I realised my parents referred to masturbating as “shaking” on the day they caught me in the act.
Don’t give me that eye-roll because let’s be honest, it’s happened to all of us. The only thing that varies is the point of the process when it happens. If you’re lucky it’s at the extreme ends of the spectrum; if you’re unlucky then it’s in the middle, at peak point of the drama. I was lucky. My future kids were neatly nestled in a wad of tissue and I was just about to pull my pants back up when she raised the alarm.
Mum: That is wrong, you need to fear God. This is a house of God, doing that is not allowed here.
Dad: (still groggy) Doing what? What was he doing?
Mom: He was, (hesitantly), shaking that thing.
Me: (By now, the “Shake That Thing” hook from “Get Busy” by Sean Paul was playing in my head) I actually had a rash I was scratching.
Dad: Shut up! I was a boy too, I know what you’re doing, what you think (sic), I don’t know why you take so long in the toilet. I used to shake too, but then I realised it was wrong. It’s a sin.
As my dad ranted, all I could think of was why the hell was he calling it a shake! First, it’s technically incorrect because it implies movement across three axes and second, it ruins milkshakes forever. Why couldn’t he have gone for jerking off, shagging, stroking, wanking, playing your own fiddle, punching the clown, strangling the one-eyed snake, making the mole cry, beating your meat, and so on. Why shake??
But shaking, it would seem, is embedded in more cultures than guilty Catholics.
For instance, in rural Maharashtra the phrase most often used is, “Nunni halvat hota.” The literal translation being, “was shaking his penis.” An alternate word for nunni is lulli, and aand and aandva are used liberally when talking about testicles (penile etymology in India deserves its own documentary).
As wrong as it seems, quite a few cultures have used words to describe masturbation that are predicated on the premise of shaking. Closer to the sea, the Marathi “halvat hota” becomes the Konkani “haloi ta” which sounds remarkably similar to “hallelujah” which coincidentally is a literary ejaculation. (Every time I read old prayer books as a child, they instructed me to say a line followed by the ejaculation, “hallelujah” leaving me wondering if God or the printers want us to have sex.) Agreed, an erect penis resembles a joystick, but using it as such is like a shortcut to a penile fracture, just ’cause it doesn’t have a bone, doesn’t mean it can’t be broke.
Muth maarna sounds like you decided simple masturbation didn’t give you the jollies anymore, so you went for a solid punch in the dick.
A non-shaky alternative to “haloi ta” is “dhon khecha”, where dhon = penis, and khecha = pulling. It is a phrase I learnt working with some pretty randy Bengali cooks. Every time I’d clock in late or be running behind on prep, one of ’em would walk over to me, smack me in the ass, and go, “Itna time kyu lagta hai, dhon khenchne gaya tha kya bokachoda?” (Why does it take you so long; do you run off to masturbate, you arsehole). With time I got quicker with my hands, rose up among the ranks, and asked interns in a particularly nasty tone, “Kidhar tha gandu, dhon khich raha tha kya bhenchod.” On hearing this the Bong brigade behind the burners would erupt into peals of laughter.
One day a new dishwasher asked me what dhon khecha meant. I explained and learnt a new phrase in return, “handshake”. Chotu, the Rajasthani dishwasher, enlightened me to the fact that in brothels around the city, a rub and tug is referred to as a handshake, a brief, concise, literal no-nonsense term for an act that occurs when you have no money to go all the way but still want the hands-free experience. This was coined no doubt by the hard-working women in brothels. When you work in the appalling conditions they do, and have to turn tricks at an astronomical rate, I guess you don’t need the verbosity.
Over the years, I’ve realised that human beings have come up with a plethora of terms to describe the simple act of pleasuring yourself. It’s like we can’t bring ourselves to call it what it is, so we scuttle about inventing a series of shorthand signs that all sound distinctly violent.
But nowhere is the violence more apparent than in – you got it – North India. In most of the northern part of India, self-love is equated with punching out your own dick. Or muth maarna. How? Why? Muth maarna sounds like you decided simple masturbation didn’t give you the jollies anymore, so you went for a solid punch in the dick. No wonder Delhi’s so violent, muth maarna, chill maarna, goli maarna… the beatings never end.
A comparatively tamer phrase prominent from the north, but used all over India, is “ikhsat baasath” (61-62). Originally coined to describe the way a woman with a badonkadonk walks, it became a phrase for the literal act of sex, with ikhsat meaning in and baasath meaning out, or the other way around depending on whom you ask. Eventually, some unlucky guy was probably called out for doing the ikhsat baasath by himself, probably by a bunch of laundas on a lawn in North Campus and the phrase stuck. Now ikhsat baasath is a blanket term for a host of sexual activity.
Ikhsat baasath is cute, but it’s got nothing on the classy spin to the act put on by the speakers of Urdu. The Urdu phrase for masturbation is “jalaq lagana”. As with everything Urdu, this has to have a sense of refinement and grandeur attached to it. It automatically evokes images of Mughal emperors grabbing their miniatures with a bunch of giggling courtesans in the foreground. I wonder if “Jhalak dikhla ja” was playing in their heads as they watched the emperor go at it.
It’ll be a while before I can get that image out of my head. All I know is, the next time my daddy trots out the inelegant “shaking”, I’ll have a series of euphemistic counters to throw at him.