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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 4, june 1-15, 2010
Our Readers Write

English as she is in Chennai

MMM’s ‘Some Unique Chennai Words and Phrases’ in Short ‘N’ Snappy (MM, April 16th) made amusing reading. These words and phrases and even some sentences have been handed down from generation to generation, enriched by additions from time to time.

Many of us think in Tamil and express ourselves in English, an alien language for us, and the outcome is a confluence of languages.

Let me add a few examples I have heard over the decades. Some bringing out a smile and some ‘unsahikable’ as well.

Haven’t heard of a person commanding “Keep the gate kadavu open”, “Put that kurichi chair in nadu centre,” and “Give the guests cool drinks in kannadi-glass tumbler”?

And haven’t you met people who pour out their tales of woe to bring tears to your eyes lamenting their bad times and ending up blaming their insufficient times’(Anglicising a typical Tamil expression!) and saying what is ‘head written’ by Brahma has to be endured?

Then there’s the staff member who came to office after a week’s absence and thus explained the bandage round his head: “I had a big boil on this side of my head and the doctor punctured it.” And the old man who was complaining about the state of his health and said, “I can’t tell you when my head starts ‘rotating’. Sometimes it ‘circulates’ so fast I fall down unconscious.”

Obituary notices in the newspapers can sometimes make you laugh: “We regret to announce the death of ABC on Monday April 24, 20... (Does the regret refer to the day, date or month of death?) after a brief illness/prolonged illness/suddenly died in his sleep, leaving behind his wife, sons, daughters, grandchildren (Was the deceased going to a hill resort in Switzerland or elsewhere leaving behind his family?)”. What about the ‘Death notice’ of a person survived by wife, sons, daughters as though the entire family had met with a tragic accident in which one died and others survived!

A Tamil tourist guide made some foreign tourists taste South Indian idlis, coconut chutney and sambar. The guide explained “sambar is made of ‘tiger water’.” Responding to the tourists’ shock, the guide went to the kitchen and brought out a little tamarind (puli in Tamil) and said, “This is our tree tiger, its fruit and juice make sambar tasty.” For the less educated in Tamil Nadu, an English phrase turns into Tamil, phonetically, ‘kerosene oil’ becoming ‘krishnoil’ taking a divine identity!

As consolation, we have a spicy appetiser, ‘milagu thanni’ (milagu rasam), that has become ‘mulligatawny soup’ and continues to be famous in England. It is mentioned by P.G. Wodehouse (“Memories are like mulligatawny soup in a cheap restaurant. It is best not to stir them.”) The fact that the word is not underlined red on the monitor screen shows it has been accepted even in the dictionary!

Lack of proper usage and no conception of popular meaning can be embarrassing too. Recently a Chennai English newspaper carried an advertiser’s supplement on Furniture and offered “Zorro: Queen bed + 1 night stand + wardrobe + dresser for Rs.83,700.” Someone with Casanovian mindset would be tempted to ask for the price of a Queen bed plus a 1 night stand only!

Tamil cricket commentary is a brave attempt to translate English terms into Tamil but with no appropriate words around, commentators have to stick to English terms. Spin bowling can become suzhar pandhu veechu, bat mattai and ball pandhu, but what about LBW, square cut, and silly mid on?

We have to be tolerant. What else can we do whenever we hear English spoken in a way it shouldn’t? “People are like that only – what to do?”

S. Radhakrishnan, T. S. Gopal
A7, Luz Apartments, 146,
Luz Church Road
Mylapore, Chennai 600 004

Steel silver

MMM’s critical analysis of Chennai words and phrases (MM, April 16th) made an interesting reading. In fact, I remember that in the 1950s when the weekly magazine Kumudam introduced a tit-bit corner ‘Ean koodadhu?’ (Why not?), my friend Balu wrote on ‘eversilver’ thus: “When eversilver has no silver in it, why not call it ‘neversilver’ instead of ‘eversilver’?”

He was happy to see his name in print and was also awarded ten rupees! However, though middle class housewives were busy in exchanging old clothes for eversilver utensils, the elders in the house objected to using them for religious rituals as the stainless steel contained iron in it!

Bhilai Gopalan
F-6, Sankara Flats,
1, 6th Cross Street
Shastri Nagar,
Chennai 600 020

Who’s a co-brother?

In his column, while dealing with unique Madras words and terms (MM, April 16th), MMM refers to ‘co-brother’ as another word/term used for brother-in-law. I was told from a very young age that co-brother was the term used to address or refer to a person married to one’s wife’s sister. Please elucidate.

Seshagiri Valangiman

Note: MMM explains, as far as he knows, there is no such relationship as ‘co-brother’.

Coordinating the cities

The population of Chennai’s 167 is estimated to reach 59 lakh by 2026. This translates to 33,522 people per sq. km. or an undivided share of 321 sq. ft. for each citizen. If you remove the common areas like roads, drains, parks, water bodies, etc. the actual share will come down by 30-35%. The city centre will have over 100,000 people per sq. km.

Unlike Bangalore, since Chennai is on the coast, it has to expand in a semicircle, making the balance area of 1,013 in the metro area to be farther away from the city centre. Thus the 66 lakh people living there will need to commute much more than others.

Added to the woes is the political decision to keep Chennai the capital of Tamil Nadu instead of shifting the administrative capital to the heartland of the State while keeping Chennai as the business capital, as done by other planners worldwide, like Canberra, (Australia), Washington D.C. and Brasilia (Brazil).

K.V.S. Krishna
2A, Parkland Apartments
Kamalabhai Street, T’Nagar
Chennai 600 017

Shop signboards

Chennai is not one city but a multicity. So are the other metros or mega cities of India. People of many states – far and near – and regions have business interests in each such city.

To impose installation of Tamil signboards (MM, May 1st) on shops and establishments by the city Corporation and to fix a deadline of May 31st seems unfair and unwarranted.

A policy of laizzez-faire is what is needed.

Of course, standardisation is desirable as in Hong Kong and Singapore, but do we have competent personnel in the Corporation to ensure aesthetics? If attempted, it will only lead to corruption. The expected result will not be achieved.

Tamil cannot be ‘developed’ through signboards, but the ‘script’ can be artistically produced!

R. Soundararajan
1/46, Sivasakti Nagar
South Palpannaichery
Nagapattinam 611 003

Errors & omissions

A reader (MM, May 16th) has followed up my remark on the two Coromandel natives with a request for sketches of those taxa.

I notice that the printer’s error committed in my letter has been unknowingly perpetuated by the correspondent. Nauclea (NAUCLEA) was misspelt as Nauciea in my letter published in MM, April 16th.

Also I noticed that a story on the Museum complex (MM, May 16th) makes no reference to Edgar Thurston and his magnificent contributions to the Madras Museum! I wonder why.

Dr. A. Raman
Charles Sturt University
P.O. Box 883
Orange, NSW 2800


In this issue

Road widening is NOT the answer for City’s traffic
River basins, not stretches, should be looked at
Travails of city bus travel
Adyar Poonga gets ready for the public
Historic Residences of Chennai - 43
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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