How Tamil got its dum
The bhai in Rajinikanth country has a different connotation from the bhai in Salman Khan’s universe. Out here, he’s the god who feeds our greed for biriyani. He’s the walking-talking Google for any movie you want. He’s the grocer who discovered home delivery long before BigBasket did.
Lungis or leather jackets, perfumes or pop-up toasters, mobiles or microwaves, high street or low street, he’s the go-to guy for everything. Among other things, the affable neighbourhood Muslim also managed to spice up Madras Tamil by generously sprinkling some Urdu into the equation. Let’s explore his delectable contributions.
Let’s start with jalsa. The city slang for ‘having pure pleasure’ is derived from the Urdu word for social gatherings famous for their convivial atmosphere. Majaa is no different. It’s a derivation from mazaa (fun).
One more expression of enjoyment, tamaashu, is an offspring of tamasha, the Persian description for entertainment spectacles. Yet another term for ‘ostentation’ is jabardastu, which came from zabardast (grand).
It’s no coincidence that a considerable part of the Chennai vocabulary devoted to celebration, has Urdu roots. One can attribute it to the domineering influence of the Nawabs of Arcot, who lived near the precincts of the city. Street Urdu of Triplicane left a more profound imprint on the local lingo. The expletive bazaari aurat (prostitute) gave rise to bajaari (cheap woman). The swear word beimani (cheat) morphed with time into bemani (oaf). And bevkoof (fool) was sautéed and roasted into baeku (idiot).
Every smoker’s nirvana, the dum, is from the Hindustani word for ‘breath’. Sarakku, the bootlegged liquor, owes its origins to sarak which means ‘to steal’. Another popular campus parlance maal (matter) refers to ‘goods’ in Urdu.
Quite a few of today’s jaam bajaar jargon has an etymological history worth sharing. Mamool (the dreaded bribe) is from mamun (money). Bejaar (being distressed about a problem) is a direct descendant of bezaar (displeased).
Balti (somersault of the turncoat) comes from palti (flip). Ushaar party (smart alec) is an obvious derivation from hoshiyaar (clever). The Tamil word for breakfast (nashta) is also a loan word. Even ghatham ghatham, the superstar’s trademark quip in the film Baba, is from khatam (finito). Having gifted so much to our lives, the bhai surely deserves a lot more gethu (respect), don’t you think?