Grandma's Tales

July 22, 2007

Grammar – 35 Punctuation

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 8:29 pm

Here is a request from a reader.
I have a request. Could you have a post on good punctuation? I consider myself a fairly decent writer, but there are some aspects of punctuation that bother me, mostly regarding quotation marks. For example, let us say that I quote a phrase as part of a question. Also, the phrase forms the last part of the question. Conventional schools of thought indicate that the punctuation mark must also be within quotes, and, to the best of my ability, I try to stick to that. However, a logical dilemma arises. Putting a question or exclamation mark within the quote somewhat modifies it, and may not represent the quote in the manner intended by the writer. I haven’t found any Internet-based sources that indicate what should be done in such a situation, and it leaves me in a quandary.
So, if you could help me out, that’d be fantastic
Here goes, NS.
We will take up quotation marks this time, specific to your question. As you point out, Q marks should preserve the intention of the writer. That should be our foremost aim.
[1] Q marks are used to “set off material that represents spoken or quoted material”, right?
[2] Q marks are also used to highlight titles of short stories, poems and articles.
We in India, have a problem with Q marks simply because we were educated to follow the British system of punctuation (which follows logic) and now read a lot of American writing where the punctuation is not always logical.
The simple rule in the US system is:
Full-stops and commas go inside Q marks. Period. Too bad if this is not logical to that sentence. Example: He said to her, “I love you.” In England this would be:
He said to her, “I love you”.
I now follow the US system for periods and commas within quatation marks. I have had to, since for a while, I taught American students how to write essays.
Example: “You asked me a question,” she said. “And here is my answer.” See that?
What about question marks and exclamation marks?
These are inside the Q marks. the following paragraph I found somewhere makes it clear. Note the marks carefully.
“I don’t care what you think anymore,” she said, jauntily tossing back her hair and looking askance at Edward.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“What do you mean, ‘What do I mean?'” Alberta sniffed. She was becoming impatient and wished that she were elsewhere.
“You know darn well what I mean!” Edward huffed.
“Have it your way,” Alberta added, “if that’s how you feel.”
What do we find in this conversation?
[1] Q-marks usually go in pairs.
[2] They become single when you need them for a quote within a quote. (“I already spoke to Hari,” she said. “And he said, ‘I care a rap!'”) I find placing three Q marks together a bit awkward and try my best to avoid such sentences.
[3] Question marks and exclamation marks are placed within the Q marks.
[4] Commas are used to set off direct speech. When the direct speech continues after the mention of the speaker, the sentence begins with a lower case letter. (“I was there,” she said, “and saw what happened.”)
[5] Place a full stop (period) and continue the speech and you need to start the speech with a capital letter as you always do. (“I don’t agree with you,” she said. “Because I know it is not true.”)
Now for quotes. When you are quoting someone we know as against some fictional character, you have no business to take liberties with punctuation marks. You just quote verbatim, period. If the quote is: Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!, you reproduce it with the punctuation marks. Your sentence would be:
Rousseau said, “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!” If you want to add, say, an exclamation/question mark to a quote, you write the quote, place all the punctuation marks original to the quote, set it off with the quotation marks  and then add what you want. Look at this: If your sentence is,
Did Rousseau say, “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”?, that’s how it goes.
Do I answer your question, NS? Please ask for any clarification you need.


July 16, 2007

New words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 5:43 am

The latest edition of Merriam-Webster dictionary, used widely in the US, will go on sale this September. Not news except it will have an additional 100 words giving legitimacy to new ones used in pop culture, technology and current events. For example, the next time a show-off uses the word “ginormous” you can nod your head wisely, rush to the latest copy of M-W and look it up. “Ginormous” is a combo word, taking bits from “giant” and “enormous” obviously meaning ‘larger than “giant” and “enormous” put together’. Another hype word for a hype-or-die society.
Of interest to all of us is the word “Bollywood”. I guess America can no longer ignore the power and influence of Bollywood. And the dictionary recognises the fact the word is mentioned by more than a handful of people. If you think the word had to be included because of the Bollywood crazy Indian population in the US, think again. The bump-and-grind Bollywood movies are now watched by American-Americans as well. Bollywood dancing is big here and is used by fitness instructors. A lot of people feel “Bollywood” is not a flattering one, looking as it does like a poor cousin of Hollywood, but it is too late now to worry about it! “Bollywood” is legit!
A few more words from the 2007 edition:
Crunk: a style of southern rap music
DVR: abbreciation for digital video recorder
Gray literature: hard-to-get written material
IED: abbreviation for improvised explosive device (the kind a bankrupt terrorist who doesn’t have big backing might use or one the police can’t identify)
Microgreen: a small portion of any standard salad plant (say, a bud of lettuce)
smackdown: a kind of contest in show wrestling
speed dating (Surprising this word hadn’t found its way into the dictionary): a quick, round-robin way of meeting people
Sudoku: Yes, the word is in! Call it Japanese soft appeal! Have you tried this Japanese number puzzle?
Telenovela: A Latin-American soap opera. These are supposed to be the fathers and mothers of the TV serial-killers we are all addicted to.

