Friday, September 15, 2006

Seriously Kidding (!)

As a boy growing up and getting used to the ‘ways of the west’ I came across a lot of new expressions that had nothing to do with the English I knew. Words so very American like ‘gotcha’, ‘ahem’, ‘jeez’, ‘darn’ and my personal favorite ‘er…’ which would be dotted all across the material I read. My earliest memories of getting a glimpse into this ‘foreign world of words’ is via the various comics available all across India. Everything from Super Man to Archie would adorn the tables and shelves of my room establishing their domain with a lot of pride. If at some moment it would be Phantom – the ghost who walked - then at another it would be Tarzan – The King of the jungle. Every super hero who was familiar to the west was a member of my life as well.

The unfortunate part of this was that I never really got a chance to learn how exactly some of them were pronounced. After an embarrassing moment with my American-born cousin one summer I learnt a few things about understanding these words and their accent. It was then that all these ‘cool words’ finally made sense to my blossoming mind. As years went by and the influence of the west started becoming more apparent in India, my western vocabulary increased accordingly. Thanks to the many Hollywood flicks, TV shows, foreign tourists and cartoon strips - I was pretty confident about my familiarity with the ways of the west.

Once I decided to take the plunge and travel abroad a complete circle of this journey seemed to be taking place. With each passing year abroad my sense of the various cultures, lifestyles and their inherent stereotypes has also grown in quantity. New expressions like ‘Aww!’, ‘You know what I mean’, ‘For crying out loud’ and ‘No Kidding!’ are now part of my polished and updated vocabulary set. Not only do I get to use them a lot but they also have become so much a part of me that it is sometimes scary. The days when the word ‘Amma…!’ would pop out as an instinctive response to a cut or a burn is now replaced with ‘Jeez!’ or the more complete ‘Jee-zus Christ!’ or the more extreme sounding ‘Son of a…’. It is interesting what long term associations can do to a personality.

Despite these developments and adaptation of a new living standard, if there is one expression that has always puzzled me it is - ‘Just kidding!’ My understanding and appreciation of this two word mystery started becoming more obvious with every usage. If someone would use it at me then I would use at it someone else. It seemed like a great way to justify any statement irrespective of how grave it sounded or how much truth was in it. Adding this expression at the end of any statement would make the whole act of the original statement 'absolutely fine'.

Initially I would laugh back as a standard response to help myself fit into this grand scheme of things. I would even pat the other person on the shoulder with an earnest cackle. But with time I started realizing that there was a lot more to the statements than ‘Just Kidding’. Just the fact that the person thought of saying it had immediately made the emotion real. Just the idea that the person spoke the words before saying that it was a joke made the feel more authentic. At times I would even pause and reflect on the words that came out without the ‘Just Kidding’ portion and the results would be interestingly disturbing.

I personally have no qualms about people using it to get their real feel out in one way or the other. We all are humans and we need to vent at some point – fair enough. But the next time someone you know adds this little nugget at the end of their line, I suggest you wink back with a ‘Are you?’ so that there is an equal amount of deceit in both your conversations.

Just Kidding!


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