Malayali, Mallu, or Madrasi?

First all of let’s get the very basic fact right. Malayali (also spelled Malayalee) is the term used to refer to the native speakers of Malayalam, originating from the Indian state of Kerala. It is another equivalent of the term Keralite.  

From what I have read and understood, Malayalam has its origin from the words mala meaning mountain and alam meaning land/locality which lies alongside the mountain. Hence, Malayalam is the language that spoken by the Malayalis (i.e., people from the mountains) who lived beyond the Western Ghats.

From what I have seen, about 80% of non-south Indians think that all south Indians are from Tamil Nadu. To most of the non south Indians, all south Indians are Madrasi. According to them, all south Indians speak Madrasi as well. Now, I don’t feel offended at being called a south Indian—after all I am one. I am put off by the usual assumption that south Indians are from Tamil Nadu or from Madras. It is as silly as saying that all North Indians to be from Punjab.

Being a Keralite who has been born and brought out outside of Kerala, I don’t speak with the typical South Indian accent. Nor do I have the usual Malayali specific characteristics. Most people usually mistake me to be a Maharashtrian. The usual conversation is:

Person: So, are you a Maharashtrian?

Me: No. I am a Keralite.

Person: So, you are a Madrasi?

Me: No. I am a Keralite.

Person: The same thing… you are mallu.

Me: Aahhh… yes I am a Malayali.

The fact is that Malayalis are not Madrasis. Not all Tamilians are Madrasis either. Madrasis are Tamilians from Madras. We also need to acknowledge the fact that now, there is no Madras—its Chennai. So, the word Madrasi is not longer relevant!

The fact is, South India consists of 4 states—Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. Each of the state has their own language, culture, traditions, and rituals.

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Similarly, most of the South Indians also have a misconception that all the people outside of South India are North Indians—including Maharashtrians, Gujarathis, Bengalis, etc. Here is a map showing the North Indian state. There are 6 North Indian States (Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand) and one Union Territory namely (Delhi).

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So now that the region specific problem is dealt with, let’s move on to the next. Now comes the mallu part. As far as I have understood, mallu is a slang that refers to a person who is born in Kerala and speaks Malayalam. So, it is a short form for Malayalee. Many of my friends use the word mallu as an acronym for malayalee not as a derogatory term. I don’t know about the others, but the Mallu thing annoys me no end.

The next area of concern is the language. We all know, or rather I know that Malayalis speak Malayalam. But a large percentage of the non-south Indians feel that the Malayalis speak Malayali. Many people have asked me, “So you speak Malayali?” Earlier, I used to just nod yes. Now-a-days, I take time and the pleasure to explain that Malayalis do not speak Malayali—it is not a language. We speak Malayalam.

Unfortunately Malayalis are the butt of some jokes, most of them focused on pronunciation. Here are some common “Mallu” jokes:

  1. Why did the Malayali buy an air-ticket?
    To go to Thuubai, zimbly to meet his ungle in the Gelff.
  2. Why do Malayali’s go to the Gelff?
    To yearn meney.
  3. What did the Malayali do when the plane caught fire?
    He zimbly jembd out of the vindow.
  4. Why did the Malayali go to the concert in Rome?
    Because he wanted to hear pope music.
  5. What is Malayali management graduate called?
    Yem Bee Yae.
  6. What does a Malayali use to commute to office(oaffice) everyday?
    An Oto.
  7. How does a malayalee spell Malayalam?
    YAMM – YAY – YELL – YAY – WHY – YAY – YELL -YUMM.

I have heard some of my cousins and Malayali friends (basically from Kerala) pronounce:

  • Queen kyuun instead of kween
  • Volume vaalyam instead of volyum
  • Kangaroo kanGAROO instead of KANgroo
  • Divorce DAIverse instead of DIvorce
  • Garage garej instead of gaRAZH/gaRAJ
  • Career Carrier instead of Karier

Is it their mistake that they pronounce in a specific manner? Is it not so because they are taught these things at school level? I remember my daughter been taught phonetics at school (from class 1 and 4). She was then taught the right and wrong pronunciation of words. Later, in class 9 and 10, their English teacher used to make them read their lessons aloud and correct their pronunciation. As a student even I used to say kanGAROO, because I as taught so by my parents.

Hence, teaching the correct  pronunciation is a good initiative at school level. Students from all backgrounds speaking diffrent accents associated with their language (mother tongue) will be corrected and taught the correct pronunciation. But for this, we need good, knowledgeable, and dedicated teachers at school.

So, I conclude with, I am neither a Madrasi or a Mallu. I am a Malayali 🙂

School Masters Speech

This is not an original article. It has been doing rounds in the Internet for a while now. I have used it here because this is a classic example as to why precision in language is inportant. precision involves using words accurately and consistently, defining terms, and ensuring the agreement between various sentence elements.

A Schoolmaster from a rural area in India was transferred to a school in Mumbai. He reported for duty just before 15th August and, as was the practice in the school, was asked to address the assembly on Independence Day. His dynamite speech is presented here:

Laddies and Gentlemens, Contemporaries, and Childrens, This is my first maiden speech. If small small, little little mistakes get inside my speech, I ask pardon. Stickly speaking, I wanted to joint your school more fastly, but can’t do it for the following reason. Too much time lost in getting slipper reservation in three-tyre compartment. The clerk rejected to give ticket to me. I put complaint on station master. He said me to go to lady clerk.

At first she also rejected me. I then pressed her for long time and at last with great diffculty she gave a birth only to my son. Anyway I thanked the station master because he was responsible for getting birth of my son. We got independent because of great leaders like Gandhiji who get-outted all angrezi peoples from India. Tilak said Swaraj is our birth-rate and we shall halve it. Today we all halve our birth-rate. You children are future dynamic generators of the Nation. Look into future time only. No backside looking or looking at your behind. Be like great Presidents Loosebelt. You know genius, no? It is one per cent perspiration and ninety seven percent evaporation. They became great by reading great books.

After we finish you here in the school, you can go to college and get B.A., M.A. and other decrease. Then you can become great liars in the supreme courts, shattered accountants, or leacherers in college. The school is like a garden. You are the seeds, school is the soil. We will bury you in this soil, pour water of knowledge on your heads and one day will become great phools. If you have are in English, you can become teacher. I am now ending this fastly. My God blast you! Thank you and thank God I am finished.”

Well, it is another thing that the entire article is a BIG mistake.