Quote for the day!


(According to legend, the very first couplet in
മഞ്ജരി inspired by which കൃഷ്ണഗാഥ was written.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What is (and is not) in a name?

Off and on, both online and from some of my friends, I got some feedback and criticism on my use of word "Mallu".

I thought I will take a moment to clarify some things.

The way I use it, (and many of my friends and colleagues use it), it is just a shortened form of "Malayalee". It is not meant to be denigrating - after all, I call myself a mallu and take pride in being a mallu.

Then somebody pointed out that in Hindi mallu means a monkey. And by extension, malayalees are called mallus by non-malayalees to denigrate them.

Now I did some homework and looked it up. I found that mallu has two meanings - a bear (a variant of bhallu, I suppose) and a monkey. (I could not find the etymology of the latter meaning.) So I understand why some people got offended by the use of that term.

Now, I had a decision to make. Should I discontinue the use of the term mallu (and use something else, or just say malayalee) or should I ignore these other interpretations.

After some serious thought, I am inclined to continue using the term mallu. 

Here are some of my thoughts: 

A lot of people I know use that term in the positive way - just as a shortened form of malayalee. And the shortened form looks natural. 

With languages being very rich (thank God for that so we can express complex things like emotions using language) it is very possible that any word that we use could have a different and possibly negative meaning in the same language or another language. There are tons of examples - the word for cake in Icelandic and the same word in Spanish, the meaning of "rubber" in Indian English vs. American English, ...

Last, but not the least, what truly makes us malayalees bears or monkeys, is not the name that we give ourselves or what others give us, but what we accomplish and show to the world. 

In sum, I am inclined to just go ahead with the use of the term, with the explicit clarification that when I use the term mallu, it is just a shortened version of Malayalee and it is not meant to be derogatory in any way.

If you have some thoughts or comments on this, feel free to post them.

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