July 29, 2011

I yam ye piroud Mellu!

How come when the whole world and their uncle speak good English, nobody is surprised, but when a Malayali speaks proper unaccented English, it’s treated like the 8th wonder of the world?

Twice yesterday, by two different people, I got this. “You’re a mallu? But how come you don’t have any mother-tongue influence??!” “I’m sure you wouldn’t have studied in Kerala! There’s no other way you can speak such good English and Hindi.” And when I say that I studied in a KV, they’re like “Aaah!! That explains it!” like they cracked a very difficult code.

When I came to Hyderabad, same story. Scores of people have asked me this. It’s like the biggest puzzle of the century for them.

I mean, seriously, what is with people?? We’re not all that bad ok. Sure, maybe some of us do say Ungil for uncle, andy for aunty, mengey for monkey, wonly for only, vaater for water, etc, but we are not the only ones in the country who have bad accents and the so-called mother-tongue influence. I’m not going to mock anyone else because then I’ll be labeled a racist, but let me tell you, I’ve been called Dibiya instead of Divya by quite many people, none of them Malayalis. I know of people who’ve said Phuck (with an aspirated ‘p’ sound) instead of ‘fuck’. Loads of people have asked me whether mallus eat ‘fis’ every day or not. Have I laughed at any of them? Have I made fun of their language? Well, maybe behind their backs, ya. But never to their faces! I’ve never asked a north-Indian or a Kannadiga why they don’t have an accent while speaking English. And I’ve never heard anyone else also asking a person with good English, who’s not from Kerala, how they speak unaccented English. Why is that not a surprise? Why is it a surprise only when it comes to us?

If we speak in Malayalam, people say that it sounds as though a lot of stones have been put in a steel tumbler and is being shaken. Or that it sounds like I’m abusing someone. And if we speak in English, that also comes under scrutiny. Give us a break, dammit! Four years of being in a non-mallu land, and I’ve heard enough and more about my mother tongue. Well, let me tell you something. Not every Malayali speaks and dresses like LolaKutty. If that’s the image you have in your mind, it’s time you made a visit to our land. I’ve even been mistaken for a North Indian because I don’t have curly hair or don't walk around with coconut oil in my hair. They think we wear only Kerala sari or pattu-pavada. Times have changed. Why do you think only Kerala is stuck is the Stone Age?

And you know something else? We make an effort. Yes, you read it right. Our accent may not be great, but at least we make an effort to speak another language. I’ve been in Hyderabad for four years, and now I can understand Telugu, and speak a bit of it. And that too without any accent. A friend of mine, who’s married to a Telugu guy, speaks Telugu as fluently as she speaks Malayalam. How many of you non-mallus, working or settled in Kerala, have made an effort to learn Malayalam? I can bet not many. Because you claim it’s very difficult. Which is true.

Wait a sec! Now I get it! THAT’s why you make fun of our English!! Because you just can’t get the hang of our language! You’re just plain jealous. :)

I started out ranting, but feel much better now. Yes, I’ve cracked the code.

Next time anyone asks me how come I ‘don’t have mother-tongue influence’, I’ll ask in return “Why do YOU have a bad accent?” Or if that person doesn’t have an accent, I’ll ask them the same question in return, “How come YOU don’t have an accent?”

It’s time for some revenge. Bleddy!


  1. Its the pot calling the kettle black.

    If there is anything I have laughed about it is when somebody says jero (zero), jerax (xerox) or joom in and joom out (zoom in and zoom out)

    And if anybody missed it, in the PMO reorganizing, the new principal advisor to the PM is a Nair ;-)

  2. Though my mother tongue is telugu I've noticed a lot of this going around. My mother has a bit of tamilian accent because that's where she's from and everyone goes like "Inni yella tharuvatha kooda nuvvu itlane matladuthunavu enti?" and sniggering. I mean really? Come on, my mother speaks and writes better telugu than any of them. She's just got a tamilian accent. If I like coconut chutney, I'm a mallu. If I like oiling my hair, I'm a mallu. That's heights. Mallus are all not like that. I make fun of them too, but not to the extent where it's bothering someone.

