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Sridevi’s English-vinglish can thank Chennai : Indu Balachandran

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Sridevi, one of Chennai’s famous residents, will shortly be regaling us with her English-Vinglish on the big screen. This is also a proud reminder that we Chennaiites, or rather Madrasis, got a headstart in learning the King’s language before the rest of India.
At our recently concluded Madras Week celebrations, we recalled that it was here in Madras, 373 years ago, that the British got serious about their empiring in India—setting up the East India Company in Fort St George near the shore. And just as the Viceroy’s men stole some local delicacies and made it theirs — like rasam or milagu thani which they fancily rechristened as ‘mullagtawny soup’— it was only fair that the Madrasis stole and popularised English foods in India.

Image courtesy: Paul Fernandes
Like “Bred-Butter-Armlet” (said as one word, mind it), that is still displayed at many a roadside shack, catering to the continental preferences of our auto-drivers.
But when it comes to our unabashed bashing of English phonetics, we Chennaiites really have our mothers to blame. Well, our mother tongue actually. Because when baby Tamilians learn the Tamil alphabet from their ammas, they find that one particular letter pronounced ‘pa’, could well be ‘pa’ or ‘ba’ or even ‘fa’. So if a jolly waiter in a Chennai hotel asks if you’d like some Jabadhi, (as written on their menu) do say a hasty ‘No’ and stick to dosas. That mysterious dish is actually the humble chapatti, pronounced and spelt the Tamil way…with our knack for liberally adding wherever possible, the letter ‘h’ (pronounced yech, of course). In fact for our Southern purists, Hindi never quite sounds like Hindi, unless you spell it as Hindhi.
For further evidence that the true-blue Tamil speaker readily substitutes a pa phonetic for a fa --there’s this intriguing item I used to see in the Today’s Special board outside a Naarth Indian restaurant : Malai Gupta. (But just for the benefit of doubt, maybe it was a kofta dish whose secret recipe was handed down from the Gupta dynasty…)
Some time ago my cousin Raju from the US (who is --what else?-- a brainy techy Tamilian working for Google) came on a visit to Chennai. Tired of American supersized hamburgers, Raju felt like gorging on Indian fast food for a change. So we set off in my car, and crawled through the by-lanes of Mylapore looking for a good place serving quick ready-meals. “Oh my god, and what’s that!” exclaimed Raju suddenly. I looked up at the signboard he was pointing to: “Kailash Restorant. Hot Mutton Pups daily”.

Image: Paul Fernandes
Now animal rights activists may well be alarmed wondering if this is how Chennai’s corporation deals with the stray dog menace. Not to worry: the hotel owner was merely advertising “Mutton Puffs”—pronounced and written the Tamil way. (Neither was Mutton Pups a smaller portion of the desi Hot Dog…).
And while on the subject of dogs, we also fervently hoped that “Paw Bhaji” on the menu had nothing to do with a poor doggy’s feet.
By the time we’d finished, Raju had had quite a bellyful –of chuckles as well as idli-vadai-sambar. So walking a few streets away to the car was welcome. Those narrow eating streets had room only for pedestrians and cyclists, and even had this firm notice at the beginning, for the hungry truck driver:
‘No entry for Larry.’
And just as my cousin Raju was wondering if that tiny belly-ache setting in was from overeating or laughing, we saw this painted notice that completely over-turned my explanation that a true-blue Tamilian cannot say F words: CAR NO FARKING.

Sridevi?s English-vinglish can thank Chennai - Firstpost

My apology to any one who is sensitive. I enjoyed reading it, and thought of sharing it.


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