Category Archives: Words

Colloquial Aayittu Paranjaal…

Kerala is a tiny state and the people there speak one language – Malayalam. But, the number of dialects there are, and the variety of usages in different regions of Kerala is simply startling. Growing up in a Malayali community in the Middle East exposed my siblings and me to a variety of these dialects. But most of all, it was all about the Pathanamthitta, Thiruvalla, and Kottayam accents. So we called each other edo, thaan, thante. All this, of course, was not palatable to our cousins back home. It sounded rude and just distant to them. Why? Because we are from Thrissur—the land of kidaavu, gedi, and ishta.

And if you really believe what you see in the old Malayalam movies of the 80’s, the land of enthoottu and shavi. Thankfully, Innocent came into the scene and made things more realistic. And no, what you hear in Thoovanathumbikal is not Thrissur slang. And I don’t know what happened to Mohanlal’s Thrissur slang as soon as the movie got serious with Clara and all. For a long time, there was no focus on this diversity of dialects. And I speak specifically about the movie industry.

I cannot say much about Malayalam literature; at least not with a lot of confidence. I am aware of Madhavikutty’s distinct style of writing where she explored the “Palakkadan shaili” and of course there is Vaikom Mohammed Basheer who wrote in the typical mappila colloquial style. But I digress.

Let me focus on a medium that I know a thing or two about. The late 90’s and early 2000’s saw Dileep’s Ernakulam dialect and Jayaram’s Preumbavoor style of talking. It injected warmth and humour into the family dramas that were produced at that time. The “Namboothiri” style of dialog delivery was used for the “illam” “mana” and “tharavaadu” plots. Or there would be a comedian using that dialect. Who can forget the Jayaram-Kalabhavan Mani scene from Dilliwala Rajakumaran? We still had most “serious” characters still speaking in that accent that you don’t hear anywhere in Kerala, except for on the big screen. I think it was a residual form of Malayalam. Something that was left over from the professional theatre troupe days and something that was infused because of the general focus of the Malayalam film industry in Chennai. It was not as theatrical as the Sathyan-Naseer-Sheela days, but it was not quite natural yet. Then there was temporary (thankfully) phase of experimentation with the Thiruvananthapuram slang. I like to call this the Rajamanikyam/Suraj Venjaramoondu phase.

Some character actors were smart enough to make their colloquial slangs into their USPs and enjoy popularity. We had the inimitable Kuthiravattom Pappu and his Kozhikodan style, Mammukoya and his Mappila style, and Innocent and Philomena and their Thrissur style. Jagathy was very versatile. He would easily switch between the southern Kerala dialects, Valluvanaadan dialect, and anything else that you threw his way. Once again, very few “hero/heroines” would speak any of these dialects. There were a few attempts. Remember “Kilichundanmaambazham”?

These days, with the revival of Malayalam movies, we see a trend of embracing all the local dialects. The made-for-screen Valluvanadan slang is slowly giving way to the way how we REALLY speak. You get to sample Biju Menon’s Palakkadan bhasha in “Ordinary” and style in “Thattathin Marayathu”. There was a sincere attempt in “Indian Rupee” and a lovely presentation in “Bavuttiyude namathil”. Then there are the buddies and teams from Fort Kochi and Vypin. And the Tessas from Kottayam and the Pranchiyettans from Thrissur. The beauty of these films is that the slangs and lingos are carried right through the length of the movie.

I wonder how a Delhi-based or a Mumbai-based Malayalam story would pan out in the current situation. The Malayalees in Delhi, for example, stumble by in broken Malayalam with a generous slathering of Hindi in there. Unlike the earlier movies that were based in these cities, would directors and scriptwriters work on the local language aspect as well? How would it be presented? Would the audience accept it? Now, I am really curious. In the meantime, if there are any scriptwriters who are basing a story about a Malayalee family living in Kuwait, I have a language recommendation for you. Abbasiyah accent!


