The North South Dialogue, or, “Mujhko Chidiya khana”

June 29, 2006

I think most people who have lived their lives in both south and north India would agree how little people know about the other side. I had classmates in school growing up in Madras who thought anybody from up-north of north Madras was a Sardarji, and I had classmates at college (in engineering school up north), who thought anybody from below Bombay spoke Madraasi. (The more enlightened ones thought anybody from Karnataka spoke Karnatak). So, its not surprising when my friend, an iyer from Mettupalayam in Muzzafarnagar,UP, whose only knowledge of Hindi was the word ‘Baazigar’,’- a word he had seen written in 40 feet letters on posters and cutouts on Mount Road, thought the word must mean something important.

To give him credit, he could make himself pretty well understood in the local language. All he had to do was point to his wrist with an apologetic look and say ‘Baazigar?’ to know the time. A raised little finger and an apologetic ‘Baazigar!’, and he could find out where the nearest toilet was.

As Hindi movies became more and more popular among the southies, the Metupalayam brigade decided to take it upon themselves to become more north savvy and Hindi literate, translating movie titles in their prathmik-madhyamik fashion, they went out of movie halls thinking the movie they just say (‘chashme baddoor’ ) meant ‘spectacle case’.

‘Kacche daghe’ became “underwear nada”, or to Tamilians ‘arana kayaru’. Gaining confidence, they soon llearnt to use their knowledge of the structure of the language in other settings- I heard of a pupil who went to a restaurant in Calcutta in ’99 and told a waiter ‘chidiyakhana’ (I want to eat chicken). The waiter being bong went back to reading Trotsky’s translation of Tagore or the other way around, I forget which.

The most improbable story about bilingual movie translation disasters is a case my brother narrated to me. This was an English<->Tamil case, that happened when 2 of his classmates were discussing the movie Jurassic Park. The actual conversation was in Tamil, and when translated, went something like this.

‘Man, that movie was too much’
‘Yeah, specially that part where the big Jurassic park attacks the jeep’
‘Yeah, even the small Jurassic parks were awesome’..

..the guys discussing the movie thought that the dinosaurs were creatures called Jurassic Park. Classic.

Though the average Tamilian makes some effort to learn Hindi in his life, the average northie has no such pretensions. He is comfortable in his cocoon, and beyond a half hearted attempt at learning 3 bad words for the time he might have to argue with auto drivers in Madras/Bangalore, he doesn’t give a damn. Though this attitude smacks of superciliousness, condescension and common sense, there is very little us southies can do about it. However, directors like Mani Ratnam who have acknowledged the rift are now making bilingual movies that suck in both languages(Yuva-yuk!).

More power to them, I say.

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