From a T-shirt to a phenomenon: How ‘Hindi Theriyathu Poda’ clothing went viral

Yuvan Shankar Raja with actor Shirish  

In Tamil, ‘Po da’ is slang for telling someone to ‘go away,’ and not very politely at that.

When this phrase, preceded with the words ‘Hindi Theriyathu,’ was printed on a T-shirt recently, it quickly went viral. However, politician and Member of Parliament, Kanimozhi, says that when she printed a few T-shirts with this phrase and distributed it to friends earlier this month, she had no idea that it would become a worldwide phenomenon.

In case you are wondering, it now has.

Film celebrities like Shanthnu Bhagyaraj and Aishwarya Rajessh have sported the T-shirt, thus increasing its reach across the globe. In Wisconsin, a TikTok user (thunder_cat21) has posted a video of this question (Do you know Hindi?) being posed to employees at Walmart, getting a resounding accent-splashed ‘Theriyathu, Po da’ in return. Back in India, the movement is spreading to other states, with actor Prakash Raj recently posting a photo on social media sporting a similar T-shirt with Kannada lettering ‘Nange Hindi Baralla, Hogappa’ (I don't know Hindi, Go!).

Prakash Raj

Prakash Raj  

“It was just an expression, that’s all,” says Kanimozhi, over phone from home, who probably kickstarted the trend. “I knew that people wanted to say the same thing, but I did not expect so many of them, especially youngsters, to support it. What people should understand is that this is not against any language... nobody minds learning a language when there is a necessity. When students go to Russia to study Medicine, they learn Russian. Likewise, if someone has to work in the North, there is no hesitation to learn Hindi, if there is a necessity. But it should not be imposed. What we are against is the notion that you are Indian only if you speak Hindi,” she says.

From a T-shirt to a phenomenon: How ‘Hindi Theriyathu Poda’ clothing went viral

Tamil Nadu’s resistance to imposition of Hindi is well known and dates back to pre-Independence. In June last year, a clause recommending mandatory Hindi teaching in all schools was dropped from the draft National Educational Policy, following intense backlash from Tamil Nadu.

This spark has united people now, who might be from different industries but share a common pride in the richness of their vernacular languages. Tamil actor Shirish, seen in films like Metro and Raja Ranguski, sported a red T-shirt with the lettering for a photo with popular music composer Yuvan Shankar Raja. Posting it on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, Shirish wrote, “Deep in discussion, good things coming our way.” This rather routine tweet went viral, getting more than 3,000 retweets and 300 comments, with a majority of them enquiring about the T-shirt that the two were wearing.

“I didn’t expect this overwhelming response,” says the actor, “I stand with what I wore: I do not know Hindi and I expressed that through my T-shirt.”

Shirish was one of the people to whom Kanimozhi had given away the T-shirts to, and he, in turn, gave some to his close friends. “Most of them took it because they liked it, and did not look too much into the lettering or the campaign behind it.” But the virality of the photos turned into a legitimate demand; Shirish says he has so far spent more than ₹ 5,000 to buy and distribute it to people who have been asking him for it.

This unexpected spurt in demand is spreading cheer in Tiruppur, a district in Tamil Nadu well known for being a textile hub. B Karthikeyan, who has been running a manufacturing unit here for four years now, has been almost out of business since lockdown. However, the ‘Hindi Theriyathu Poda’ T-shirts have given him newfound hope.

“I worked with a buying agent here, Shekar, and Kanimozhi’s office to create a few T-shirts at first. Slowly, word started spreading and my number was circulated as the man behind the creation,” says Karthikeyan. He has completed manufacturing 12,000 pieces so far, priced at Rs 200 each. Karthikeyan, who coordinates through WhatsApp and Google Pay for his orders, adds, “I’ve heard that there are people who buy from me, and subsequently sell it for ₹ 500.”

Over the last fortnight, more designs inspired by this T-shirt have started springing up in Tiruppur, with other manufacturing units getting into the game. “We are trying out other designs too: one is a white T-shirt that says, ‘I am a Tamizh Pesum Indian’. We tried out one with Periyar’s face, stating ‘Jaathi Illai Poda’ (There is no caste, go away), and another that said ‘Ban Neet’,” says Karthikeyan.

However, the slogan that has caught everyone’s fancy seems to be the one that is most direct: ‘Hindi Theriyathu Poda’. Says Karthikeyan, almost disbelievingly, given how quickly — and widely — the T-shirts have travelled: “I’m delivering 250 pieces to a client in California today. The demand is unreal.”

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 2:16:31 AM |

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