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Hokusai Says

Hokusai says Look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.

He says Look Forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself
as long as it's interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive –
shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.
Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw,or write books.
It doesn't matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn't matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your verandah or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
are life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes Continue reading

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Books Unjust

There are two books I know I shouldn’t have discarded. Probably, the age at which I got those books was a little too early to understand the pathos of a life in oppression or repression. One such book is “Beloved” by Toni Morrison. I believe it was nominated for Booker the year I was born, need to check on the fact. I got hold of a copy when I was fifteen. It was a little too early to understand the history and trauma of the ravaging American Civil War. The story is set in Ohio at a time when Civil War was history. But not too long ago for the wounds inflicted by the traumatic event to heal. I am not in a position to review the book, simply because I didn’t read it the way it was meant to be handled. Years later, Oprah Winfrey starred in a movie based on this book. So, this is one of the books.

The second one on my list is “Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Or was it? I had a tattered copy of the book-I distinctly remember-with a scarlet colored cover. It was not a language that I could effortlessly understand. It challenged my 13-year-old vocabulary. I am sure it still will throw up a challenge. Probably this time, in understanding the nuances of forbidden love and the guilt that comes along with the package.

The next on the list should be Lust for Life, I guess.

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The Highwayman



THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon clondy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shuters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard,a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.


He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
King George’s men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,

Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

— Alfred Noyes,The Highwayman

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Indian Book Store

This is an excerpt from a mail I wrote a while ago, to William Dalrymple. Seemed like a good read and I couldn’t find the RSS feed tab (since I am so technically challenged!)
I must admit it was a fantastic read. The nine pages went by without as much as a hiccup! I especially loved the innovative use of words. (‘chutnified’ being just one of them!) I will confine my opinions to the books I have read because I don’t think I can truthfully comment on the books I haven’t read.

Something that Arundhati Roy said is so true – the fact about Indian writers who stay abroad and write about the on-goings in India… but there is a certain amount of nostalgia smeared in their works. Like Rohinton Mistry – he is my favourite Indian Author. I relish his writings. Sometimes, I feel his words just ache with nostalgia. He fully exploits his Bombay Parsi background and makes sure that time freezes in the 70’s and 80’s.

I have this English teacher from school days. He introduced me to R Mistry’s books. And I can’t thank him enough to this day. He also coaxed me to read Vikram Seth… but I am strictly a ‘prose-person’. Years later, he also recommended Life of Pi. I read the book during a train journey to Chennai. That one hovered between reality and hallucinations – kind of scared me off, but loved it anyway.

Our Indian school curriculum has, thankfully, given some credit to Anita Desai and R.K Narayan. I have read their writings in school, at first for the marks, and later, for pleasure. In fact, the last book before I took up City of Djinns, was Guide. I loved his stories about Swami and his friends. It reminded me that life in rural India hasn’t really changed from during the 40’s and the 90’s. During the Gulf War, we (my family) relocated and lived in Kerala for a while. Most of the things Swami did while growing up really sounded like our escapades, as children.

Children – that brings me to the beautifully sad tale, The God of Small Things. I am forced to dedicate a separate paragraph for this work of art. I have read the book thrice. At first: to understand the story, second: to savour the language, third: to understand Arundhati Roy. She wrote as though there will never be another chance to write ever again. I think she has completely exhausted herself while writing this book. I had an added advantage –I did not have to turn the page back to the explanatory passages to understand the Malayalam terms and Keralite lifestyle. She has captured the turmoil in political Kerala like few others… I have heard of those tumultuous days from the elders in my family. Now, like in Roy’s case, most of them have left Kerala for, ironically, greener pastures.

I have read Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. It was a little difficult for me to swallow, but I liked it nevertheless. But I somehow did not like Hari Kunzru’s Transmission! Nothing compels me to try out The Impressionist either.

I wish I could end this page with some profound words from Mistry – but I can’t remember any that fits here.

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