Jul 171997

Salutation in Telugu

aIn my previous life, I worked as an informer in linguistics department at Rice University. I was informing them, of course, on Telugu. I learnt a great deal from them about Telugu. I gave them Telugu names as well. Barbara became “vichitra” and a girl with chinese name1 which translates to “True Jade” became “satya mani”(సత్యమణి). They used to shock the Telugus in campus by walking up to them and saying “mee aarogyam elaa undi?” (మీ ఆరోగ్యం ఎలా ఉంది). The question they grappled with is how to address Telugus in the campus.

Of course, people go for years with out calling each other. I have seen women never calling out to their husbands. Some of them have been heard to comment that their husbands won’t listen to them, so why call them at all?

When I was young, if the other person is young enough, I would immediately descend to “arE, orE, Eraa” (అరే, ఒరే, ఏరా). Social graces were not considerably important at that age. Of course, at that age there is an immediate bond with each other, forged over “gOleelaaTa” (గోలీలాట) and “aakaaTa”(ఆకాట).

The trouble comes when one grows up. There was a time, when I started off with “meeru, gaaru” (మీరు, గారు) and descend to “nuvvu” (నువ్వు) as the familiarity increased. But, after a while, it became almost like the courting ritual in the west, where one is afraid to declare love for the fear of being rejected. Assumptions are difficult to make; calling somebody as “nuvvu” is a vulnerability that cannot be traded easily.

KoKu etal showed a way out. For every sentence construct that includes “sambodhana”(సంబోధన), there is an equivalent one that is salutationally neutral (Proof left as an excersize to some aspiring PhD in Telugu. Say, do you think this can be turned into a serious scholastic proposal?). “eppuDu vacchaaroo” (ఎప్పుడు వచ్చారూ) becomes “eppuDoo raavaDam?” (ఎప్పుడు రావడం?). As long as you confine yourself to this subset you can reside in the no man’s land. As the familiarity increases one can jump to the right mode and not sound too awkward. Or, may be spend the rest of the life talking in that neutral tone.

I was told by no less authority than KooraaTi Krishna Madhava Rao, that “guroo” is a favorite among the post graduates in Andhra University. And, also among the rikshawallas. I am not sure if a postgraduate calls a rikshawalla “guroo, jagadaamba center ku teesukupO” (గురూ గారూ, జగదాంబా సెంటరుకు తీసుకుపో). But then, I never lived in Vizag.

The grown up version of “guroo” is “guroo gaaroo”, which is a favored by these post graduates enter the job market. If they are from Kakinada, Vijaywada, they insist on calling you “mastaaroo”. There were times when even I was called “saar” ( How did they know that I went to Saarbrucken?). In some English Medium schools, “saar gaaru” is considered sufficiently respectable.

It is equally difficult to address hubbies. “idigO, mimmalnE” seems to be a choice salutation among the telugu pativratas (who, I was assured, run into millions; please consult the last census where this statistic was taken). Hubbies, I have seen use a gamut of calling conventions, ranging from “EmE” (call by reference) to the actual call by name. I believe Bengalis etc use “radhaa ki maa” (call by value?) convention, which I haven’t seen in andhra dEsam.

I am not sure how the Telugu prativratas here address their pati devatas. I suppose in the best of east meets west tradition, they can use “honey gaaroo”. Or, “evanDee daarling”. Of course some pinco-liberals might call their husbands even by, gasp, actual name.

Of course, what happens behind the closed doors of ones own bedroom is ones own business (unless you happen to be living in the state of Georgia); but there are enough references in literature that assert it can be intimate cooing to “raa, rE”. Consider the following snippet:


“chinnappuDu, ratikELika nunnappuDu vanne sumee raakoTTuTa”.

Ramarao Kanneganti
[17th July, 1997]

PS: The strangest I have heard is my dad being called “Kanneganti Ramarao gaari tanDri garoo”.

(1) Can you tell me what this could be? This girl spoke “Fu Chien”, a taiwanese dialect. Any chinese telugus out there?

 Posted by at 4:37 pm