Gopi Gupta, Vegetarian

It was my first day in IIT Madras. As I walked into class, Prof. Iyer was taking attendance. ?Satan!?, he called out. I could see all my new classmates shuddering at the thought of having the devil himself in our class. Fortunately no one answered (one could clearly hear the collective sigh of relief). I started talking to the fellow next to me. Found out his name was Chetan and that by some quirk of fate it wasn?t called out during the attendance.

Welcome to Tamil Nadu, the land of muffed up pronunciations and spellings. The inventors of the ancient Tamil language must have envisaged the difficulty kids have in learning an alphabet. Hence, they decided to keep the alphabet of Tamil as small as possible and assign a multitude of sounds for each character. They even designed the words in the wonderful language such that there would be absolutely no ambiguity in pronunciation.

But this unambiguity was limited to Tamil words. What these scholars did not envisage was the invasion of Tamil Nadu, Chennai in particular, by people hailing from north of the Kaveri. In most of the rest of India, there is a beautiful phonetic alphabet, with each character representing a distinct sound. Sounds that are not represented by this phonetic alphabet are altogether excluded from the language. This system may have its disadvantage that kids need to learn to write 50 different kinds of characters rather than the 20 of Tamil but in the long run, its use is very efficient.

Now, with non-Tams and non-Tam words being an essential part of Chennai, we have a few delightful misspellings and mispronunciations, mostly by the locals. Thus you can have Sappadhi (chapatti for the uninitiated) for lunch and can do your project in Network Lap (network lab). And your favourite spinner may be M. MuraliTharan (a name that sounds extremely alien to one who thought MuraliDharan was one of the names of Lord Krishna). Just stand at some arbitrary location in Chennai and look around you. There will be atleast a dozen words which seemed grossly misspelt but the local goes about as if nothing is wrong with it.

Now what does Gopi Gupta, Vegetarian have to do with all this? For starters, Gopi Gupta is not a ?he? but an ?it?. It was on our hostel menu last week. On one hand, people wanted to taste this exotic sounding dish but on the other, they didn?t want to be cannibals. Finally, a few reluctantly took a few spoons of it. It was neither exotic nor human flesh. It was just our good ole? Gobi Kofta! So much for spellings.