Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dei Hindhi Boy! Why you no write Hinglish very well?

When I first saw Hindhi people write the words 'Seetha' and 'Geetha' as 'Seeta' and 'Geeta' I used to get very annoyed. They wanted to write सीता and गीता in roman script but ended up writing सीटा and गीटा. Then later I realized that these hindhi people used the roman alphabet 't' to represent the Devanagari alphabet 'त'. But when learning basic English phonetics I always thought the roman alphabet 't' sounded closer to 'ट'. All English words pronounced 't' with a ट sound. I can't think of an English word that would pronounce 't' any different (e.g. tank, took, take, toon, taunt, eat, mental, cut, put, butteach, torture). They all use a sound closer to ट when pronouncing these words. Which means if you wrote all these words in Devanagari script you'd be using ट to represent 't'. So why would I pronounce 't' as त ? So what do Hindhi people do when they want to write ट in Roman script? To my horror, I found out that these Hindi people used 't' to represent 'ट' as well (for e.g. when they wrote 'tamatar' we should know to pronounce this as टमाटर and not तमातर).  Damn it!. So these people use the roman letter 't' to arbitrarily represent 'ट' or 'त'.  And they expected every one who does not know Hindhi to know about this.

My annoyance was not with the fact that they had a quirk of their own. Every language does. My annoyance was with their assumption that every Indian should 'just know'  this quirk. And the constant 'why you tamilians are writing like this'. It was their quirk. How did it suddenly become my problem? My annoyance reduced a little bit when I found out about San Jose or Jungfraujoch. In these words the 'J' is not pronounced as the regular phonetic affricate /dʒ/. But more like a 'H' sound in the former and a 'Y' sound in the latter. This is not immediately obvious to someone who sees the combination of these letters written for the first time in Roman script. And my very own local parties the damn thamizh folks used 'zha' to represent the retroflex approximant 'ழ'. This is so not obvious to non-thamizhs and non-malayalis. The good thing is thamizhs, mallus, spanish people don't look at non-speakers of that language and go "hey you are writing wrong man. we are always writing correctly". We know its our quirk. For example I met a guy whose name was spelt 'Jorge'. The way he wanted others to pronounce his name was 'hore-hay'. He was like the bizzaro world equivalent of Hindhi people using 't' to represent two sounds - in the same name he used 'j' and 'g' to mean the same sound 'ha'. At least he was humble about the quirkiness of his spelling.

To understand this better -  Hindhi inherited Sanskrit's language system where some consonants can be combined with a 'ha' sound to create a whole new set of consonants.. For example if Hindhi people wanted to represent sounds क, ब, ज in roman scripts they'd use  ka, ba, ja. But Hindhi people have a parallel set of words ख (क + ह) , भ ( + ह), झ ( + ह) which other languages don't have so when they want to represent them in Roman script they add the 'ha' sound to roman script that represents the root letter - such as Kha (K + ha), Bha (B + ha), Jha (j + ha). This is fine and dandy. There are no native Roman script sounds 'kha' 'bha' 'jha' that conflict so we get it. We don't care. But we get it. The point where I really get confused when roman script has a well defined frequently used sound that these hindhi people hijack for their own purpose. They not only do that but also have poor self-awareness to know that its their own quirk. Take for example the sound 'th'. This is used very frequently in English.  The words that use 'th' are for e.g. 'this', 'that', 'then', 'thy', 'them', 'thus', 'therefore,' 'third', 'the', and 'those'. All regular english words use 'th' to sound something like 'त'. 

But Hindhi people have ignored this logic. And to show remarkable haste to add the 'ha' sound to every consonant that can walk the Hindhi people do something as crazy as the following. Here is some simple Hindhi sound arithmetic ट + ह = ठ. So these people try to replicate the same arithmetic in roman script as well. So they do 't' + 'h' = 'th'. So now 'th' represents a sound called ठ that no non-hindhi speaker uses or knows about or more importantly cares about. It is roughly pronounced 'tah' in roman script. And so when they write their words in roman script a non-hindhi speaker is supposed to 'just get it' that it represents ठ. So when i see the word 'this' should I pronounce it 'tahis' ? No? Why not?  'Meetha' is pronounced 'meetah'. Its seems arbitrary and everyone is just supposed to get this. The craziness doesn't just end there. They have another arithmetic: त + ह = थ. Remember they use 't' to represent त. So they do 't' + 'h' = 'th'.  So now 'th' also refers to this new sound थ.  Now if a hindhi guy uses 'th' he could either be referring to थ or ठ. Go figure!

Now we haven't even begun on the word 'd'. This roman script is used in English words such as donkey, dick, dam, damn, dirty, douchebag etc. In all English usage of this word it resembles the sound ड. But a hindhi reader is already getting ready to type a comment "hey! its Hindi and not Hindhi". Oh yeah? So now you are using 'd' to represent the sound 'द'. So what do Hindhi people do when they want to to write the sound ड in Roman script? Well - they use the alphabet 'd'. So 'd' can mean both ड and 'द'. So what do they really mean when they use 'dh'. Because in regular english words the 'dh' softener is used to refer to a sound close to 'द'. But when Hindhi people write 'dh' they actually mean the sound ध. You already know why because of the arithmetic 'द' + ह = ध. But then one is wordering about the other arithmetic ड + ह = ढ. How does a Hindhi person write 'ढ' in roman script. Wait for it. Wait for it. they use 'dh'. 

You gotta be kidding me!

So to sum up in a table. This is how one should translate when a roman script is used by actual English words Versus what these Hindhi people mean.

