely different. A “teri amma ki…”, for example, can now actually mean “your mama’s pancakes”. Erm… on second thoughts, not very much above the belt, eh?

NOTE: This post is part of the Here and Now series (a satirical take on everyday happenings) on this blog. Read the previous post in this series: The Sex-ahon Line. Read the next post in this series: Hiss Of Love (The Indian Chamcha’s Take).

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