Friday, March 05, 2010

South India’s fascination with the alphabet ‘h’

I’ve been in Bangalore for more than 3-and-a-half years now. During these years of my stay in south India, I’ve visited some or the other parts of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh. But one mystery still remains unrevealed to question still remains unanswered...why ‘h’? South India’s fascination with the alphabet ‘h’ was known to me even before my arrival in south India. Let me explain you the mystery. As you travel southwards across India, many things change like temperature, language, culture, etc. Among all these changes, one subtle change bothers me more than anything else. Why does ‘t’ get converted to ‘th’ in south India? Kartik becomes Karthik, Lalita becomes Lalitha, Gayatri becomes Gayathri...My knowledge was limited to the conversion of ‘t’ to ‘th’, until one day I found out the conversion of “Jeevan beema nagar” to “Jeevan bheema nagar”. Now, ‘b’ gets converted to ‘bh’. Interesting, isn’t it? The story doesn't end there. One fine day I observed "Shakti" getting converted to "Sakthi" and "Nandini" to "Nandhini"...Chaos !!!
I’ve asked this question to many of my south Indian friends. But I’m yet to get a satisfactory answer. One argument is that ‘h’ is added to differentiate between the pronunciations of 'त' and 'ट'. ‘t’ stands for 'ट' while ‘th’ stands for 'त', as they say. In other parts of India, ‘th’ stands for 'थ' while ‘t’ stands both for 'त' and 'ट'. But then converting ‘t’ to ‘th’ doesn’t solve the problem at hand, to say the least. One is still left with the confusion between 'त' and 'थ'. Plus, it adds up more to the confusion created due to different spellings of the same name in south India and the rest of India. Also, I’ve found out a major flaw in this theory. If ’t’ is pronounced as 'ट', how do you pronounce 'Tamilnadu'? 'टमिलनाडू' ? Shouldn't it be spelled as 'Thamilnadu'? Similarly, are they demanding a separate state of 'टेलंगाणा'? My dear South Indian friends, please justify this.

Disclaimer: This post should be taken in a casual manner. I did not intend to hurt anyone's feelings.