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Society

Lingo you will lau, mother promise

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Four ‘mapillais’ come up with an online compendium of the desi-isms that never make it to regular dictionaries

Peter, as any practising Tamilian would know, is not merely a Western name. On the parochial streets of Chennai, it is almost an insult. Here, adolescent boys and girls like to cheekily admonish unsuspecting men who converse in English, saying, "Oh, don't be such a Peter". If the culprit is a woman, she is called Mary, of course. These, and other gems from Chennai's colloquial glossary, such as porki (an unrefined slothful being), America mapillai (an eligible Tamil bachelor who works abroad) and paavum (pitiable one), are now spreading their linguistic wings beyond South India. At least that's what Samosapedia, a fast-growing online dictionary of South Asian neologisms, would like them to do.


This quirky new website calls itself the definitive guide to South Asian lingo and currently boasts around 2, 800 terms that can at best be defined as kitschy. Samosapedia, which has a cheeky mascot in Logonathan (who sticks his tongue out at all times), includes not only all things native - college terms, IIT lingo, native accents, famous personalities and even abuses - but also words that people from Karachi to Sri Lanka can identify with. So, besides words like 'jhadu pochha', 'bucket baths' and 'mother promise', phrases such as 'money garland' (used to felicitate politicians in India and Pakistan) make it.


Interestingly, the chroniclers of this new vocabulary do not reside in South Asia, at least not anymore. Most of the strapping men behind the website are in their early 30s and would probably be known in Chennai as 'America mapillais'. New York residents Vikram Bhaskaran and Arun Ranganathan, however, prefer the term porkis. It was sometime in October 2010 that the duo formally "shook on the idea" of building this unique dictionary. While Bhaskaran is originally from Bangalore and travelled to the USA some time ago, Ranganathan is a writer who has spent his childhood in various countries such as Hong Kong, Ethiopia, Russia, China, and France thanks to his parents' global career. "Language is the fulcrum of culture, " says Ranganathan, who quit his job to be a writer.


The duo had been talking about developing a dictionary of desi-isms for a while and soon it dawned on them that it could be bigger than just India. "What do teens in Karachi say these days? Or in Dhaka? We sought to build a home for the subcontinent's vibrant lingo, where commonalities and differences would coexist for posterity (and mirth), " discloses Ranganathan.


The name Samosapedia came in a flash. "The samosa is ubiquitous throughout South Asia, " says Bhaskaran, adding that this fried Indian snack even features in a Burmese soup. In fact, in Kenya and Somalia, they are called "sambusas" and have meat fillings, he adds. So, this food item lent itself to this kitschy website's name quite easily. "It causes so much cognitive dissonance when you meld samosa with 'pedia', " says Ranganathan, who enlisted Arvind Thyagarajan, Bhaskaran's latte-loving friend from his Bangalore days and a staunch proponent of the 'adjust maadi' (Bangalore's 'please adjust' ) philosophy, for the first design. Meanwhile, they also approached Braxton Robbason, a veteran technologist and writer, who chuckled at the name of the venture and expressed interest in building the back end for the team.


Collectively, the team, which has backgrounds in entrepreneurship and technology start-ups, writing, acting, storytelling, data mining, strategy consulting, branding, software engineering, web architecture, design, art, illustration, mountain climbing and highaltitude astronomy, formed Samosa Media Inc.


"The idea was to make Samosapedia the home of every new expression that college students in a canteen somewhere must be sitting around and laughing at, " says Bhaskaran, whose website proudly houses neologisms (like 'Jolarpet', which is Tamil for fabricated bullshit), filmi terms (like Munni-Sheila ), and even personalities (Chetan Bhagat has an entry). "I grew up taking bucket baths daily, " is now Vermont-bred Robbason's favourite refrain.


This site, which aims to be the largest crowdsourced dictionary of South Asian lingo on the planet, is open to all, though the team frowns upon entries that have any underlying racism, bigotry, or are in sheer bad taste. "Our goal is to spread an inclusive message of positivity and humour;bigotry of any kind gets shut down, " say team members. With very little marketing, Samosapedia has amassed a solid user base thanks to Facebook and Twitter, with each user telling them stories that gives the team a peek into a unique world, voiced in what they call 'a rich personal idiom'. "As editors, we've even come across a few entries that totally stumped us, usually because the words were quickly vanishing from the vernacular, " says Ranganathan.


In the course of building, editing and even rejecting certain neologisms, the team has discovered a distinct South Asian characteristic. "We sometimes have a penchant for a little wordiness, " says Ranganathan, citing the tendency of South Asians to say, "many happy returns of the day" or "emoluments" instead of salaries. These are the sort of quirky anglicisms that their dictionary thrives on.


Also, they point out, one word can have multiple meanings. "Arrey!", for instance, is an exclamation of appreciation, but can also be an expression of contempt, surprise or anger. "Our users give us both the shades of grey in a definition, as well as entertaining usage examples, " the team members say. In fact, some of their most solid contributors, or "prolific papadums" as this website with its notorious penchant for food metaphors likes to call them, belong to Bhaskaran's family. "My sister found the site so addictive that she was entering words the day before her marriage. Had she not been kolted on the head by her fiancê, she might have had to get an arranged-cum-lau marriage, " he laughs.


Of course, working on the website has rendered the foursome with some inevitable habits. Time and again, they lapse into samosa lingo. "You should see our business meetings. When there is any tension between team members, we simbly invoke swalpa adjust madi and say 'sorry, sorry, one plate puri' and it immediately defuses the situation, " says Bhaskaran.
The larger purpose of the site that is still in the beta version, says the group, is to inform, entertain, and unite. "You can certainly expect more from us in the future, " says Bhaskaran. Mother promise?

KNOW YOUR SAMOSAS


Traditional with Modern Outlook:

Usually refers to a woman representing the ideal catch for the contemporary Indian male. Ahh, the good fortune of finding Seethalakshmi (alias Lexi)! She speaks the vernacular, she toasts the coconut before putting it in the keerai kootu, touches periamma'sfeet at all family functions, and sports a nine-yard sari in Chennai's sweltering heat. But in the privacy of youthful company she knocks back the Old Monk Rum and Thums Up as she explains how Kegels enhance the female orgasm. Woof!

Load Shedding:


Intentional Rolling Blackouts. Except you never knew when. And for how long. Or why. Or if it would ever come back. You just brought out the thick white candles, struck up the Cheetah matches, roasted the lower ends of the candles until they would stick to various surfaces around the house, and went about business as usual.

Showcase:


A 'showcase' is a large bulky wooden display cabinet which used to be the pride, joy and centre of every Indian middle-class living room. Usually in brown streakedwood design. It was crammed to the point of suffocation with the most haarible items known to mankind.

Talk Slowly:


To speak softly. In the vernacular, there is no distinction between "slow" and "soft". For example, the word"dheeray se", in Hindi means both slow and soft.

Dadabhai Nawrojee:


A play of words on the name of one of India's freedom fighters, Dadabhai Nawrojee. In this context signifies a relationship between a man and a woman who seem close enough in the public eye but claim to be just friends or 'rakhi' brother-sister. Dadabhai (as in elder brother) Nawrojee (navrais husband in Marathi and Navro-ji is a colloquial take on it). Is a play of words on the duality of the name and its implied meaning in Marathi.

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