    Oh nooo, I'm ranting again :\ Byeeee! :D

  3. Ahh!! feel so relieved reading this!! So many people have asked me the same question "how come you are a mallu and you dont have an accent" As if they don't have an accent!
    I am so much proud of being a mallu! We are the universal survivors! We learn any language easily and survive any place!!

  4. English and mallu? People should get their brains checked. I work at a newspaper in Gujarat. Gujarat. and the desk (where all the editing and rewriting takes place) there are 4 mallus. Three out of which are Associate editors. :)

    Need I say more for the Mallu kind? :)

    Plus Kerela didn't rise to being one of the most literate states in the country out of the blue! Plus I studied deprivation for two months in my college and I have never heard a professor say 'Kerela model' so often. :) You have more to be proud than we (I am a hyderabadi by choice) have. :) Sorry :p but I get very defensive when people criticize bad english with stereotypes. :)

  5. I actually have a colleague here who says, "I will do wote (what) he saiys, but I might do it laite", you know how this sounds, right? The Americans just go nuts listening to this. They have only heard the Russel Peters' version of Indian accent, this to them is bhery bhery new (yeah, people who call you Dibiya, them)! India does not just have myriad cultures and languages, it has multiple accents of the English language too.

    As usual, loved it and keep them coming!

  6. Yo Divya! That's the way to go!

    I have found myself in similar situations many a times and they ask if I had lived in any Northern State and when they hear that 'Yes', don't they look jubilant?! And guess what? The people who have asked me this are mostly NRK's who think living in Kerala can destroy 'a good accent' among many other things. Time to retaliate. I say yes, yes, yes!

    And what about all those Non Malayalis who say things like bio-lo-gy, psych-lo-gy and stuff? Hmph!

    Oh, but there's a better way to shut up the people who think Mallus don't know English. Make them compare their written Angrezi with a Malayali's. :)

    And yes, great post like yalways!;)

  7. @Arun: Don't we know just too many of those jero-jerax-joom types? ;)

    @DawnZhang: You seem to be ranting a lot these days. :) What's up?

    @Cindrella: Exactly! They'll not just have an accent, they'll have bad grammar too! And they make fun of US! Hmmpph!

    @Srinidhi: You made me feel a lot more prouder for what I am. :)
    And I agree with you. Even I get defensive when people make fun of bad english with stereotypes.

    @Vineeth: Very true! We have multiple varieties of English too!

    @Destiny's Child: And what about those non-mallus who say nafew for nephew? :/ And you know, I know quite many girls who are particular about getting married to a NRK itself so that he'll have good english. Heights!

  8. Well said!

    Dammit, my thoughts on the same! :D
    We learn Hindi, Tamil, Englees (ok, so some of us say it with an accent, thang you very much!).

    But do others know Malayalam? Heck, they can't even pronounce that right. It goes flat at 'l' and doesn't go rounded like 'll' (as in vellam!).

    Even I've heard enough of, 'Oh so you speak Hindi? And your English is good' nonsense. Good post...Dibiya! :D :D

  9. Spot on!
    That's the perfect answer anyone can give. I will try that next time :)

    ....Here I Am

  10. So many people ask me "You're a Gujarati???" o.O in the same way :P
    It's weird no?
    Coz it's not like every Gujju person pronounces snacks as snakes and all :P Blame that stupid tv x_x

  11. I believe if you can speak a language as complex as Malayalam, which according to many learned souls is cryptic and next only to Sanskrit on the difficult to learn scale, you can pick up any language right from Hindi to Swahili with equal ease.

    As for the being teased for being Mallu part, I have been racially mistaken to be hailing from a variety of locales ranging from Nepali Guy to Arabic Guy(???).

    BTW, what happened to your 10 day challenge ?

