Author Archives: Rabia

About Rabia

Muslim Pakistani-American. Born and raised in LA area.

Urdu childhood rhyme

Context: The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both from Pakistan originally. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. He currently lives in Southern California in a joint family and has also visited Pakistan multiple times since he was very young. His extended family in Pakistan includes many young uncles and cousins who are closer to his age than his parents’. The informant recalls his older cousins would say to him, jokingly, when he was in trouble,

“___ ke bacche

daal daal kacche”

which literally means “___’s child, uncooked lentils”. He elaborates that this was meant as a warning, to scare him into an apology for some misbehavior, because it was always said a precursor to someone “tattling” on him to a parent.

Analysis: The informant explains that it is a saying that everyone, including himself now, says to children younger than oneself. He says that he has never thought about the meaning, and only remembered and said it regularly when teasing his younger cousins because it gave him a sense of authority over them (since only people older than you would say it to you, usually) and because it rhymed, so “it was easy to say and easy to remember”. He continues, “It was just, like a fun, teasing thing to say to the little kids, like you would joke with them but you wouldn’t actually get them into trouble.” From his own words, the informant seems to have recast the saying, not as the veiled threat his older relatives would use against him, but as something to relate to younger kids with.

From a more objective perspective, lentils are one of the staples in many Pakistani diets (i would venture to say, in many South Asian diets too). Uncooked lentils, however, are not very useful. So the rhyme could be commenting on the “bad boy”‘s or “bad girl”‘s lack of worth–no one wants you if you’re going to misbehave. Also, it could be a veiled warning that you’re about to be “cooked” or put “in hot water” or “raked over the coals”–that is, punished. The significance of not referring to the child by [his own name], but by “the child of [his own name]”, could be a reference to the fact that South Asian cultures are patriarchal and patrilineal, so knowing who the father is, is very important. Calling a child his/her own father may be a veiled way of saying they have no father and are therefore the object of shame.

Urdu slang insult/swearing

Context: The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both from Pakistan originally. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. He currently lives in Southern California in a joint family and has also visited Pakistan multiple times since he was very young. He recalls a curse his father would say “when he got really angry”:

___ ko goli maar/ ___ ko maro goli

which means literally “Shoot ___ (with a bullet)” or something close to the English profane phrases “F*ck ___” or “Screw ___”.

Analysis: As a swearword, this phrase is relatively straightforward: the speaker is expressing how little they care about something; so little that if the other person were to shoot it, it wouldn’t bother them. The fact that the informant is male and he learned from an older male family member suggests that it is a phrase that is most commonly used by the adult males of the group in the company of other adult (or sub-adult) males. This suggests a certain respect for the opposite sex, or at least a divide between them. And the fact that the word is a violent one instead of a sexual one (like f*ck or screw) may imply that there are certain taboos around sex that are not present for when dealing with or discussing violence.

“This is Buggy”

Context: The informant is an 11-year-old resident of Southern California, of Indo-Pakistani descent. She lives with two older siblings, parents, and grandparents and attends a public middle school in the South Bay area. She has close friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds, and the following narrative sequence is one she learned from one of these friends while she was still in elementary school.

Transcript of video:

“This is Buggy!

Buggy says hi!

Buggy can fly!

Yay for Buggy!

Oops, Buggy died.”

Analysis: The informant says she learned it only a couple years ago and remembered it because she “thought it was cool” and “kind of funny”. The informant relates that she enjoys many types of art, including drawing and painting, and often is in charge of making signs for events among her friend group, like yard sales and party invitations. So the personal appeal to a young artist or craftsperson is obvious.

I think the general appeal here is similar: the fact that with a few simple drawings and letters, an entire story can be told with little effort. The idea that there are just enough fingers on a person’s hand to write “T-H-I-S” on the knuckles, and then fold different fingers to show different words, must be appealing to kids who are just starting to appreciate the difficulties of both language and tactile crafts such as beading, painting, or cursive handwriting. The simple story is also humorous and a common enough occurrence: trying to save a little bug only to find that you unfortunately don’t know your own strength; or simply the humor of seeing something that causes many small children, especially girls, some anxiety–“creepy crawlies”–being put out in such a messy and unceremonious manner helps them cope with those anxieties indirectly while not being called out as a “scaredy cat” or a “sissy”.

Tuntun-Tuntun-Taara

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Billi ne chuhe ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Chawkidaar ne chor ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

 

Translation:

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock (Chorus)

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat killed the mouse

Hai!

(Chorus) x 2

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

The guard killed the thief

Hai!

(Chorus)

Analysis: For some reason, similar to many Western nursery rhymes and lullabies, this song is a particularly violent one. It talks about the elimination of a small threat (a mouse) and then of a much larger, much more serious threat (a thief). But this elimination takes place in a very definitive, violent manner–murder, essentially. Unlike Western lullabies, however (some that come to mind are Rockabye Baby, Rain Rain Go Away, Old Daddy Long Legs, and Sing a Song of Sixpence), the violence is not perpetrated on children or seemingly innocent bystanders, but on entities who do pose a real threat to the health and safety of the child and indeed the whole family and therefore could be said to “deserve what they got”. Mice spread disease and could ruin a family’s crop and thereby cause them to starve. Thieves also could cause financial ruin and would not hesitate to do away with any family member who discovered them robbing the house in the dead of night. In rural areas, or places that didn’t have a very trustworthy law enforcement and protection system, the idea that there were people (or animals) that would be able to protect a child from harm must have been very comforting.

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.