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Language Howlers

Language Howlers

4 mins 392 4 mins 392

As Tamil Selvam alighted at the Bangalore central station, a cool early morning breeze greeted him. He already felt elated by the breeze although the moment was short-lived. He was soon beseeched by the auto drivers with a harsh call “auto beka.” He took affront by the constant use of the word “beka”. In Tamil, it meant someone who is a nut and he didn’t know that the Kannada word meant “need or required.” He never thought that the Cauvery water problem between the two states Karnataka and Tamilnadu was so serious enough that the Kannadiga auto drivers should keep referring to him as “beka.”


He finally found a kind looking driver and said: “I am no beku” but I want an auto. Driver guided him to his auto and kept telling him “banni” (come). This time Tamil thought why was this fellow calling him a bunny and that too when his ears look normal. As soon he sat the driver queried “elli hoga beku?” meaning where do you want to go? Tamil yet again got furious thinking the driver was calling him rat ‘eli’ which in Tamil meant rat. He angrily said Malleswaram.

He paid the driver at the Malleswaram guest house where he was booked a room by his host the Karnataka State Cauvery Board. Tamil was invited to give a talk on the Cauvery river in Tamil literature and culture. The Board was organizing a conference on the theme “Cauvery River: culture and literature” as a measure of brokering peace between the Two States Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Tamil Selvam held a doctorate in Tamil literature and fluent in English literature as well. In fact, his doctoral thesis for Tamil Literature was precisely on the topic of the Cauvery river and its multi-faceted role in the Tamilnadu landscape. The peon at the guest house guided him to his room and as he was leaving asked Halu beka, coffee? Tamil was still seething with the morning insult heaped on him and he heard the peon as “hello beku, coffee?” He gruffly said coffee and slammed the door.


Later when he narrated the morning incident to his host Manjunatha, he found him in splits. Manjunatha knew a smattering of Tamil as well and understood Tamil Selvam. When Manjunatha explained the goof-up in Tamil’s understanding, Tamil too joined the laughter.

At the conference, he met the Secretary Mr. Satyajit who hailed from Bengal. He too joined the laughter when Manjunatha narrated the morning incident that Tamil had experienced. Satyajit jokingly quipped

Are you madrassi? Your language is never easy.

Put some stones and shake in a tin

Sounds like your language that makes a din.

Tamil in his riposte said, you northies. are anything but haughty.

Anything south is madrassi

Your ignorance makes me uneasy.


Satyajit good-humouredly laughed and said in Bengali the letter “r” is placed by “d” and so his friend Raju became Daju and in the same way “v/w” is replaced by “b” and so “Beena brested her bafers from Daju” completed Tamil and all joined in the laughter.


The conference was being hosted in a famous hotel chain and the manager who was a Sardar joined the friends” banter. Not to left behind he said when they were in Chennai for a month- long training, their Haryanvi batch girl was trying to learn some Tamil words. Once at the cafe she told the young server ‘ thaniye vaa’ (come alone). What she meant to say was ‘thanni kondu vaa’ (bring some water). The mayhem that followed is still vivid in memory, he completed.


Tamil recalled the joke about the Gujaratis who were aghast that one Ben Kingsley was to play the role of Mahatma and they wondered how a ‘ben’ could play the role of Mahatma.

Manjunatha who was teaching at a local college narrated how this girl Rita Singh started singing in his class whenever he called out her full name for attendance. Soon he started calling her only Rita and that was when the singing stopped.


Thanks to King of the Khan who in his film called the “Chennai Express” had belted out a devotional song “Lungi Dance” as a measure of his devotion to “thailava”, Tamil was assuaged in his feeling for anything North, for he was fond of both the lungi and the thalaiva. When out of his university, Tamil was always seen lounging around in his lungi. When Tamil shared the sentiment, all agreed that what was required was not only the river linking project but the languages needed a ‘bridge as well.


Finally, when the waiter came and asked “Mattenu beka?” there was a laughter riot at their table. When the bill came Satyajit brested the bill and said

“where there is a bill, there is Bay

for Satyajit from Bengal to pay”

and paid for the bill.



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