  12. My mom's dad was a mallu, her mom was telugu. My dad is a manglorean.

    I have such a treasure-trove of accents to choose from

    Just need a tamil to complete the South Indian circle :P


    Do visit mine

    Also, here's inviting you and your readers to a blogging contest, details of which can be found on my blog..

  13. Why so many divides? Aren't we all Indians in the first place?
    Us Indians are so clannish :|

  14. I am doing a jingalalala dance out here right now!!
    I was born and bought up in Bhopal but i still know my language...and still even thr people used to ask me how the hell can i speak good english

    I thought that wud stop once i come down to Kerala...but here even some malayalees are askign me. First of all these are the ones who r spoiling the name. Self pride is needed :D

    I loved the post my girl...you and me have very similar names...no my name isnt divya...but many people wrongly call me that...got a clue ? :D

  15. With your colleagues and friends, you can at least get defensive. Imagine a condition where you have to face these questions from an interview board consisting of bl***y IIM-graduates? I recently faced it. And before I could hold my tongue, I started pouring out gyaan about 100% literacy and the great men from kerala. Awaiting results now, sigh!

    You're right. They are all just jealous of us!

  16. @Vinitha: I swear! They totally skew up the pronunciation of 'Malayalam' even! And please call me Divya. :/ When i hear dibiya, I picture myself to be a small little purple-coloured box. :p

    @Vijay: Haha! Let me know how THAT goes. :D

    Blahblaholic: Exactly! You remember that show Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi?! One of those ladies used to speak like that. Sheesh!

    @Atrocious Scribblings: Nepali??!! Arabic I can imagine, but Nepali?! Are you a chinky by any chance?
    And the challenge is still on, but when you gotta rant, you just gotta rant. :) The challenge posts will follow.

    @CRD: Now that's what you call a perfect South Indian family! :D
    Sure will check out the contest. Thanks! :)

    @Priyanka: Totally. ANd I saw so much of that in my university here. The first thing they do when they meet somebody is ask where they are from. :/

    @Red Handed: You mean like how I often get called Vidya wrongly? ;)

    @Musings: WTF?? On an interview board?! That's so not done!! And damn right they're jealous of us! :D
    Good luck with the interview.

  17. Same here!
    I too have had the similar experiences ...and I got the same answer too "I studied in K.V."
    *Hi 5*

  18. LOL If you are mallu, you have to go through this. There are people who absolutely refuse to believe that I am a mallu because I can speak English so well. Only when I tell them I want a Beynana do they believe me... :D

  19. @Kavitha: Hi-5! :D

    @Abhishek: Seriously! One guy in college was SO confused and had so much trouble believing me when I told that I've studied all along in Kerala itself, except for a year of KG and 1st std in Pune. Well, I agree, that's where I started learning hindi, but then again, that really doesn't have anything to do with my accent. That's something I made an effort at.
    And Mengey and beynana are like their favourite words no! :D

  20. agree absolutely...just expecting some 1 to have an accent just because he/she belongs to some place is plane stupid and our tv channels are NOT helping

  21. @maniac.hunter: Absolutely. You said it!Evryone maybe gaga over Lolakutty, but I do not like her. It's mainly becuase of her that we Mallus are made fun of so much. :(

  22. Yeah, that happens everywhere, not only with mallus, but gujratis, hyderabadis, biharis, bongs, and what not.. That's probably because when we call others racist, we are hypocrites.

    Diversity always comes with it, difference of tone, attire, speech, and what not. I am a Kashmiri, and my best friend is a Mallu!

    I guess in the end only one thing matters " how well a person you are", rest are obnoxious proliferations.

    I quite liked the post!


  23. @indigenou: Yup, I agree with you. What happens in the end is how good a person you are. :)
    Thank you for 'quite' liking the post! :)

  24. Sigh!! What can I say? It comes with the JD of being a Mallu, I guess.... Every time I give off the truth about my lineage (speaking of which, I am surprised they don't have giant billboards by now announcing "Beware - She's a crazed out Mallu. DO NOT CALL HER A MADRASI"....)people say the very same eerie dialogue. But you definitely cracked the code on this one! Loved it!
    Oh by the way - brings back memories of a hilarious incident where a person describes a lovely dish from Goa thus : "...and that is Goan Phiss curry." Need I say more?

