Thanjavur district in Tamilnadu is known for many reasons – agricultural prosperity thanks to its position in the Cauvery delta, knowledge and patronage of dance and music , fondness for good food and people with a sharp wit. Their sharp wit manifested through their quick repartees and scintillating conversational skills which they raised to the level of art. There would never be a dull moment in our family functions as the aunts and uncles matched their wits and sparred one another with their sharp words. To an outsider, their conversations might seem cryptic with inside references and allusions through proverbs and figures of speech. If you asked my grandmother about something she had no clue about she would not simply say : “How would I know?” Instead she would say: “Pichaikku vanda brahmana Perungaya choppai kandiyo nnu idu enna kelvi?” ( this is like asking the man who came to beg at your house whether he had seen your asafetida container) To the uninitiated it might seem like a totally irrelevant answer while an insider would understand how effectively this drives home the point by comparing your question to the absurdity of asking a passerby about a small item from the corner of your kitchen. After attending a wedding an uncle would comment: “appappa, paiyan enna Neramgarey – neruppai kulupaatina madiri !” (Wow, the colour of the groom’s skin- superb! Like a burning ember that has been bathed!) While the rapturous tone would suggest admiration for the groom’s colour, insiders would smirk as they know that the potshot is at the boy’s jet black complexion. Another aunt would praise the lunch at some place as “saapaadu pramadhama irundadu Uppiliyappan Kovil prasadam madiri” It would appear that she is equating the quality to the food offered to the deity at this temple but insiders would get the point that the dishes did not have enough salt! I could go on and on but the essence would be lost in translation.
Growing up around this kind of conversation, I did not realize this manner of speech was peculiar to one region in Tamilnadu until a friend’s mother said that she did not understand half the things that Thanjavur people said. This lady was from North Arcot district. “I get intimidated by the way Thanjavur people speak” she said. From the way she said ‘Thanjavurkaara’ it I could discern that she did not like “Thanjavur people”. In later years, I have sensed approval, admiration,suspicion, contempt and even mild fear in the way people react to Thanjavurkaara. They don’t express it openly but you can feel it from the way they say the word ‘Thanjavurkaara’ – a slight roll of the eye, or extra stress on the syllables or a mild variation in the tone.
When I say things like this, my son does not understand and he asks me how I can perceive all this in a simple statement. He is a Bangalore boy all the way and he can only understand the literal meaning of every sentence in Tamil and nothing beyond. He and others of his generation in the family would miss half the nuances in a typical conversation among those of my grandmother’s generation. For example my grandmother could say something is divine but imply the exact opposite by the way she said it. (Divyam!)
This is not peculiar only to our region and people all over the world have evolved ways through inflexion, intonation, gestures and facial expressions to express sarcasm, suppressed anger and irony. Diplomatic usage of language has been consciously evolved to convey meanings at various levels – strong sentiments couched in polite language, shaking hands or hugging at a photo-op while seriously considering the good date fora military offensive. Politicians and businessmen look for the real conversation not in the statements but in the body language of the people they deal and wheel with. Non verbal communication has become as important as what is spoken; oftentimes more important.
It was easy for earlier generations to grasp the grammar of non verbal communication through constant personal interactions. Till a few years ago , majority of personal and business interactions were conducted face to face or on telephone where it was easy to pick up the non verbal cues through change in tone , expression or posture. But today’s generation communicates mostly through email, tweets, blogs or text messages. I have met many youngsters who are shy and respond in monosyllables while their fingers are constantly busy typing text messages. It seems that they have a lot to say when they are not face to face. How is it possible to have layered and nuanced conversations via text messages or even emails? Emoticons are pathetic substitutes for the real expressions accompanying conversations – a dignified dismissal, a contemptuous waving off, a look that can kill or even a wink or a smile.
Here is an article
that explains how all this 'emphasis on social networking puts younger people at a face-to-face disadvantage':
We live in a culture where young people—outfitted with iPhone and laptop and devoting hours every evening from age 10 onward to messaging of one kind and another—are ever less likely to develop the "silent fluency" that comes from face-to-face interaction. It is a skill that we all must learn, in actual social settings, from people (often older) who are adept in the idiom. As text-centered messaging increases, such occasions diminish. The digital natives improve their adroitness at the keyboard, but when it comes to their capacity to "read" the behavior of others, they are all thumbs.
I wonder if a day might come when a generation would only be able to express its feelings through emoticons and not through facial expressions or intonation. I already know that the fine art of conversation that I experienced as a youngster in my family functions is almost extinct. There are few people who can speak like that and fewer who can understand it. At a cousin’s wedding recently, I noticed that we were mostly communicating in English. Most of the youngsters of my son’s generation will not really understand a typical Thanjavur conversation except the meaning on the surface. At this rate in a time not in the distant future there would be nothing to distinguish Thanjavurkaara or Maduraikaara as everyone would be digitalkaara.
Watte pt dat wud b!:(