[Blog] Madras Bashai: The Power of the Spoken word!

I have a confession to make – I have been an ardent fan of this dialect for as long as I can remember. I came into contact with this unique idiom as a child, when my brother would read with great élan and gusto a very delectable section in Madras Bashai from Cho Ramaswami's Tughlaq. I was in the process of discovering new languages such as English, Tamizh and Hindi and here was my exposure to an entertaining fourth. 

 The language felt strange, it needed a different vocalization and it had an element that I couldn't quite put my finger on back then. I was far from the best academically at school but I would meticulously find the meaning of every word and have a hearty laugh at each recollection. Though I knew that there was something very special about MB but only later did it dawn upon me that it is the 'attitude' that comes with the language that makes it so irresistible. The attitude and vocalization is automatically accompanied by an assertive body language. But more of this a little later on…

My interest in (MB) dwindled for some years but thankfully I happened to watch actors like 'loose' Mohan who handled it with such ease much like Rafa Nadal cruising along to victory at Roland Garros Other notable contributors that I can think of are Nagesh and Janakaraj but who can forget Kamal Haasan's flawless renditions in so many films?  But for me, MB is best experienced first hand in the streets of Chennai and in conversations with college junta who have taken upon themselves the task of its endorsement.

You might very well ask what sustains my continued interest in this language?  The answer paradoxically links back to my study of English Literature. It is widely known that English constantly expands itself through its borrowings from several languages worldwide. Hence an important component of English Studies is etymology (the study of the origin or roots of its words) - as far as I know MB in a way shares this trait; it has borrowings from the maximum number of languages- Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, English and of course Tamil. I could spend hours studying origins and the several transformations that words have undergone in their incorporation.

And now to the power, attitude and body language: MB is the language of the streets and a common occurrence is a mild flare-up every now and then as people in vehicles of every imaginable kind negotiate their way through the incredibly narrow by lanes and crowded roads. To survive, one has to blindly follow the dictum- offense is the best form of defense and what better way to demonstrate this than to unleash a barrage of the choicest expletives and establish one’s supremacy- of course one should be prepared to be paid in the same coin in such encounters. Personally, I prefer being  like R K Lakshman’s common man, observing the  proceedings while making mental notes.

While I am all for the purification of Tamizh and ridding it of its many corruptions, calling MB as Chennai Tamizh is simply not acceptable. This move completely robs MB of its uniqueness and hybridity and consigns it to the realm of the pedestrian. It is as ludicrous as  having a gaana concert at Music Academy or passing off instant coffee as authentic filter kaapi. 
  This is simply not done.
  In one stroke such nomenclature dismisses the creative, adoptive processes at work and ignores the talent of the common man.

But, despite my abundant admiration for MB, I must grudgingly admit that while MB gives the speaker a sense of power and can make one feel a lot like HE MAN when he proudly proclaims- “I have the Power!” it is sadly stultified by its limited vocabulary. You can’t write a commentary on the Bhagawad Gita for example nor can you deliver a scholarly discourse on its own merits, using the dialect. But like me, if you have no such ambitions, you can enjoy the language for all the joy it offers and revel in the power it bestows. 

That being said, unleashing a choice phrase or two from MB in a Tamizh speaking crowd automatically livens the atmosphere. And if you ever run out of topics to speak on after you have discussed  Chennai weather- which doesn’t help  much (as its always variables of hot) and quite an undesirable topic of conversation anyway, you need the good offices of MB to the rescue. And believe me MB never fails - it works like a tonic every time, all the time.

So for the sake of all those ardent worshippers out there and the neophytes who have entered the fold after reading this piece, here are a few links for your further research.



  1. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something which I
    think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me.
    I'm looking forward for your next post, I'll try to get the hang of it!

    My homepage; a1-article.com

    1. Thank you for reading and for your comment. A language is definitely a complex subject and cannot be explained away in the course of a single article - I am not even attempting to present here any of the aspects of the language- its phonology, syntax, or the semantics. This piece merely touches upon some of the things that I love about this dialect.

  2. Madam,
    Awesome piece of write up. The best part is the fluidity of writing. If flows as if i was drinking water. Very few articles are written which holds hand and guides the reader through the message that writer wants to communicate.

    This is my first visit to your blog and i think i will end up reading every stuff written by you. Purely for the style of writing. The readings will help me to improve my writing also.

    Hats off to you.

    Vinod Krishnan

    1. Thanks so much for your generous praise Vinod Krishnan. I am honoured. Do share your thoughts on the other pieces when you read them. Thanks once again.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts