Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Galeej Ways of G

If letters had personality types, the seventh alphabet would be ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. On the face of it, ‘G’ gushes with positivity. You think of Grace, Gentlemen, Grit, Guts, Glory, Goodness, Growth, Generosity, Genius and Godliness. Some of the world’s most desired brands begin with ‘g’. Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Google, Givenchy, Garnier, Gap, Guess and Gillette are as good as it gets. Even the celebrity line up looks eye-popping. You can’t better Gandhi, Groucho Marx, Ghalib, Grateful Dead, Gable, Garbo and Gavaskar, can you?

But there is another unseemly side to ‘G’ that no one has really cared to explore. It’s a streak that’ll make you think twice if you’re planning a sleepover with this character. G is Guy, Girl and Gay at the same time. If it’s Gandhi by day, it’s Godse by night. In appearance, it can be Garish, and Gaudy. In mannerisms, Goofy and Gauche. In moods, Grumpy and Grouchy. And in taste, Gory and Ghettoesque. Many people describe ‘G’ as a Goon, Gasbag, Goofball and Germ – all rolled into one!

The gawky aura that surrounds ‘G’ follows it in other cultures. In Hindi, the Gaali is the swear word, Galati is a mistake, Gadha is an ass, Gochi is a glaring error, Ghapla is a muddle, Gadbad is a messy situation, Ghar Jamaai is a wimpy husband, G*ndu is an oaf, Ghaati is a country bumpkin, Ghoos is a bribe and Ghotala is a scam. The profusion of G-words with a negative slant can even be felt in public discourse. High tech words like 2G and 3G are the most despised symbols of corruption in India.

The same trend can be spotted down south. Many slang words that border on the gross have a prominent touch of ‘G’. ‘Galeej’ is the downright dirty bloke, ‘Gilma’ is sexual pleasure, ‘Gabbu’ is stink, ‘Gujili’ is a smutty chick, and ‘Golti’ is the slur word for telugus.

Two of the most prominent baddies who symbolise gore and greed are Gabbar Singh and Gordon Gecko (of Wall Street). Also. Grim Reaper is the most dreaded figure in western folklore. Given this wealth of evidence, it’s silly to dismiss my theory as Gibberish, don’t you think?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

New Tamil Tongue Twisters

Shiva Ayyadurai is a Tamil-speaking Indian American. He invented the ‘Email’ that we all use today and he copyrighted it, way back in 1982. Logically speaking, he should either be a household name in the state of Tamil Nadu or the word ‘email’ should have been permanently enshrined in the Senthamizh Agarathi (Tamil dictionary).

Neither happened. Instead the purists continue to use ‘Min Anjal’ as the official term for ‘Email’ and Shiva Ayyadurai never made it to the Tamil pantheon of achievers. So much for local pride!

Anyways, the larger point of focus this week is the propensity of Tamil pundits to steadfastly stall any English influence on their lexicon. Perhaps, the irrational fear of being inundated by foreign words forces the lexicologists to shut the valve on cultural osmosis. The unfounded paranoia is the fuel for coining neologisms that nobody uses.

Let’s take the cell phone. Every Suppan and Kuppan on the street calls it the ‘cell’ or the ‘mobile’. What do the experts call it? Kai Pesi or Nadai Pesi! Can you imagine deploying it in a regular conversation? If you say, “Aiya, ungal nadai pesiyil oru kurum kadidham anuppa vendum, thaareergala?” every time you borrow a handset for sending an SMS, you will only get an ivan-oru-Kilpauk-case look from strangers. That’s what the puritans reduce you to.

I have never understood why the computer mouse needs another name in Tamil. Why would you use a ‘Chutti’ or a ‘Kaikaati’ as an option when you have the universally understood ‘mouse’? What’s the grand plan in educating people in Kannini Iyal (Computer Science) and filling their heads with esoteric terminology like Parimaari (Server), Pagir Menporul (Sharware), Visai Palagai (Keyboard) and Sol Seyalakki (Word Processor)? Do we want our Tamil educated software engineers to feel like Eskimos in Essaikimuthu land, when they do offshore projects?

Why can’t we let ‘browser’ be ‘browser’? Why insist on an ‘ulaavi’ as replacement? Which graphic designer on earth would prefer to call a font as ‘varivadivu’? Why would anyone choose a ‘valaipadhivu’ over a ‘blog’? Those who want to translate ‘selfie’ into ‘thannaithaaneypadam’ are clearly living in a world where ‘Facebook’ is ‘mugaputhagam’. Get over with it, thambi!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mirth in Meghalaya

If one were to handpick a namer’s paradise on earth, the hill state of Meghalaya should effortlessly make the cut even if the selection committee were high on hash and would be making their choice, blindfolded and all. The reason is charmingly simple: the citizens of Shillong and its sister cities have the funnest names ever.

