When I was in college, I opted for French as my second language. We were amused with what in French was called “Faux amis,” which means ‘False Friends.’ English and French have many similar words but some of them have meanings that are very different to each other. Like ‘Attend’ in French means ‘Wait‘ and a French ‘Formidable’ is actually ‘admirable’ and not the reverse. Library in French is a Bookshop and not a place from where we borrow books.
Among the Indian Languages, Tamil and Malayalam are said to be very similar. But there is one word Vilikuthu, which has completely contrary meanings in the two languages. I learnt the difference in an embarrassingly amusing way.
My sister Rani, got married to a man from Kerala, where Malayalam is the predominant language. We speak Tamil at home.
On the morning after their wedding night, my new brother-in-law opened their bedroom door and said to me:
In Tamil, Vilikuthu means, ‘to awaken from sleep.’
I was surprised that a new groom was announcing his wife arousing from her be-decked wedding bed.
I said, “Oh! Good. Shall I get some coffee?”
He gave me a funny look and said again, “Rani Villikuthu.”
I was surprised. How many times was he going to advertise this simple act? Was she Sleeping-Beauty coming out of a 100 years of slumber?
But I said again, “Okay. Fine. I will get the coffee.”
When he declared it for the third time, I had to investigate. I went into my sister’s room. She was up and bathed and was summoning me to help her wear the heavy saree. She was miffed that I had not rushed in to her aid.
That’s when I was discovered that Villikuthu in Malayalam and Tamil had distinctive interpretations.
“Rani villikuthu in Malayalam meant, “Rani was CALLING me and not that Rani was stirring from bed.
Blame it on the timing and the context, but I had misconstrued my brother-in-law’s SOS, as ‘infatuation with his new bride’s every day activities!’
It was time to learn a new language!
As told to talkalittledo By : JR – Written By: Gulsum Basheer