Sarcasm runs in my family. It is a disease, partly inherited and passed down the generations, probably in an autosomal dominant pattern, and partly acquired after living for long, with people who have this constitution. It is an art, a science, a peculiarity, dormant in most of the general population, but provided in unlimited supply in my family and often spoken as second language. Bade buzurg first, so let’s start with my grandmother. Raising seven kids on a farm and managing house work was a monumental task. So if a domestic help was cutting work and the house was unclean with stuff strewn about, she’d exclaim, “ Bhai waah ! Kya kehne ! Ghar kitna chamak raha hai.” No “What were you doing all this time?”, no “Why is the house so dirty?” and no “What are we paying you for?”. Just a saucy wisecrack that made the other person feel sheepish and generally did the trick. In the midst of these daily nitty gritties, occasionally came in some light moments. So if she walked into someone wearing a flashy dress, instead of feigning a compliment, she’d say, “ Oho ! Poore kamre mein ujaala ho gaya.” (Chuckle!)
Down the family tree, came my mother. Padai-likhai was an important thing in our home, so if my sister and I were caught doing matargasti during our “do your homework, for god’s sake” hours, there was plenty we had to listen to… “ Haan beta, dekh dekh. Aur TV dekh. Kal yehi movie aayegi test mein.” Or “ TV bohat zaroori hai. Exam ki padai to ho hi chuki hai.” If we were uncovered snoozing while pretending to study our books ‘thoughtfully’, pat came the smart-alecky remark – “ Nahi, nahi.. aur sole ! Kal raat ko kahan neend puri hui thi! Thak gayi hogi.” And a ‘late’ night outing with friends usually ended up with Mom calling at 10pm, “ Wahin raho raat bhar. Ghar kyun aana hai ? Abhi to bohat jaldi hai.”
With such tough acts to follow, my dad was eager not to fall behind. Hinting at him to drop my sister and I to a mall in his car, I would ask him, “ Papa mall jaana hai… kaise jaien?” leading to his response, “ Kaise jaien ? … Hawai jahaaz mein chalenge, beta.” Top that. My housekeeper, who is family, and has lived with us for many years, acquired the sarcastic traits from us over time. Seeing me dressed up in a kurti and ‘short’ shorts to go out with friends, one day, she remarked, “ Bahar jaa rahi hai ? Acchha… To kapade to pehen le…” Didi !… Aap bhi ?!
Coming to the extended family, stories of my uncle are legendary. In one such instance, once my uncle was driving his car and was lost for directions, stopping every five minutes to ask a passerby to guide him to his destination. After half an hour of frustrated drive, he stopped again and asked his son, my cousin, who was in the passenger seat, to go to a shop and ask them for the whereabouts. My cousin absurdly asked him, “ Kya poochun unse ?” This broke the dam and my uncle retorted, “Unse pooch ki mujhe marna hai. Kahan jaake marun ?”… Sarcasm, at its pinnacle of glory… Which brings me to my aunt, who too, has inherited this hereditary quality. Cleaning up his room at his mom’s ultimatum on a lazy Sunday, my cousin innocently asked her, where to keep a certain item. And my aunt’s kickass rebuttal was, “Mere sar par rakh de.” At another time, had he asked, “ Kya karun ?” when told to do his chores, the knee-jerk reaction would have been “ Naach mere sar pe !” Touchdown.
So engrained has been sarcasm, in my family’s cytoplasm, that not a day went by without a comment witty, strung together with satire in a little ditty. And I am sure they have passed down this trait, to our generation straight, so we have been bestowed with the genotype, and have acquired the phenotype, of this particularity, with conviviality. And if you are lawyerly and need a proof written, surely you can hear it in this piece if you listen. They say sarcasm is a skill of the wise, to thwart stupidity some theorise. And some are its masters in disguise, and should probably win a Nobel Prize. So long live sarcasm and some quick wit, and cheers to those who giggle and get it.