“Taraf” is a Farsi word the connotation of which is a part and parcel of Indian life. The word has been the most useful addition to my vocabulary in recent memory, and you shall presently know why. “Taraf” in Farsi is equivalent to the Arabic “Taqqiya“, meaning “Concealing or disguising one’s beliefs, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions, and/or strategies at a time of imminent danger, whether now or later in time, to save oneself from physical and/or mental injury.” The practical application of “Taraf” in Iran is making promises to please the listener, while having no intention of doing whatever was promised. Somewhat similar to the concept of formality. So this post is about Vocabulary in general and Taraf in particular.
Life is much simpler when you have a rich vocabulary across languages (including expletives). Not only do you express yourself clearly and succinctly without resorting to elaborate descriptions for lack of a better word but also you can get yourself out of annoying conversations through a very careful choice of words. Given the training that the Indian education system gives us, vocabulary for most is synonymous with that red coloured fat book that people resort to while preparing for GMAT, GRE, SAT, CAT… in short like most other things, we decide to work on our vocabulary when we need to clear exams. And as in the case of those most other things this should not be the way. I never had an interest in those exams but given my inclination to talk and articulate myself with utmost clarity, a good vocabulary was indispensable. So words were always scribbled on switchboards of my hostel rooms, sticky notes had them and sometimes even on the mirror. A direct consequence of which was super inquisitive souls visiting my room, seeing the words and starting with their, “You are also taking GRE” rhetoric. In this country you can’t be interested in something unless you have an exam to give on that something.
Coming to the recent addition of Taraf. Well, people have a flair for making empty promises. “I will always love you.” Taraf. “I shall never forget you.” Taraf. “In your hour of need you can count on me.” Taraf. “We shall stay in touch.” Taraf. “We shall do another trip.” Taraf. These are the few ubiquitous examples that come to mind. There have been specific instances in the recent past where after listening to some classic bull…. I just uttered Taraf and felt a load taken off my soul! That the person had no clue what I was talking about and with my smile that followed assumed it must have been something innocuous only made it that much more amusing.
The pleasure of being able to utter the correct word at the most appropriate moment is highly underrated. The timing and the style. It’s truly liberating. If you have seen the short film “Ouch” then you would have an idea of what I am talking about. In the last scene, the protagonist (Manoj Bajpai), completely fed up of all the chaos, vents out his frustration by uttering an expletive the style of which just nails it, achieves what a thousand other words wouldn’t be able to.
The power of a good vocabulary lies in making you feel confident that at least as far as expressing your feelings go, things shall never get out of hand, provided you want to express them, that is. If you have a countenance that doesn’t have a filter between your thoughts and your expression, then a vocabulary is your best bet at disaster management in a socially awkward situation (to maintain social bonds or sever them altogether!). As Bertram Wooster expresses his feelings in a Wodehouse short story: “I’m never at my best at describing things. At school, when we used to do essays and English composition, my report generally read ‘Has little or no ability, but does his best,’ or words to that effect. True, in the course of years I have picked up a vocabulary of sorts from Jeeves, but even so I’m not nearly hot enough to draw a word-picture that would do justice to that extraordinarily hefty…”
That’s it. It’s all about the ability to draw a word-picture.