Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Of the Tamil Tongue

Six months old in the city of Chennai and I can boast of some familiarity with the Tamil language. At least I no longer think of “po” as an abuse word! Early this year when I was not even a month old in the city, I was rudely shouted at by a stout auto rickshaw driver who suddenly appeared in front of me from the wrong side. “Po!”, he thundered. I stopped in my tracks and let him pass. I walked back where I lived feeling very low for being shouted at. Not being able to keep it to myself, I blurted out the incident to my local host. I was not prepared for her reaction – the lady laughed heartily for a full half minute. Then, amidst crackles, she finally said, ‘”Po” means “go” in Tamil, the auto rickshaw driver wanted you to go first!” She laughed even more at my saucer eyes at the revelation.

I resolved that I must learn Tamil, at least the basics. Next day, I related the incident to my colleagues at office and laughed with them. ‘”Wanga” is the opposite of “po”’, they helpfully supplemented. I will surely remember the Tamil word for “come”, I thought to myself. I made the “wang” from “Wang’s Beauty Parlor” opposite where I live as the anchor point. I had begun to delight in my method of learning Tamil.

At the residence of my local host, two serials are watched on daily basis – “Arasi” and “Kolam”, and one weekly dance program, “Maanada-Mayilda”. I also watch them over dinner with the rest of the family. My brain connects the oft-repeated words, and I must say that now I have an impressive collection of words in Tamil whose meanings I know! The three words that top the list are – “rombha” – meaning “very much”, “a lot”, “many”. In its many manifestations, the one that is clearest to me is in the expression, “Rombha thanks!”

The second word is “saapaad”. It is a ubiquitous word, as common as “po” and “wanga”. I hear it not only in the serials but also several times during the course of the day. This is a word not to be missed. “Saapaad” means food. The third word is “sollunga”, means “to say” or “to tell”. I coax an answer from my host’s two and a half year old who is learning to speak English, “Nikkie, what are you doing sollunga……” He doles me out his standard answer, “I am standing”, he prattles, as he removes his mouth from the feeding bottle to answer me.

This is one part of the story. It is another matter that when I open my mouth to flaunt some of my knowledge of Tamil words, I am either laughed at by the light-hearted or given a Pickering-like lecture for the abuse of the Tamil tongue, by natives in serious love with the language.

All said and done, I take the cake in the end. Even the Higgins and the Pickerings look at me with awe for knowing the meanings of “maanada” and “mayilda”. Why, that is easy, what else do you call a deer-and-a-peacock-like dance in Tamil :-)

Notes: The words "maan" and "mayil" in Tamil translates into "deer" and "peacock", respectively. "Ada" translates to "dance".

4 comments:

A Curved Line said...

What AD? A Post on Chennai two months after abandoning it with such disgust! Can it be possible that you are missing Chennai! Working from home and keeping house is'nt as much fun as your daily romps around Chennai with your dogs aye? tsk tsk tsk.... You know we should have expected this from you.. being The Original Incorrigible.

ambrosia said...

mujhe bhootkaal mein he rehne do.... main Chennai bahut miss kar rahee hoon!

Vandya said...

I'm surprised to know that you're missing Chennai. Are you finding it difficult to manage both work and home? Don't worry, you'll get use to it. The minute I saw a date tracker on your blog,I was reminded of my contract days with LB. Even I had one tracker on my blog. Listen to this song from Moulin Rouge "One day I'll fly away."

ambrosia said...

Yes Vandya I am surprised too. I think it is the contract, I am not used to having my freedom curbed. I do remember your tracker! I thought I'd feel better with one too :) I heard the song :)