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Vol. XXX No. 5 June 16-30, 2020
The Tamil Nadu (is that correct?) Government, late in the evening of June 10, released a gazette notification of a decision taken on April 1. It proposes a set of English spelling changes – for 1,018 places in the State no less – based on Tamil phonetics. The exercise is commendable in the sense that it seeks to get the place names to be written the way they are pronounced in Tamil. But what it reveals is no consistency in spelling policy.
For the sake of brevity, my commentary focuses on the names of 96 places within Chennai city that are proposed to be changed. The Government’s release has two columns – one, the list of new names as proposed by the District Collectors and the other, as suggested by experts who have been consulted. The two reveal a lack of agreement in most names, as is to be expected when phonetics in one language are expressed in another. Take for instance Nandambakkam – why is it Nandhambaakkam in column ‘a’ while it is Nandambaakkam in column ‘b’? On the other hand, Adambakkam is Aadambaakkam is column ‘a’ while it is Aadhambaakkam in column ‘b’! The options for the two places completely contradict the naming logic when the pronunciations are the same in Tamil. Was the addition of an ‘h’ meant to indicate a soft ‘d’? If so, why is it there for one and not the other? And let us also add here that the correct suffix in both cases ought to have been Pakkam and not Bakkam as there is no such word in Tamil. Similarly, it is surprising that Tamil scholars have recommended Erukkencheri be changed to Erukkankjeri – jeri is not a word, while cheri is. In old Tamil it did not mean a slum – we interpreted it that way.
The report does not take into account the fact that some names were not Tamil to start with. Saidapet was once Sayyad Shah Pet – a completely Urdu name. Now, to make it Saithappettai is just not logical. Nobody pronounces it that way. It is always Saidapettai with the ‘d’ being soft and that is not the same as ‘th’ when it appears in the middle of a word. Similarly, Mayilaappoor happens to be a portmanteau of a Tamil and a Sanskrit word – Mayil and Puri. Since in this case we have the tevaram as a reference, why not simply change the name to Mayilai? It is much shorter and easier on the tongue as well. This will also be in line with the usage of Thiruvanmiyoor (why is it not Thiruvaanmiyoor?) and the change of that awful Triplicane to the Divya Prabandham-based Thiruvallikeni.
Should the Government present a revised Budget for 2020-21? Or should it deal with the fiscal situation, worsened by the virus, and, in due course, place before the legislature and the public the details of its revised plan?
Constitutional propriety provides the answer to the opposing contentions. Equally important is how the government grapples with the fiscal challenges brought to the fore by coronavirus. Sound economic options are, invariably, compromised under electoral compulsions. The election next year has already cast it shadow on the present. The Government has a tough job on hand.
Royal Firman and the Mughal Emperors
(Continued from last fortnight wherein we ended with Saadatullah Khan, the Nawab of the Carnatic refusing to honour the Mughal Emperor’s firman to hand over five villages to the English.)
Saadatullah Khan I was one of the ablest Nawabs of the Carnatic. Named Mohammad Sayeed at birth, he was given the title he took on later in life by Emperor Aurangazeb. He served as the Dewan to Daud Khan, his predecessor who had time and again proved to be a thorn in the Company’s flesh between 1700 and 1710. On Daud Khan’s recall to Delhi, Saadatullah Khan succeeded him as the Nawab of the Carnatic.
This lockdown has woven some strange new patterns into the fabric of our lives. Like re-defined family gatherings, for instance.
If you should spot young, or young-ish, people, heads buried deep in their hands, or staring blankly at a screen – be kind. For they have just navigated senior citizens in their circle through the video-chat tangle. It’s interesting enough when you involve those who were young when Travolta first stepped out on a Saturday Night. Add a rowdy bunch of super-seniors to this mix, and you’ve got yourself – no, not a party – but a riot.
Early Tamil literary periods are divided as Sangam Era, epoch of the Epics (300-600 CE) and Bhakti Era. The last provided major contributions by the Vaishnavite and Saivite saints, the Nayanmars and Azhwars, with religious poetry in excellent Tamil. Later, different styles and forms have been used in the advancement of language with no particular division.