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Friday, October 12, 2012

The Language Conundrum

First week into my college in Chennai, I was coming to terms with speaking in Tamil and getting ridiculed whenever I made a mistake. Which was painfully often.
The first one was fairly straightforward:
"Can I have 1 packet Thirtham*?" I asked the shopkeeper, only to have the girl next to me breaking into peals of laughter.
"Thirtham and all you will get only in temple ma. I will give you Thanni", Said the smug shopkeeper giving me the packet.
With that extreme-brahmin and grammatically incorrect Tamil background, I had my first major issue when a couple of the loafers around the college started following me to the bus stand. After about 100 metres, one of them gathered enough strength to come and talk to me.

"Madam, time enna?"
"3.00 pm.".
"Enga poreenge??".
Annoyed by then, I shouted:
"Enna vittudoye da! Please".
He smiled and went back to his friend.
Friend: "Dei, enna sonna??".
He (all excited): "Da Sonna da!".**
And they giggled.

That incident taught me two very important lessons:
  1. The first step in learning a new language should be knowing all the bad words. No really. Else you leaving a trail of gigglers behind you. 
  2. We humans are predominantly vain, and end up seeing compliments or terms of endearments even in straightforward insults.
* Thirtham means pure water that one usually gets in Temple. Somehow, the Brahmins (I think) call normal drinking water as Thirtham too.

** (Translated)
"Madam, What's the time?"
"3:00 Pm"
"Where are you going?"
By then I was nervous and shouted:
"Leave me Dude/Yaar. Please."
He smiled and went back to his friend.
Friend: "What did she say?"
He (All excited): "She said Dude/Yaar!".


Archana Chari said...

*guilty* I laughed loud at the thirtham bit. There are reasons I know only the bad words properly in hindi :)

Archana said...


anisnest said...

thanks for sharing this Archana.. your story also reminds me of my "sugar" incident.. when we were new to Chennai at my 5th grade, I went to the shop and asked for half kg "chenni".. it took a very long time for them to understand that "sakkarai" is also called as "chenni" in south..