Embarassing Secret # 31:
As a kid growing up in India, reared on a steady diet of trashy Bollywood films, I often came across the expression 'mai ka laal' . Except that the combination of a limited knowledge of the vernacular and an overheated imagination meant that I always understood this to be Mica Lal - obsidian warrior, man of pure grit.
I can see him now - a sort of mineral Eastwood - eyes like grey flint and a jaw of weathered basalt. Lips drawn back in a sneer to show the worn pebbles of his teeth. His strength was igneous, his rage volcanic. I pictured him walking along the roads, the tarmac melting to tar with the fury of his presence. I imagined him picking up handfuls of sand and crushing them to diamonds of sheer anger in his fists.
His resilience was legendary. Again and again the pickaxes of the enemy would hew him down, again and again the steamrollers of oppression would subdue and crush him. And yet at night you could see his eyes glinting with vengeance, and come morning he would be at it again, spitting curses like flecks of rock at his opponent's car, the rattle of his threats like a machine gun against the enemy's armour plating.
They said he was merciless, said he had a heart of stone, but I knew that beneath that harsh, crusty exterior lived a transparent crystal, pure and shining, reflecting love in a thousand planes.
As I grew older, and finally figured out the real expression, I have to say I was disappointed. Who was this milksop who had replaced my metamorphic superhero? What was so special about being a mother's son?
It's rare that I hear the expression used now, but when I do, I can't help feeling a twinge of nostalgia for my man of shattered earth, my chipped crusader, my boulder in arms. My Mica Lal.
 For non-Hindi speakers: literally, 'mother's son'. Usually used as part of a general challenge, as in "hai koi mai ka laal jo...." ("Is there a mother's son among you who will..."). The related challenge usually involved some incredibly terrifying feat, like fighting barehanded against an armed villain, wrestling with a tiger or trying to romance Hema Malini.