The current issue (November 28) carries two letters about that Diary. Here they are:
- Dilip d’Souza, in his Mahe Diary (Nov 14), refers to a Malayali lady saying ‘sthanam, sthanam’ to ask him where he came from. The Malayalam word for place is ‘sthalam’, ‘sthanam’ is breast!
Ramesh Kumar, Mumbai
D’Souza says the boatman refused him a trip, saying "Ayyo-yo! Mudiyathu!" Boatmen in Mahe would speak Malayalam and would say "Ayyo... Pattilla". Did your diarist have a Tamilian pal translate the remark? Or is it the general north Indian sensibility to dub everything south as ‘Madrasi’?
A.P. Jayanthram, Chennai
Not knowing how to reach these two, and unsure whether Outlook would carry a response to these responses, I thought I'd put that response up here in case Messrs Kumar and Jayanthram come visiting. (Though I have sent it to Outlook anyway). Here it comes:
- Ramesh Kumar is right of course. The lady did say "sthalam, sthalam!" to me -- but as I didn't understand that word, I persuaded myself that she had said "sthanam", thinking erroneously that that word must have the same root as the Hindi "sthaan" ("place"). I am tickled pink by what I thought I heard actually means, and that it has the same root as the Hindi "sthan" ("breast")!
And two points for AP Jayanthram. One, I spoke Tamil in Mahe and in fact all over Kerala, because that's essentially my mother tongue and because I don't speak Malayalam. Enough people replied in Tamil as well. The boatman included. Two, in Mahe it's at least more likely than in other parts of Kerala that boatmen would speak Tamil anyway, since it is part of Pondicherry. For example, I ran into many more native Tamil speakers in Mahe than I did in nearby Thalassery.
Some of us, Jayanthram, do know more about the South than just "Madrasi".