July 09, 2017

Life Has Become Ladies' Finger

In 'Word of the Day', a daily column that ran in the Bangalore Mirror through the latter half of 2015, writer Sriram Aravamudan, who describes himself as a 'gardener, baker, comedian and all-round Bengalurean', compiles many entertaining examples of the city's street lingo. Some of these may be familiar from other online glossaries of Kannada slang (bombat, pigar, one thara), but I found a great deal of evidence that Aravamudan is a diligent eavesdropper with an ear for everything from college jargon to Anglo-Indian speech. Yes, the infamous bad word curry is here, served with some devil's chutney on the side.
Bad Word Curry: An Anglo-Indian dinnertime favourite. It's a cheeky euphemism for balls curry, usually made with minced mutton or chicken meatballs in a spicy gravy. They are perfect accompaniments to appam, sannas or even parathas.

Example: "'Waiter, waiter.." "Yes madam."

"What's bad word curry?" "It's mutton kheema in a gravy madam."

"Yes, but why is it called bad word curry?"

"Err.. I'll call the manager to explain, madam."
Since the site's archive is not easy to navigate, I'm going to compile a few more entries here. Aravamudan notes many hybrid Kanglish (Kannada + English) phrases (don't worry madkobedi, galabarskofy) along with some constructed by applying the rules of Kannada usage to English:
Commey commu (Kam-mey kam-moo): Commey commu (Kam-mey kam-moo): A Kanglicization of the Kannada phrase 'bandhe barthare', meaning 'will definitely come'. The phrase is used to stress the coming, indicating definite arrival of the parties concerned. Example: "Don't take your bridal gown off yet ma putta. The groom will commey commu." Or, "Hello contractor-avarey! Where is the sand load delivery? From morning you are telling it will commey commu, but nothing has commu. I think driver has taken my money and is putting rummu somewhere."
Simp-simply: A direct translation of the Kannada phrase 'sum-sumne' meaning, for no reason at all. It's used mostly to complain about unjust actions, or bad behaviour: Example: "Sir I am the innocent. Simp-simply nurse Manjula is putting allegations on me." Or: "Aye boss, simp-simply don't go on irritating me okay. Sud-suddenly I will get angry and give you nice beatings."
There are a few phrases that seem suspect to me. I'm not sure if they're common in the city of boiled beans; it does look like Aravamudan is indulging himself with joke translations of Kannada idiom. I don't really care, as long I'm allowed to use these fine phrases and sigh on occasion that my 'life has become ladies' finger' or pitiably like a 'baduku bus stand'.

July 06, 2017

Forty Names of Clouds

In a land where rainfall is scarce, the act of reading the skies and attempting to name the unattainable becomes unbearably poignant. Arati-Kumar Rao on the language of the Thar:
The act of naming — chhinto for a drizzle of rain or ghuTyo for the asphyxiating stillness of un-raining clouds — is a way of paying homage, recognizing worth, according importance of these events that are vital to their survival.

These ambling geographers, these mojri-and-saafa clad ecologists, read the land and know how to “divine” water. They can tell ubreLyo (spent clouds) from dhundh (clouds heavier than the light cottony paans); follow the baaval (petrichor) towards as yet unseen kaLaan (heavy rain clouds); recognize over eighty different desert species of plants from aak to zillon, and know the behaviors of sandgrouse and spiny-tailed lizard, chinkara and bustard.

It is a lived, intensely local knowledge. They find words for what they see and experience, they pass on these words, and individual knowledge grows into collective knowledge. They are the archivists of the desert.
Elsewhere, Rao presents a landscape glossary that compiles all the words of the Thar that are being lost: evocative dialect names for clouds like cotton blankets and clouds patterned like partridge wings.
kanThi: cumulus clouds on the horizon
oomb: low white blanket of clouds, early in the morning
paNi-haari: clouds that resemble women carrying water pots on their heads
teetar pankhi: cirro cumulus clouds, resembling the pattern on a partridge’s wings
paans: consolidated teetar pankhi clouds forming a light uneven blanket
seekote: light winter clouds on the horizon, resembling dunes
ubrelyuo: passing clouds, probably spent
chhoyo: clouds that are just beginning to rain
miLuvDa: cool gathered clouds alternating light & shade
chhanvLiya: diffused light from clouds
ghor: dense thunder clouds rumbling in fury
dhaarolyou: a small veil of rain bridging cloud and earth
lukho: a lone tuft of cloud
parlaavon: clouds reflecting far away lightning.

