Madras Baashai

Unlike many contributors of Chennai Metroblog, I wasn’t born here and blessed with knowing the nook and cranny of Madras. I’d been living here for close to six years now. When I moved in, my prime Disaster Area was understanding Madras Baashai, or the local dialect of an average Madras resident.

First off, it started with “Kalaai” (Pronounced as in “Kal-Aye”) and its variants. Kalaaichiduven, Kalaasitaanga, Matta-Kalaai, to name a few. It is a must-use-in-every-sentence word. Based on the context in which it was used, I came to realize that it was a rough thamizh equivalent of the phrase “to pull someone’s leg”. But it doesn’t strictly restrict itself to leg-pullings alone. When someone messes up something, you’ll hear them develop a new verb form for the root “Kalaai” and use it in the context. When someone does something great, you’ll hear them use a conjugate form of the word “Kalaai”. After six years of research, I found many more instances where this was used, and so this is one of those very rare use-it-any-where-as-you-please root. (the other use-it-anywhere-as-you-please root is “Put”, heard frequently inside the campus of IIT Madras) While the etymology of Kalaai is unknown, I haven’t seen it being used by native speakers of Thamizh who are not from Chennai. It is hence, safe to assume that it is a word special to Chennai alone. However, the versatility of the word makes it impossible for you to avoid it, once you spend a few months in Chennai.

And then you have “Galeej”. Common usage “Galeej-party” (Roughly the equivalent of “Dangerous Creature”). Past literature in this field traces the origin of “Galeej” to Kannada language. Unlike “Kalaai”, though, it is restrictive in nature, in the sense that you cannot conjugate the root “Galeej” as you fancy. Authoritative sources list that Galeej means Dirty, however, even non-dirty things have been branded Galeej. Hence, it can be interpreted that “Galeej” may refer to anything that has a local flavour, anything that seems out of place, any thing that went horribly wrong, etc.

Madras slang, researches note, have prominent “ya” sound. The earliest known instance where this can be spotted is the famous Thamizh song “Ezhayanda payam”. Like Elmer Fudd, native speakers of Madras slang often replace “la” with “ya”. Unlike Elmer though, it is not a speech defect. “Poyapu” for “Pizhappu” (Occupation), “Koyandhe” for “Kuzhandai” (Baby) are common examples. Also is their tendency to replace the “f” sound with the “p” sound. As a result you have “Pilim”, instead of “Film”, “Pebravary” instead of “Febraury” and “Peelings” instead of “Feelings”. Other researchers have contradicted this with the theory that they tend to replace “P” with “F”.

All those people who take Madras Baashai for granted, beware. If you don’t try use these words, it is very easy to find out that you are an out-sider. If you try and avoid them consciously, the effort will be futile. So I suggest you take a look at popular guides for Madras Slang.

2 Comments so far

  1. G V Balasubramanian (unregistered) on April 9th, 2006 @ 2:12 am

    There is a separate chapter on Madras Baashai in Wikipedia, I am giving the link below :

    G V B

  2. phreakv6 (unregistered) on April 9th, 2006 @ 10:21 am

    u ppl are doing a great job.
    please post more photos often in the
    main page as it makes the blog colorful.
    anyone stumbling upon chennai page would
    like to see a few photos to make up their
    mind as to what the city is about.

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