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Bringing glory to 'Thironthoram' dialect



As a postgraduate student of Malayalam in University College, Sumesh Krishnan observed an interesting phenomenon among students coming from suburbs of the capital city. “As soon as they crossed Karamana bridge, they changed their dialect and took ownership of it only after crossing the bridge in the evening on their way home. They seemed to be embarrassed about their dialect and adopted a fake one that had no resonance with the Malayalam spoken in Thiruvananthapuram district,” says Sumesh.

Keen to learn more about the reason for this behavioural trend, the poet and writer delved into intricacies of the Malayalam language, its many dialects and the way the language was changing rapidly. Recently, the research student of Malayalam at the Karyavattom campus of the University of Kerala was in the limelight when he came up with a spirited explanation of the rich dialects that exist in the capital city and its suburbs during a show, Malayali Durbar, anchored by actor-producer Maniyan Pillai Raju on Amrita TV. Within no time, excerpts of the show went viral (one lakh plus and counting), with a lot of people hailing from the city pumping up their muscles and sharing it frantically on Facebook and Whatsapp in a show of solidarity.

“I have been getting a lot of calls and invitations to speak at seminars and conferences,” says Sumesh with a smile. The young poet and writer has become the champion of the dialect that has often been mangled beyond recognition by mimics and filmmakers to raise a laugh. “There are nearly 11 dialects in Thiruvananthapuram district. Dialects and slang are rooted in the soil of a place and evolve from the culture, geography and lifestyle of the people. Depending on the surroundings, the language gets its own cadence and rhythm. The dialect of the deep south in the city has the cadence and lilt of Bhadrakali pattu [songs that are sung only during festivals in temples dedicated to the mother goddess],” he says.

While movies and mimicry shows certainly continue to make a fortune by using certain words in the dialect to infuse humour, Sumesh says it is a misconception to claim that one kind of dialect is superior or inferior to any other. Pointing out that great writers such as C.V. Raman Pillai had beautifully used the dialect in his magnum opus Marthanda Varma, he says that even today writers like S.V. Venugopan Nair, Madhusoodhanan Nair and Jeyamohan skilfully use the dialect to narrate riveting stories and recite lilting poems. He points out that in every region, educated people speak in a way that is different from colloquial language. “As I observed in the show, the dialect changes in tune with the livelihood of the people and their environment. The dialect spoken in the coastal areas of the capital city is not the same as the one used in the interiors. For instance, I believe that the dialect in places such as Karakonam and Balaramapuram has a sing-song rhythm that evokes the rhythm of the warp and the weft, as weaving used to be a common occupation in these places. On the other hand, the slang in the coastal areas is in tune with the rhythm of the waves that they hear every day,” he explains.

However, brisk changes in the lifestyle of Malayalis are erasing certain words from the language as they fall into disuse. While training as a teacher, he used to take classes for students. Then, he would ask his students if they are familiar with certain words to find out if they still exist in usage. “For instance, I ask them if they have seen a mathu (wooden churn), thirumi (pounding stone), ulakka (stick used for pounding), uri… all implements that were common in kitchens about 25 years ago. None of them had any idea what I was talking about because now we use blenders, mixies and grinders. But they all knew the uri. That, they said, was what youngsters tried to break on Janmashtami, celebrated as Lord Krishna’s birthday. Apparently many of them had seen it in movies and film songs,” says Sumesh with a laugh.

Hailing from Alummoodu in Neyyattinkara, Sumesh says when words fall silent, we lose a bit of our shared consciousness, our past and our roots. As city-bred residents move away from their roots, some words also get left behind. Sumesh recalls that to rediscover certain Malayalam works, he had to go to rural areas where there was less exposure to English and television. “For instance, I was curious to find out if we had a word for cholera in Malayalam. Sure enough, the fisher women in coastal Vizhinjam helped me find that word, neerkombu.”

Waxing lyrical about the dialects in the district, Sumesh says it is one of the richest in Malayalam. One of the winners of Mambazham, a poetry-based reality contest on Kairali TV, Sumesh’s dream is to become a teacher. “I have to make ends meet and so I might take up any job that I get. But I plan to continue writing. I hope to publish my book of poems later this year and if I get a chance, write lyrics for films as well,” he confides.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 9:57:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Bringing-glory-to-Thironthoram-dialect/article14465353.ece

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