Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chennai Conversations – A White PHapHer

This post is dedicated to my 22 months of random conversations in Chennai. It is a subject close to my heart so it deserved a place here on my blog.

The conversations are Warm and Moist. Warm because most of the conversations I had in the local dialect were with the Auto Wallahs and most of these contributed to a significant rise in my body temperature. It’s moist because most it left me drenched in conversational spit. I covered the “conversational spit” issue in my earlier posts here and here.

A very interesting thing about the way Chennai converses is that it lets you express disgust in the most succinct way. Every time an argument with someone reaches a point where the only ways forward could be a possible bash up or an acceptance of the other person’s superiority, Tamil offers you a beautiful poetic word – “PODA”. Poda roughly translates into “Get Lost” but the sheer phonetic of the word delivers satisfaction worth a dozen “F** YOUs” and best of all, it doesn’t take a lot of time to say it. Here is a demonstration ( based on a true story):

You: How much for Mount Road anna?
Evil Auto Wallah: Your ancestral house and the Simpson Boxers
You: Simpson boxers! No way!Only the house is O.K anna
Evil Auto Wallah: Illai illai! Simpson boxers also
You: PODA!!!!!

Evil Auto Wallah gets lost, you win.
I say - Try it.

The language also offers amazing flexibility coupled with mind boggling brevity. One word questions and answers are frequently used. What’s even better is that these questions and answers are so similar that there is no need to learn them separately. Here is an example:

Passerby in lungi and sports shoes: Which way is the beach saar?
You: Straight.
Passerby in lungi and sports shoes with a puzzled expression: Straighta!
You with the same calm expression: Yes. Straight.

Notice how just an additional “a” in the word “straight” changes the answer to a question. Amazing.

Finally, a wonderful demonstration of the power of words can be observed in the random fights that break out on the streets. In fact it is widely accepted that certain sounds when produced at the right decibel are equivalent to punching a person in the face. I have been witness to several such fights where after a few abuses it moves to the ultimate level – yelling “AAeee” at each other. A typical fight would involve the two warriors standing about 2 feet from each other pointing figures and yelling “AAeee” in tandem at each other. All the time maintaining an I-AM –SO-GOING-TO-KILL-YOU expression on their faces. The person with the last “AAeee” wins. Bloodless and deadly. I love it.

There is more to Chennai than just these conversations and as I countdown my last few days here, I intend to write more. Any suggestions are most welcome :)


  1. yes.. there are many more that deserve a mention in your post :)

  2. hehe .. it took me some thime to decipher phapher !! more more !!

  3. What daa! nice one.. I love the 'straighta''lefta' and 'righta' conversations there! :p


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