July 04, 2017

Periya Emden

On the night of 22nd September 1914, a lone German cruiser slipped unnoticed into the waters off Chennai. Once the ship was in range, its commander Karl von Müller gave his crew the order to attack the city. The powerful beam of a lighthouse revealed a potential target: three fuel tanks belonging to the Burma Oil Company. For half an hour, the German gunners bombarded over 130 shells at the city, first setting the tanks ablaze and then firing at the High Court, the Port Trust and other prominent city buildings. A merchant ship went down in the harbour, killing five sailors. By the time the British guns retaliated, the SMS Emden had sailed away. It left behind a fearful, devastated city. Thousands tried to flee, fearing another raid; prices of commodities shot up, and trade was paralysed. The damage to the economy was estimated at a million pounds, notes Srabani Basu.

The memory of the Emden raid has survived in the city's folklore, and in its vocabulary as well. In colloquial Tamil, an emden or amdan is a person who acts with audacious daring - unafraid to take on anyone, whatever the odds. A quick search on the Internet shows that emden is defined variously as 'a daring and capable person', 'a particularly cunning person' or 'manipulative and crafty'. Parallel Tamil terms are cited - jithan, eththan, killadi (which I presume is slang derived from the Hindi khiladi). The word collocates frequently with periya (big) in phrases used to disparage smart alecks and blowhards:
In chennai if someone behaves arrogantly we ask them do you think you are emden or what? (Nee enna periya emden aa?) (Indian Defence)
Emden was a famous ship during the war time.... there is still a cliche in TN wen someone does something big unexpected or is kinda adamant, they say 'periya emden thaan ivan'!! (Balaji's Thots)
In the thirties and forties the word ‘Emden’ was a metaphor (in Madras) for someone thought to be super-clever and go-getter. “Avan periya Emden-da” (is he the Big Emden?) was the expression heard in Madras lot of times. (The Intuitive Traveller)
This appears to be the more common usage of the word. Here and there, emden has been defined as someone who is tough, strong and unbendable. A Hindu article on Tamil slang derived from colonial-era expressions provides the meaning 'strict, authoritative' and adds this note:
This is usually used to describe someone very strict by nature; boys call the strict elder of the village ‘Emden’ and describe his arrival to a place as ‘Emden vanduttan’. Emden is actually the name of a German ship that bombarded Madras in 1914 and created a lot of panic. One of actor Bharath’s films was originally titled Emden Magan (later changed to Em Magan) to denote a strict father.
Chennai city historian S Muthiah, who is also an amateur lexicographer includes emden in his guide to Words in Indian English, where it is defined flatly as 'a brave man'. The word is also found in Sinhala and in Malayalam, where a variant, yemandan, is an adjective meaning 'unusually huge and/or powerful' according to this article on Malayalam slang.
Even today people in North Kerala call dark stout guys ‘Yumunden’ without knowing that the origin of the name was the hulking WW1 German frigate SMS Emden. (Maddy's Ramblings)
Curiously enough, the Tamil usage of 'periya Emden' is echoed in an Australian catchphrase. After a round of daring exploits in the Indian Ocean, the Emden was finally brought down by the Australian cruiser Sydney at Cocos Islands in 1914. The victory was much celebrated in Australian films of the time and gave birth to this expression about colossal conceit, noted by Eric Partridge in his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English:
didn't you sink the 'Emden'? An Aus. army c.p.(1915-18) contemptuous of arrogance or too good a 'press'.