Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Welcome to Andhra Pradesh

You have just seen this milestone go by, welcoming you into the State of Andhra Pradesh. Suswagatam. There are a few interesting things that happen when you move from one language zone to another in India. If you know a bit of semi-common languages like English or Hindi, and if the locals also know it, life is plain. But it’s more interesting to watch people interact when it’s not the case. If you are the type not to be inhibited by language barriers, you would freely roll out in your mother tongue, implicitly believing in national integration and assuming that the party in conversation will perfectly understand, not just the essence, but even the minute details of what your are saying. And if the local is also a similarly enthusiastic conversationist, you lose track of time irrespective of the fact that you are in a different land. Except that you should take care not to use a few select word-warps, words that are found in both languages, but have A meaning in one and B meaning in another. Particularly, if you have moved in from Tamil Nadu to Andhra Pradesh. Here are a few pointers.

1. Let’s start with a simple one. Nalla means Good in Tamil and Black in Telugu. So you can praise the goodness in a person by calling him Nallavan, make sure there is no problem of discrimination by color.

2. Asuya is used in the context of ‘disgust’ in Tamil, and I think, in Telugu, it means jealousy. An unclean toilet, for example, is disgusting and definitely not the neighbour’s envy.

3. Two phrases you are bound to come across quite commonly : Avasaram Ledhu and Akkara Ledhu. Usually, Akkara Ledhu is pronounced shortly as Akkarla. Avasaram Ledhu in Telugu means Not Necessary, where as Avasaram in Tamil means you are in a real hurry. In telugu too, I think it can mean hurry, but more often used in the context of necessity or occasion.

Akkarai in Tamil means Care and Attention. You might courteously ask someone “Innum konjam sambar venuma ?” (Would you like one more helping of sambar ?) and if he says Akkarledhu, don’t get worried he is accusing you of carelessness in your hospitality. It just means, wonderful that the sambar was, he has had enough (of the sambar). And in case he indeed wants to have more and replies in the affirmative, saying “kavali”, wait a moment, he is not referring to you as a street rowdy.

4. I had an experience with this one in my early days. I was fixing the printer in a hurry, and an elderly colleague asked me, “Ippudu Adavadi yenthuku ?”. What arrogance did I display here, I wondered. In fact, he was the one being arrogant accusing me of arrogance when I was quickly and quietly doing my work. But I just looked up and saw that there was a harmless factual inquiry look on his face, so I knew there is a goofup somewhere. It turned out that while adavadi means arrogance in Tamil, it means hurry in Telugu. So if someone cautions you “Adavadi voddhu”, he is warning you about your pace not about your politeness.

5. This one is a tricky swap. In telugu, Adavaallu means Women and Mogavallu means Men. In Tamil, Aadavar means Men and Magalir means Women. In the beginning, when you hear the phrase referring to Men and Women, you would naively think it should somehow mean the same in both languages. So if you are organizing a distribution and wish to say “Women on the Left Side, Men on the right side”, make sure your audience understands it in the same orientation. Or change the direction of distribution. The colloquial usage in Tamil is actually Aambalai (Man) and Pombalai (Woman), Aadavar and Magalir is bit of a pure usage, found in Pallavan bus seating instructions. But when you suddenly hear the phrase Adavallu and Mogavallu you are bound to be confused for a moment about which is which. So better remember one of them clearly and “derive” the other . Like I did while writing this paragraph.

6. You might invite a mischievous giggle when you say where you hail from. Careful, it might even become your nick name for life. Kumbakonam, the Temple Town in Tamil Nadu, is famous for the Mahamaham festival celebrated every 12 years, but the word, in Telugu means, scam or corruption.

There are some words in Telugu, which have their origins in pure tamil, I mean, Tamil of real good olden days, so much so that they are not even in daily use in Tamil nowadays and found only in literature, but are of daily use in Telugu. Gnamali (or nemali), referring to peacock, is one. That’s another thread.

It will also be interesting to know what are the phrases to be careful about when someone is moving from Andhra Pradesh into Tamil Nadu. Btw, It turns out, word-warps between English and French can be even more funny.


  1. Let me add "Selavu"! In Tamil & Telugu it could mean expense. While expense is the primary meaning in Tamil, "leave" or "holiday" is the primary meaning in Telugu as in movie title "Aadivaram Adavallaku Selavu Kavali"

  2. Nice post. Especially that bit about Pallavan Transport Corporations' seating instructions. In a second, my mind travelled back to good old Singara Chennai.


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