Thiruvananthpuram-kari (A Woman from Thiruvananthpuram)

21st February is International Mother Language Day and our blog is hosting a celebration of languages. A series of blog posts by people from different walks of life – sharing their thoughts on languages, memories and more. International Mother Language Day is an observance held annually on 21 February worldwide to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

(This post was sent by Lata Sunil. Lata Sunil is a Techie, reader, blogger and aspiring writer. She tweets at @lsunil)

Malayalam is my mother tongue and I consider myself almost fluent in it. Unlike the generation today in Kerala, where Malayalam is mixed with English and called as Manglish, I can speak better. All thanks to the two and half months we stayed in Kerala during every summer vacation. I even taught myself to read Malayalam with some help from aunts and cousins. I was proud of my language skills till I got married almost 19 years ago to my husband from Central Kerala, Kottayam.

Little did I know how ignorant I was about Kerala. I had heard the Thrissur dialect earlier and was

familiar with it as it is distinctly different. But Kottayam was a different ballgame. Kottayam is the

house of major publications like Malayala Manorama, Mangalam, Mathrubhumi and many printing

presses like DC Books. The Malayalam written language is closest to Kottayam dialect. Further research

informed me that though there are 3 dominant dialects in Kerala, it can be further divided into 12 more

familiar ones. Within them, there are further religious and cultural divisions. Well, I’ll keep history aside

and tell you what happened when I landed at my matrimonial home.

I realized the pace and accent of dialogue delivery between Kottayam and my place were different. I

could not understand what the husband was saying. And it was worse to understand his relatives who

had come from Kerala with an uncorrupted language. They (as in Kottayam-kaars) use complete words

with clear pronunciation. Unlike them, we (Thiruvananthpuram-kaars) loved to elongate our words and

give it a lilt. For example, they will say ‘de kando’ which means ‘see’ with no fuss. But we will say it as

‘Diey KandO..oo’. For saying ‘What’ they use ‘Enna’ whereas we say ‘Endha’ or ‘Endhera’. In Kollam

they say ‘Endhuva’. But Kollam is another dialect which I noticed only after my encounter with


I was aghast when I realised ‘crap’ is called as ‘Appi’ whereas we call a baby as ‘Appi’. Imagine the

smirks given by my husband when visiting my hometown and someone asks my baby’s name. Followed

by how many ‘Pullara’ I have? They call children as ‘Pillere’.

He never stops teasing me for saying ‘Donday’ which means ‘Look there’ just because they say

‘Dendey’. We also have a tendency to use the plural instead of singular for everything. Like someone

from my region would enquire about my job as ‘Jwollikal’ instead of saying ‘Joli’ as in Angelina Jolie.

This dialogue was even used by Shah Rukh Khan in Chennai Express when he meets a Mallu truck driver.

For ‘wages’, we say ‘Koolikal’ instead of plain boring ‘Kooli’.

Once, the husband asked me to get ‘Kadala’ from the kitchen and I told him that there is no ‘Kadala’ at

home. When he got the ground nuts out I understood that we used a different name for the same

thing. They call ground nuts as ‘Kadala’ while we call it as ‘Kappalandi’. He promptly informed me that

is what they call cashew nuts. Are you nuts? I asked. We call them ‘Kashu-andi’ which is a corrupted

version of Cashew nuts. I asked him what do they then call ‘Kadala’ which in our language meant

‘Grams’. They call it also as ‘Kadala’.

I seized the chance and give him a session on how come they could not come up with two different

words for different items. We are closer to the home of cashew nuts and therefore, our word is the

correct one. That is an unresolved one and I refuse to change the words I use.

Over the years, I learnt to understand the Kottayam dialect and I could notice the nuances now. I

prided myself on upgrading my Malayalam skills. I could use their dialect comfortably when I am in

Kottayam. Or so I thought.

A few years back when I had landed at Kottayam, I was talking to my then 10 year old niece. She

promptly went to her mom asking, ‘Why is mami speaking like this? She talks different.’ That’s when I

heard my sister-in- law telling her, ‘Mami is a Thiruvananthpuram-kari. So, she speaks with that accent.’

And I realized, I should just be myself and use the language which I belong to. After all, it is my identity,

isn’t it?

Further sources – http://www.ciil-lisindia.net/Malayalam/Malay_vari.html

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