No matter how much I made fun of the people below Madhya Pradesh who shall remain unnamed lest I am tagged a racist, fate ensured I live in close proximity to them. My ears could initially pick up nothing that sound different from andre-pandre, a language which people otherwise call Tamil, but these days, I am trying to train my otherwise linguistically challenged ears to understand bits and pieces of Tamil.
Baby Kalyani is getting her first lessons in Tamil too, but she, with a total of 4 teeth, 2 above and 2 below, barely speaks anything coherent. So I made a list of the key words and literally rattafied them (like some say, learnt them by heart). Now whenever G converses andre-pandre, I recognize it to be more than andre-pandre, picking up certain key words here and there.
Fluent in 3 Indian languages and English, I had long forgotten my initial lessons when mother would have made me repeat words after her and taught me the syntax and grammar of a language. I find myself a kid again, learning the basics of a language because it drove me insane, living in a house full of people and not understanding a word of what they said.
So I started with learning that “ongo” added to a verb made it a sign of respect (like Telugu people add andi to respect others, no matter how scandalous it sounds). So “poh” means go and “pongo” means please go. Also “wah’ means come and “wango” means please come. You have to excuse my spellings here, since I spell things exactly the way I hear them. I tried adding words of my own that rhymed with pongo and wango, like tango and mango, but it seems it makes no sense in Tamil. I would only think if you were to call a man with respect, you would call him mango. Forgive my PJs here, they only grow worse as I approach senility.
Then I learnt some more verbs that would see me through the day. “Saapad” is to eat, something I remembered by rhyming it with papad. “Papad Saapad” is eat a papad. Eating had to be followed by drinking, which funnily enough is called “kudi”. So while G asked me to “kudi”, I blushed thinking she is complementing me to be a sohni kudi (a young and beautiful girl in Punjabi). Now since I was wondering what exactly to drink, I learnt that “tanni” is water and “pal” (Like the Bengali actor Taposh Pal) is milk. So tanni kudi, pal kudi, and sohni kudi are the 3 similar sounding phrases I know these days.
Of course the quintessential Bong that I am, eating and drinking had to be followed by shitting. This again in Tamil is kakka, a Bengali equivalent of kaka, the uncle. When I learnt this, I thought of all my uncleswith their sad faces at having been called shit, and silently asked them to forgive me. Life will never be the same again, especially every time I meet an uncle of mine, and try addressing him. Sighs !!!
I picked up other basic words, like “kaartaal” for morning, and “sayankaal” for evening. “Aama” is consenting, with “amma-appa” are mom and dad. “Appa inge” is where is father, to which a happy baby Kalyani smiles and whispers “fisshhh”, meaning office. Since the whereabouts of the father was not important to me, I substituted appa with other words. “Mottai inge” was where is the bald head, which I remembered from the term “matha motta” in Bengali, meaning a dim witted, brainless person. Matha or bald head by default in Tamil means “mottai”. All mathas are mota. But I am not making fun of anyone. I am merely trying to learn the language through associations.
After “mottai”, “kaad” had to mean ear, mook had to mean “nose” (while I would think it means mouth). “Kaad” reminded me of “kadal” meaning love, I had learnt during my teens when like all foolish teenagers, I had resolved to learn how to say the word in every language. “Rhomba” means big, or a lot, a word that always reminds me of a rhombus from geometry classes. Then there is “pinnadi” and “munnadi”, one meaning the front and the other meaning the rear, though I don’t know which one exactly means what.
There are many food dishes that all end with “al”…. aviyal, poriyal, thuvayal, nariyal, and many more. Okay, not the last one, but one of these days I have to ask G the reason behind such culinary nomenclature. And then I have randomly learnt some stuff. Pongo Kulingo is please go take a bath, something to which baby Kalyani cracks up and smiles a toothless, gummy smile the moment I tell her. It is possible it sounds funny, the way I speak Tamil. And then I keep telling G how my room looks like a couppa thoti (dustbin).
Little words. Baby steps. I like the progress I am making every day, a few words here and there. These days not all the things people say around me sound alien, or andre-pandre-ish. I am picking up little words here and there, so that I know if G is bitching about another female friend on the phone, cribbing about how the other friend has no sense of potty-training the baby, or how the other friend she doesn’t care about was showing off big time on her trip to Florida.
But other than the few words I understand, the rest all still sounds like andre-pandre.