After the phenomenal success of English-Vinglish, I am thinking of writing a screenplay for a film called 'Tamil-Shamil', starring Sri Deva (my city Chennai’s own dancing wonder). Producers, who may well include Prabhu Deva himself, may please form an orderly queue outside my house, in case they want to sign me up.
I have lived in Chennai from the days we were technically correctly, but politically incorrectly, called Madrasis, and have seen Naarth Indians of every hue (mostly fair) coming to live in our state. And struggling to understand or speak Tamil. I’ve made lots of observations about how they have adapted to, and adopted our city. Enough to make a mother-tongue-in-cheek story about my city’s language today. So here are some thoughts, even as I ponder over what to include in my script…
Many years ago, some Shiv Sena types caused simmering resentment by calling all South Indians ‘yendu-gundu wallas’—though no Southie worth his filter coffee knows what the hell that means. Meanwhile our city developed its Madras Bashai-- you know what bashai means of course, but it’s also an indication of how we bashed around a bit with words from other states; and soon even our Kollywood ‘caamedy pichers’ were full of new words like ‘bejaar!’ and ‘maja!’ and ‘naashta’ and ‘dum’ …(even as anti-Hindi agitators were burning down a bus or two in the streets).
One thing for sure: the script for 'Tamil-Shamil' will definitely depict the amazing way Dilli-wallahs come well prepared for a transfer to Chennai. Many arrive having already learnt their first sentence in Tamil! So essentially for that one most important thing you need to have in life in India: a maid. So on Day 1 in Chennai, they are ready to interview prospects with this Tamil sentence: “English Teri Ma?” No, that doesn’t have anything to do with a maid’s British parentage, but is an easy handle for the Hindi speaker to remember how to say “do you know English?” (I know of an enterprising maid, Nagamma, who landed a job at once by answering,”Little little malum, Madam”.)
Alas! For many pals of mine, the attempt to master Tamil has ended with that one sentence. Till something like a ‘Why this kolaveri, di?” hits our entire country. “What a funny song! Even our Bunty sang it for the Delhi Public School kindergarten entrance exam. But can you find out ki uska matlab kya hai?” So have asked curious relatives of the Northerners settled in our city. I have tried to explain to them: ‘kola means murderous, and veri means rage’. But I bet these curious people have forgotten this already, just as we have no idea what on earth 'Gangnam style' means…who cares anyway? Just sing it, and dance it, brether.
My script will have a starring role for Lucknowis like my pal Vibha who has a simple way of turning English into Tamil—with just one letter, ‘a’. If the driver arrives late, for work she asks. “Why late-a?” If she gives him instructions to her beauty parlour, she says,”Go straight-a”. It immediately sounds so Tamil to her, she says. Correct-a.
And I must remember to put in some posh characters who speak Tamil with a fake Westernised accent…it’s a warning to such people that they may be secretly nicknamed a Peter or Peter-u, or a Mary, as in, who-do-they-think-they-are, England-born rascals-a?
I will also put in my script, characters like my pal Manoj Berry, who came on a transfer from our Chandigarh office to Chennai. We had asked him to land up for a welcome drink at Connemara (from the auto man he smartly learnt to say ‘kanni-mera ‘otel’ for future use). Sitting at the bar, it took a long time for Manoj’s order to arrive, so he said to a passing waiter, “Drink! Seekram seekram!” Which we all knew meant “Quick! Hurry up my drink!”. Wow, we marveled, Manoj has picked up Tamil already! What a rare Punjabi! Till we realised that Manoj was merely reminding the waiter of his drink order, Seagram whisky.
And now I hear a Bengali girl acting as a Maharashtrian babe in a Hindi film is also trying out her Tamil in a new film. Aiyyaa, with the wildest Tamil word innovation since the British named our appalam, poppadom. The hit song is called Dreamum Wakeuppam Critical Conditionum.
Aiyyaiyo! But then our Prabhu Deva will easily beat that one with a gaana-paatu and a dhool number along with a new gilfans heroine with a semma figureu, machi. To figure that one out, do see Tamil-Shamil some day.