Thursday, July 18, 2013

I think and write in English but it is my eternal regret that I don't in Kannada...A cornucopia of verbs

I am fascinated by the cornucopia of avatars of verbs in Indian languages and how, often by using a word that's just a syllable-long, we have narrated the exact (and sometimes entire) relationship with the person being addressed
For example 'ba'. In Kannada, it means 'come'. (Like 'aa' in Hindi)
But it doesn't stop there. When you say 'ba', it means that you are addressing a person who is familiar to you - could a friend or family member. Or stranger but a person younger than you.
Now, let's add another syllable to 'ba' - 'nni' = banni. With that you have added respect and/or politeness to your summons; in other words, we now know that you are addressing someone older/unfamiliar/someone who you respect - it could be one or more of those things. 
But these are unisex verbs and they don't tell us the gender of the person you are talking to. 
So, let's add some other syllable to 'baa'. 'Ro'. So, 'baaro'.
Now we know you are talking to a male - and someone whom you are really , really familiar with. Perhaps not quite the breeds-rabbits kind of familiarity (though with time and enough baaro's, it might get there), but raised by several degrees higher than just 'baa'. So you could be talking to a brother/son/friend/lover - sometimes even a husband!
(The reason for that last exclamation mark is because it is still the practice in the "hinterland" as we superciliously tend to call it, to not take the husband's and to address him in "bahuvachana" like 'banni - Hindi equivalent is 'aaiye'. But like so much else, and with the help of judiciously timed TV serials, it's all changing. The salwar-kameez is nudging out the 'seere' and patidevs are often just "baaro'!)
Now, if you change 'ro' to 're', as in 'baare', we know you are talking to a female, but with whom you share the same degree of familiarity as 'baaro' - sister/friend/sister-in-law. And of course, wife. (No exclamation mark needed this time because this practice is as old as the idli n the dosai...)
The only exception where 'baaro' is used unisexually is with children. When I first came to live in Mysore, I noticed what then seemed strange, but now rather endearing practice of calling daughters also that way...'baaro'
The best way to understand how this treasury of verb avatars work is to watch a fight, especially a you-bumped-my-bumper-you-banged-my-er-fender street fight.
The combatants starts off with 'banni', then as tempers rise and accusations are hurled, it becomes 'ba', and finally, just before the warring parties come to blows and/or are hauled off to the nearest police station, the air is thick with references to your dubious ancestry and 'baaro's'....
I think and write in English but it is my eternal regret that I don't in Kannada...
I cannot end without sharing that most famous use of the verb 'baaro' - Purandaradasa's "Krishna Ni Begane Baaro..."

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