  25. aaaaaaah!!
    You shud knw why m screaming!!!!!

  26. @Nirvana: Hehe. Ya ya, the banderphool phiss curry. ;)

    @Red Handed: Buhahahahaha! :D Now I know your name. Tralalalala! :)

  27. Hey Divya, dont bother, we mellus RoCKKK!!!

    athu manasillaakanu ulla sense ivarku illa,
    sensitivity ivarku illa,
    sensibility ivarku illa..


  28. LOL
    nice post :D
    this morning I called up at my sister's school and the person on the phone spoke in a malyali accent.. I dont know how on the earth did my brain adapt to it and I was speaking just like the mallus does! I'm a Rajasthani :P
    Maybe it was my sleepy head that was extra creative to make me speak in an accent ;)

  29. @Defiant Princess: Haha! Rather, your sleepy head was extra creative to make fun of a mallu. :p

  30. :D :D I so like you all the way more now :)
    I've never faced such cross-questioning but I've so enjoyed your post sweet mallu :D

    Love :)

  31. Now that's a perfect Mallu Bashing ... I like!! ;) .. Well I've encountered the same issues because I hail from God's Own Country too ... And I don't have any weird accent when I talk in English or Hindi ... and people end up asking me the same things!

    It sorta gets to the nerves sometimes... I mean yes I talk fluent Malayalam at home, but then I know I talk better English.. Seriously weird people!

    I was wondering how to retaliate and trust me you gave me the perfect lines...REVENGE TIME :p ... hhahaha ...

    Awesome post! :D

    P.S. new to your blog here! Already Loving it :D ♥

  32. Oh and btw you haven't completed the 10 day challenge...what happened? :)

  33. @Confused Soul: Thank you. :)
    And about the 10-day challenge, I was starting to feel that I'm talking a bit too much about myself here. :/ SO thought I'll give a break and then write the rest. :)

  34. Hi Divya,

    Just started following your blog and must admit it’s entertaining and quite a time pass :-). Way to go girl!

    I have never commented in anyone else's blog before and this topic made me comment. I am a tamilian and I too have such similar experiences.
    Recent one being a different though and is from a fellow tamilian girl, who was very proud to have guessed that that I am a tamilian too, what with my typical SOUTH INDIAN accent! wow, wasn't that great! Well, I live in a western country and I don’t use any western accent unless and until it is absolutely necessary! God, what is with these people commenting about others’ accent and thinking that rolling the tongue for an accented English makes them cool! Poor creatures, not aware of how they are being mocked at their back by our fellow western colleagues is a different story.


  35. To give an academic's perspective - incidentally, I study sounds - I don't think mother tongue influence cannot, or should not, be cast along the lines of good and bad. However, the fact that such influences are labelled precisely along those lines suggests that we are, sixty-four years after Independence (at the time this post was written), still far more concerned with 'how' our English sounds - the ghost of the Colonial mindset, perhaps? - rather than with what purpose it achieves - clear communication of messages, which I think Mallu English accomplishes as well as Tamilian English or Bengali English or any other variant of Indian English, if not better.

    Scholars working in the area aptly called World Englishes are in fact becoming increasingly convinced - I am understating the case here - that Englishes spoken in those regions, which have survived the death of colonialism, must be studied for their own features, rather than their features vis-a-vis a British/American/Australian standard. Within the Indian context, this methodology translates into, first of all, accepting all varieties of English spoken by Indians (in India) for what they are. :)

    PS: Forgive me for what I am sure is a rather long and laboured response to a fascinating post, punctuated with the usual doses of your 'angry' humour. Just couldn't help showing off my training as a phonologist. :D

  36. I can relate to the Dibiya bit, for I too am Divya :D


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