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A Toast To An Old Roast

Featuring Gaali Baazi, the scathing folk roasts of Jaipur – richly abusive and colourfully insulting. Need we say more? Edited excerpts from the article.

Illustration by Debasmita Dasgupta.

I was ready to take on Jaipur’s stifling heat of June and the cacophony of the chaotic traffic, but then came something hurtling in as a considerable surprise – an odd verbal assault, laced with such evocative prose and style, that I barely fathomed what hit me. I was standing in the courtyard of Kailash Gaur Ji’s cosy home in Khutainton Ka Rasta, a slim brick lane that mirrored hundred others, criss-crossing against each other to form the disorderly labyrinth of the blush-pink old city. From where I stood, a pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses of all shapes, sizes and textures, dressed in shimmering clothes, looked beatifically at me. Perhaps, they knew what was coming my way. The clutch of idols made the home resemble a temple. The already religious vibe was topped up with a tulsi plant propped right in the centre of the courtyard, and a small shrine by the main door homed a statue of Prahlad Maharaj – I was yet to find out about the illustrious man. To my right was a small bedroom, barely enclosing a diwan and a single chair, ready to spill out of the embrace of the walls.

Gaur Ji met me with a toothy grin, tinged with the nasty red of sustained betel leaf chewing. The lack of hair on his head had been astutely replaced with a cascading sheet from his chin. He looked like a man who hadn’t quite grown into his own home. He hopped over some scattered utensils, awkwardly maneuvered past a bucket and mug, and brushed against the tulsi leaves, to take my hand for a good shake. ‘Aaiye Aaiye’, he almost sang his hearty welcome.

I was here to meet Kailash Gaur Ji to chronicle the fading skill of gaali baazi, the folk performance of ‘competition in abuses’. Before I could launch into my string of questions, I felt his gaze stuck on an untimely ripe zit on my cheek. The kind that has the ability to strip you of all confidence, despite its diminutive size. Long grey beard swishing in the afternoon breeze, smile still back-dropped with red teeth, he stopped me short in the middle of my introduction, and was already in motion for a preface of his own talent. It went something like this.
“Thaaki sundarta par is muhaso nazar phirave hai,
Aur danyee taraf muhaso bhatka ashubh batawon hai.”

My quizzical look and louty grin gave away the fact that I hadn’t understood a word. ‘Don’t be too pleased. There is a visible blemish on your beauty,’ pat came the Hindi translation. As if the taunt was not bad enough, he didn’t hesitate to let me know that the older generation thought that a pimple on the right cheek was bound to bring bad luck.
‘This seems to be it,’ I thought to myself.

Illustration by Debasmita Dasgupta.
Supriya Sehgal is a serial travel guidebook author with words in over 30 Lonely Planet Guidebooks. Supriya likes to think of herself as a seasoned chronicler of the unusual. More about her on www.supriyasehgal.com.

To read the full story, click here.

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