Being a Christian majority state with a severe colonial hangover, Meghalayan parents apparently have a deep fascination for anything English. So, irrespective of whether a name has negative connotations or not, if the word is found appealing, the child is bestowed that name.

Blogger Rahul Karmakar recounts the curious case of a Gonghlah family where three girls were named ‘Institute’, ‘Constitute’ and ‘Prostitute’ simply because there was a rhyme to it! One has also read of a Khasi mom opting for ‘Million’, ‘Billion’ and ‘Trillion’ for her daughters. Perhaps she was into lottery tickets?

Six years ago, several international dailies went to town about how ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Hitler’, ‘Carter’ and ‘Kennedy’ were in the fray for the Meghalaya Assembly Polls. Some attribute this to the Meghalayan streak to bequeath famous names. Personally, I love the trend as it spices up the otherwise bland legislative experience. I’d rather be watching ‘Billy Kid A. Sangma’ firing away questions at ‘Frankenstein W. Momin’ than be subjected to the boring zombies we call MLAs.

A telephone directory in ‘the abode of the clouds’ could provide you as much levity as a joke book. In it you’re likely to discover: a rich man named ‘Hilarious Dhkar’ who is taken rather seriously in politics; the soccer player ‘Fullmoon Mukhim’ who waxes and wanes on the field; a priest called ‘Helpme Mohrmen’ who’s handily available for a confession; the motor mouth ‘Oral Syngkli’ who possibly had a dentist dad; the struggler ‘Laborious Manik S. Syiem’ who’s destined to never have it easy; the bloke ‘Shitlang Pale’ whose very presence raises a stink; the very lost ‘Dunno Nongpluh’ who doesn’t know if he’s coming or going; and the poor chap ‘Rockfeller Ymbon’ who has a wealth of experience in penury!

There are others with equally outrageous first names ranging from ‘Latrine’, ‘Submarine’, ‘New York’, ‘Thailand’, ‘Kilometer’ to the downright nerdy ‘Friction’ and ‘Process’. But the one that I like the most is the humbly modest ‘Clever Marak’!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Nattering About Nasranis

My first ever exposure to a Nasrani (the colloquial term for a Kerala Syrian Christian, derived from ‘Nazarene’ which means the ‘one from Nazareth’) was in primary school. I had a maths teacher named ‘Eliamma’. When she walked in and introduced her sweet self, the entire class was tickled. Being hard core Tamils, we were all wondering as to how anyone could name themselves after a lowly rat. Years later, I was pretty embarrassed at my ignorance when I found out that the ‘Eli’ in ‘Eliamma’ was simply a diminutive of ‘Elizabeth’!

So, recently, when someone made fun of the Kerala Chief Minister with a sly “How can a man be called Women Chandy?” I had to explain the cultural nuance to that oaf. He didn’t know Oommen Chandy was a common Syrian Christian name. Had he been told that ‘Oommen’ was a localised version of ‘Thomman’ or ‘Thomas’ and ‘Chandy’ was a Mallu way of communicating ‘Sandy’ or ‘Alexander’, he would have probably cocked up.

Come to think of it, even several hard core Keralites aren’t aware of the etymology of their neighbour’s surnames. I knew a guy called Eapen. I used to tell him his name sounded similar to ‘Aiyappan’. I hypothesised that perhaps both had the same roots. He nodded wisely. The fact is we were wrong. Apparently, Eapen and Esthappan draw their roots from ‘Stephen’.

There’s a wealth of material on the internet on the origin of Nasrani surnames. I wish to share a few pearls that caught my fancy. Are you aware that ‘Chacko’ is a distant cousin of Yakub that later became Jacob? Bangaloreans who are in awe of Koshy’s may not even have a clue that ‘Koshy’ is etymologically related to Joshua. I was equally bemused when I learnt that Varghese owed its existence to George. If that’s true then how come there are guys with the name ‘George Varghese’?

‘Kurien’, ‘Kuriakose’ and ‘Kuruvilla’ are, ostensibly, fruits from the family tree of Cyriac. ‘Mathai’ flows from Mathew. And surprise, surprise: ‘Ninan’ is a derivative of ‘John’; ‘Cherian’ - a descendant of ‘Zacharias’; while ‘Pothen’ is a by-product of ‘Philip’. Somehow I would have imagined ‘Pothen’ to be connected to ‘Botham’ or ‘Bodin’. I jimbly can’t figure out the Mallus, I say!