July 22, 2011

Rectifying anomalies in barbers

Notes from a recent trip through the South:

How terminology varies is fascinating, always. Like, you call them signals, but in South Africa, they're known as robots. Just as well that somebody told me that ("Turn right at the second robot") before I ran into the word painted in large letters across the street. "Robot Ahead", now that might prove somewhat unsettling.

Just as fascinating is a word they use in Tamil Nadu. I've known them as roundabouts, and possibly there are other names too. In TN, the word is "roundana". I first heard it from the back of the car I was driving one evening, as part of the directions to where we were going ("Turn right at the next roundana"). The next morning, I saw it on a spiffy road sign, pointing to the said roundana.

Later discussion suggested that it comes from "round thana", though one spirited lady (you know who you are) put forward a case for "round turner". Either way, I like the evolved word. Nice ring to it (no pun intended), roundana.


Speaking of etymology and evolution, Chennai has a "Barber's Bridge", I learned on this trip. The story goes that when built in British times, it was called "Hamilton Bridge" after some engineer or official. Why is it called "Barber's" now?

Story goes too that Tamil-speakers pronounced "Hamilton" as something approximating "Ambilton", and that got corrupted to "ambattan", the Tamil word for "barber". And much later, some English-speaking official asked for a translation of this Tamil-sounding word, and thus did Barber's Bridge make its appearance.

All of which reminds me of how Panaji got transformed to Panjim (in particular, the pronunciation as "pan-gym"), and also how "Puduseri" mutated into "Pondicherry". Those stories, another time.


Then of course I must list the things I learned while travelling in an impossibly crowded bus to the railway station.

* A large wall of a school-building had these two words painted in giant blue letters: "Washing Water". I tried for a while to figure how you might wash water, then gave up.

* A nondescript building had this sign out front: "Garments Holdall Making Training Unit". I seriously considered alighting and signing up for the training course on the spot, but then realized my Rs 4 bus ticket would go waste.

* Truck on the side of the road had these words on the side: "Love Earth or Leave Earth". Kind of mildly apocalyptic.

* "Don't Take Eatables From Strangers They May Be Drugged." Enough said.


Wandering a college campus, I ran across a series of grey electrical junction boxes.

The first said: "BORN MAX (1882-1970) Founder of Quantum Theory in Physics."

The second said: "BOYLE ROBERT (1627-1691) Founder of Boyle's Law."

The third said: "ARCHIMEDES Founder of Archimedean Principle."

The fourth said: "THOMAS ALVA EDISON Inventor of the Incandescent Lamp and 1093 Discoveries."

Question: Where was I wandering?


Another railway station had enormous cutouts of a man in shirt and dhoti, with these words: "M Raghavaiah, GS NFIR and President, SRES. Our Hearty Welcome to Architect of VI CPC in Indian Railwaymen (payment of HPCA, NDA NHP MACI) and the only leader of all VI CPC anomalies should be rectified."

That's about as many acronyms as I can handle on a given day. Can someone explain to me what it all means?

The same station also had two large stone plaques set into the side of a building, commemorating the inauguration of the "stop pages" of certain trains.

I had no idea that stoppages of trains were marked by plaques. Learn something every day.


On the platform, waiting for my train, I found what I've been searching all my life for: the Crew Booking Lobby. I sneaked a peak inside. What do they do in crew booking lobbies, I wonder?

On a glass partition just inside the door I found some kind of answer: "Momentary Carelessness May Cause Valuable Lives."

Yup, I couldn't agree more.


ubernerd said...

VI CPC indicates the 6th Central Payscale Commission. The other acronyms probably relate to salary components that were approved.

Suresh said...

As the son of an ex-bureaucrat, I was intrigued by the acronyms; enough to waste a little time. Here we go:

GS=General Secretary; SRES= Southern Railway Employees' Sangh; NFIR=National Federation of Indian Railwaymen [but not women?]; NDA=Night Duty Allowance; NHP=National Housing Policy [may be]; HPCA=Hospital Patient Care Allowance

I've no idea what MACI means. Given the reference to hospital patient care, it might refer to a product of GE Healthcare, a portable electrocardiogram machine called MACi. (See here.)

Please do go to the website of SRES and read through the various circulars and documents. You will be enlightened. Do you know about LARSGESS? No? It refers to Liberalized Active Retirement Scheme for Guaranteed Employment to Safety Staff -- whatever that means. No doubt, further enlightenment awaits those willing to plough through the many documents on the website.

Sumedha said...

My family and I were thoroughly confused the first time we heard someone refer to a traffic light as a "robot" in SA. We spent the next 20 minutes looking around (somewhat apprehensively) for the robots that the guy told us would be coming up soon, that we were supposed to turn at. I wonder how the name "robot" emerged for a traffic light.

I love funny signs too, though I haven't come across so many inexplicable ones. There was one in a village in Rajasthan, painted on the side of a small building, that said "gande chitra lagao mat, maa-behen ko lajaao mat", which I found very funny.

And then there was a tiny wooden hut in Deeg, the kind of shack where cigarettes and paan are sold, which had the curious sign "Banti Sardar Dating Works" (in Hindi) on top. The shop was closed, so we couldn't sign up for the dating works, or find out what the sign really means.

Anonymous said...

Yes I remember my Tamil relatives singing to me as a baby. "The wheels on the bus go roundana round,.."

VM said...

The capital city of Goa was planned and built over a ward of neighboring Taleigao, which has always been called 'ponnje'in Konkani. In the Portuguese era, the Ponnje was transcribed as Pangim, which is pretty close to the original when said aloud, and thence Panjim in English. It's only post-colonially that this absurd new spelling Panaji came about, to my mind the least accurate of all the transliterations. If I'd my druthers, we'd be Ponnje again!


Dilip D'Souza said...

Suresh, as the son of a once-bureaucrat myself, I am thoroughly impressed. I am quite keen on exploring if I can partake of some of that LARSGESS. Whatever it is.

VM: thanks! I've always loved how the "ponnje" became "panjim" in POrtuguese because that's how the Portuguese would spell that sound, and then "Panjim" gets anglicised. Same with "Candolim" and "Curtorim" and so forth.

Dilip D'Souza said...

By the way Suresh I was glad to note from the SRES site that there's a "Grant of advance increments/special Allowance to Stenographers in subordinate offices for acquiring higher speed in shorthand."

All's well with the railways, then.