Roman Script
Sound that script indicates in actual English words
Weird possible sounds that Hindhi people can mean when they use script
ट (tank, take)
त, ट
त (this, that)
थ, ठ 
ड (Do, donkey)
ड,  द
ढ (sometimes द)
ढ, ध

What really gets my goat is the way hindhi people differentiate between the अ and the आ sound. Do you know how they differentiate? That's the trick. They don't. बलं is 'bal'. बालं is written as 'bal' as well. I met a person who had this surname 'Bhagwat'. I pronounced that as भगवट. Because I wanted to pronounce it the way it was actually written. But the person corrected me and said "but its भागवत". So the अ in in the second syllable 'वत' (which is theoretically व+अ+तं) gets one 'a' in the roman script spelling. But the  'आ' in the first syllable 'भा' (theoretically भ + आ ) doesn't get two 'a's. It gets one 'a' as well. So a unsuspecting non hindhi person must somehow magically find out that the 'a' in the first syllable corresponds to  'आ' and the 'a' in the second syllable corresponds to अ . You are deemed horrible if you didn't.

Every language has its quirks. Especially so when it is transliterated to roman script. One would assume a certain amount of humility in the speakers of the language to know that it is their own unique quirk and not act all "this is the correct way" when non-native speakers of the language don't get these quirks. Somehow hindhi people have gotten into their head that Thamizhs are the only people who feel the urge to write 'Seetha' and 'geetha'. *Most* non-hindhi people who are familiar with the roman script will logically write it that way. When Canadians, Australians, Brits, Americans and Kiwis  see the word 'Sita' they will probably pronounce it as सीटा. Thats what the 't sound means.

Two years ago, I cried a little when I landed in திருநேல்வெலி and saw the name spelt in the railway platform as 'Tirunelveli'. They're spreading their stupid. Damn you!. Damn you!.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Soodhu Kavvum; Bloody Awesome Movie

This is probably one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. What i found amazing was the fact that all characters keep a straight-face throughout the movie. It is the seriousness with which they go about this script is what makes it the most hilarious. My (biased) view of thamizhs as a culture leads me to believe that the spectrum of sarcasm -> நக்கல் and everything in-between is this civilization's strongest point. This movie is a great example of how that நக்கல் can be on your face but at the same time unstated. Take the first scene for instance where T.Rajendar posters adorn the walls in the house of a character. No one really talks about the poster or even shows it pointedly. But its there. The director has put it there. And this guy who has a T.Rajendar poster in his wall has the audacity to ask his friend as to why he didn't use 1.5 lacs on something more productive than ...well! I wont say what. Just see it for yourself. Its the most amazing display of self-pointed humor.

This movie is so layered that I couldn't place it in one genre as opposed to the other. There are many "Sigamani" (for those S. Ve. Sekhar fans) moments in the movie where one character says as a matter of fact "வெலை செய்யரா அளவுக்கு எங்களுக்கு வயசு ஆகலை சார்".  The four characters couldn't be more far apart. The IT guy is our anchor into this bizzaire world. He is the only real person we can hold on to. One guy, named Pagalavan,  walks through life without a care as if he has all the money and time in the world. Working or for that matter living is optional for him. He has managed to grow up and doesn't really have a purpose in life. One can place a considerable amount as a bet that he probably doesn't understand the concept of "purpose". My favorite character was Ramesh Thilak the ex-chaeuffer. He has that free-flowing x-factor about him that makes him adorable and unpredictable at the same time. 

Finally Das played by Vijay Sethupathi (who is growing in stature by the nano second) plays the most complex role in the movie. You actually dont know what drives him to do the stuff he does. He is mentally deranged. There is no doubt about that. His quest for perfection in a method he has found to make money is a fantastic contrast to his mental problems. The director doesn't keep the truth about Sanchita Shetty under wraps. We are clued in at the start. And from that moment on the movie adds a new dimension to the proceedings. Now the director is at a point where he has the license to play with her character any which way he wants. She could come in a monkey suit and we would still tear our stomachs in laughter. I could feel that at any moment she was going to show up in a Bikini. Her scenes build up to that hilarious payoff. In an English movie she would have appeared naked in the living room conversation between the 4 crooks. The director must've been severely restrained to have her in a swimming dress. Oh Damn you Thamizh sensibilities - there was an awesome potential for that scene. My only complaint was that I wish they had made Sanchita's situation a little less obvious than it was. And  left us to deduce the whole thing.

The new guy who plays the cop Brahma does not have a single line of dialog and his character perfectly builds the movie up for the final payoff.. He is probably more deranged than Das but just happens to be on the right side of the law. The nut case collection is complete with the MLA's son who manages to get kidnapped while he is getting kidnapped and still comes out as      a honorable man among thieves. These characters go on to create one of the most unique movies I have seen in Thamizh cinema. One could argue the end was a little bit stretched but that was okay. The last 30 minutes was about the director throwing a kitchen sink full of ideas at us. A few them are bound to not work. As a viewer I was glad to see some one deliver so much without even appearing to try. More importantly, I respect the fearlessness of director Nalan Kumaraswamy. Many directors mistake irreverence for courage and this movie is perfect example of someone who does not make that mistake. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

Thathuvam #1172: The insular mind

Focus is narrow, exclusive insular, and discriminating.
So is concentration, specialization and dedication.
Dilution is broader, liberal, inclusive and more encompassing.
So is aimlessness, scatter brained and accommodating.
One converges the other concaves.
A true roman in rome is the former.
The latter - his non-roman subject.