Tamil is a funny Language.
I am a Delhite, who studied in Singapore – whose parents are from UP and MP. So geographically averaged, I really lie somewhere in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. However, having studied in NIT Trichy for two years now, everyone, from relatives (“Ab toh tumhe tthodi bahut Tamil aati hogi?” – you must have learnt some Tamil by now?) to ex-classmates (“How’s Trichy dude? Learnt Tamil?”) expect me to be close to proficient in the language. Through this article, I hope to chronicle my attempts to learn the tongue of the Land of Annas and Akkas.
The Jalebi Script: Now funnily enough, my initiation with the language began way back in 6th grade, with me learning to write Tamil rather than speak it. I remember being impressed by my friend’s Tamil notebook decorated with strings of jalebi-like characters and asked him to teach me to write something. So he taught me how to write my name-
And I found this really easy to remember because it turns out, my name in Tamil is ‘Bhuppatham’ in Hindi-
Needless to say, my very word specific learning technique handicapped me from learning any more of written Tamil. Never the less, my friend got really excited and taught another bunch of words that I have long forgotten. Bhuppatham, however, has stayed.
Swear words: This one’s a universal truth. When you learn a new language, you start with the insults and Swear words. It’s a different level of ownage when you insult you friends in their own language.
It’s really a pity I won’t be allowed to further elucidate here.
Love for Cinema: Now I’ll accept the fact that North Indians tend to have a bunch of baseless stereotypes when it comes to South Indians – but if there’s one thing we got right about Tamil Nadu, it’s their love for Cinema. And quite frankly, their unequaled level of devotion for their actors.
I was exposed to the actuality of this fact when I once went to watch a movie with my classmates. There was a poster of some Tamil Movie that had a stout Rowdy Looking man with short white hair, wearing Aviators. I pointed to him and asked one of my classmates “Who’s that guy?”
The expression that my classmate gave me is quite indescribable. But I was shushed, very loudly, with these exact words: “DEI don’t say that out loud da! You’ll get bashed up!”
Turns out it was some guy called ‘Thala’. I’ve made it a point to not ask such questions in public ever since that incident.
Analogies: The Vera Level: When I first joined the college, one of the first phrases that I learned was “Vera level, da.” Vera level goal, Vera level shot. Vera level acting, Vera level coding. Having already validated the importance of Cinema, I thought Vera was some hot-shot actor, the likes of Soorya, Thala, Thalaiva etc. And that being as proficient as him was simply operating at ‘the Vera level’
I was genuinely disappointed when I was informed ‘Vera level’ simply meant to be at the next level. I once used to aspire to be a Vera. Turns out every next guy is a Vera.
Vocabulary: The list: Being very determined to learn the language (and appease my relatives and friends) I decided to try a different approach. With the help of some of my friends, I prepared a list of words and phrases in Tamil. Most of them are swear words, of course, but here are a few of the decent entries. Non-Tamil speakers, do take note:
- Anna/Akka: everybody in Tamil Nadu
- Illai: No – what you say when the mess Anna wants to give you drum sticks with the sambar
- Seri: also pronounced cherry. The conversation ending ‘K.’ in Tamil
- Aama: Yes – What you say when the Dhaba Anna asks if you want a doubleKalaki
- Orru, Rend, mun, Naal… : counting in tamil. Handy when buying stuff from Tamil akkas. Also handy, when said really fast, when you want to impress your non-Tamil friends with your proficiency of Tamil (Friend: learnt Tamil? Me: yeah.Orrurenduhmoonuh-naaluh-anja-aara. Friend: Damn son, you’re good)
- Apadi ah? :Literally means – ‘Is it so?’ A perfect way to head-butt in when your Tamil friends are having an intense Tamil conversation.
- Evvelon?: How much?
- Appron and AdhikaAppron: ‘and then’ and its fancy variation. Usage: Anna orru Chana masala, orru PBM apron mun chapatti.
- AaruhAamaramrmrmrmrrm: literal meaning: 6 mangoes. Something your Tamil friends will try to make you say to have a good laugh
Interaction: Tamil Auto drivers: Being quite pleased with my list, I decided to try it out – and who better to try it out on than Auto drivers?
So I was once returning from Bangalore in the middle of the night and an Auto driver offered to take me to NIT. Wanting to flaunt my brand new Tamil and try to find out how much he would charge me, I wanted to ask him ‘Evvelon?’ (“How much?”). But I managed to mix up the few Tamil words I know and continued to ask him ’Appron?’ (“And then?”) for 5 minutes. Pretty sure he thought I was mentally deranged.
Bonus Vocab: The Da, the Dei and The Di: So if you’re a person who’s tried many times but failed, or are hoping to fit in with your Tamil friends, borrow my list and learn from my example. And if nothing works, structure your sentences as “Dei. *insert content* da.” And you’re an instant hit!