July 10, 2007

Rape of my city 4

Filed under: Games People Play,Government,Language,Society — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:28 pm

saidapet_forest2_reduced_resolution-1.jpgThe time has come to write about it. The Civil Society Group consisting of members extremely concerned about the lovely avenue trees being cut in Chennai city, allegedly to make way for a better flow of traffic, met last Sunday. After the merciless cutting of trees in front of Raj Bhavan, apparently for road expansion, a member of this group used the RTI to find out how many trees would face the axe in the coming months. The meeting was to discuss the information she got. Read the result of that RTI first.  I corrected the mistakes as much as I could, but you get the idea.
Chief Engineer (General) & Public Information Officer,
Corporation of Chennai, Chennai.
Dr. Suchitra Ramkumar
Yellow Building
Damodar Gardens
(The School-KFI Campus)
Besant Avenue
Chennai –600 020.
C.E (GI).C.No.A 1/449/06 Dated: 24-5-07
Sub:- The Right to Information Act furnishing details of mass felling of trees — Reg.
Ref:- I) Letter from Dr. Suchitra Ramkumar, dated 24.11.2006 Requesting to furnish details.
With reference to your letter cited above, it is to informed that the
details requested by you are enclosed herewith.
I) Details of any letter circular received seeking action on trees.
i) Letter received from Joint Commissioner of Police Traffic Greater
Chennai, Vepery Chennai — 7.
ii) Ref. No.C.No.347/JCTlCampus/06 3.8.06
iii) No. of Trees about 793 situated in all the Zones of Chennai ‘
Corporation (List enclosed)
iv) Action requested to take action to removal/transplant trees to ensure free flow of traffic and to avoid accidents.
v) No. of trees (List enclosed) & location. Details regarding the cutting of trees in Besant Nagar. As per the orders of Commissioner based on the remarks received from Zonal Ofticer-X, 5 Nos. of trees were earmarked for relocation in Besant Avenue and two odian trees were pruned meant for transplantation on 12.10.2006.
Public Information Officer & Chief Engineer (General)
Sunil Kumar, IPS
Joint Commissioner of Police
Traffic, Greater Chennai, Vepery, Chennai – 7
The Commissioner, Corporation of Chennai. Chennai -3
C.No,347/JCT/Camp/06 Dated 03,08,06
At several places in-Chennai City there are trees, which lie on the road. This straight away cuts upt 03 mts of !he road at many places, thus reducing the space for the movement of vehicles, The trees itself have been found to be a cause of accidents, including fatal ones many a time.
2. With a view to provide safe travel as well as to increase the road space in the already congested roads, it is requested that trees which lie in the middle of !he road (list enclosed) may kindly be transplanted/ removed at the earliest to ensure free flow of traffic. It is therefore requested that early action may kindly be taken in this regard.
Yours fai!hfully,
Joint Commissioner of Police, Traffic, Greater Chennai

SLNo. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1) Road Near Post Office 2
2) Road Near H3 Police Station 1
3) Tondiarpet High Road Near M.R.Nagar Market 3 
4) Tondiarpet High Road Near 2 K.S.Kalyanamandapam 1
SLNo. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1) Vepery Hiqh Road Near Jain Temple 1
2) Jermiah Road in front of Girinetra Schoo1 1
3) Perambur High Road in front of Railway Station 1
4) Perambur High Road in front of Door NO.8/1B, Saraswati Square 1
5) Perambur High Road in front of NO.100/79 Bharathi Bus Stand 1
No. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1) Tailors Road Door NO.14 1
2) NM Road in front of Omsakthi Travels 2
3) NM Road in front of D.No.31/138 2
4) NM Road infront of D. NO.132 1
5) NM Road in front of D.No.51, Perivar Plaza 2
6) NM Road in front of D.No.106/64 2
7) NM Road in front of D.No.126 & 128 Spencer 2
Food world
8 NM Road in front of 84 Trinitv Gas 2
9 1st Avenue D.No.30 & 30A 2
10) 1st Avenue D.No.K-24 1
11 1st Avenue D.No.33 & 34 2
12) 1st Avenue near Chintamani 1
13 1st Avenue D.No.D1/3 Chandra Medicals 2
14) 1st Avenue Valli Dental Clinic 3
15 3rd Avenue Near GRD 1
16) 2nd Avenue Near TNSC Bank 1
17 6th Avenue near Anna Naqar Police Station 1
18 100 Feet Road ODD18th Main Road 1
19 100 Feet Road ODD.19th Main Road 1
20 VinaVaqaDUramtowards Games VilaDe D.No.54 3
21 Games Viliage – ODDUTI Bank 1
22) Near Andal Alagar Kalyanamandapam 2
SL No. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1 Dr. Swamy Sivananda Salai 5
2 Bells Road 4
3 Walajah Road 8
4 Whites Road 9
5 Cathedral Road 17
6 Royapettah High Road 2
SLNo. Name of the Road, No. of Trees
1 Ethiraj Salai 6
2 Pantheon Round about 2
3 Haddows Road 3
4 Nunaambakkam High Road 7
5 Kodambakkam, High Road 1
6 Matralii1Ca.Duram Road 2
7 Valluvarkottam High Road 3
SLNo. Name of the Road No. of Trees
1) Venkatanarayana Road near Burkitt Road In. 4
2 Burkitt Road X Dandapani St., In. 1
3) Burkitt Road infront of Andhra Bala Bhavan 1
4 Burkitt Road In front of Hotel Sudha 1
5) Venkatanarayana Road In. in front of Lion Hospital 1
6 North Usman Road in frontof Saradha School 1
7 North Usman Road in front of Sundar St., 1
8 Thiagaraja Road in front of Bala Bhavan 1
9 Anna Salai Anna Rotary Nandanam 18
10 TTK Salai Music Acadamy to Park Sheraton 35
11 GN Chetty Road. Anna Rotary to Vanavil 4
12 Chamiers Road 8
SI.No. . Name of the Road No. of Trees
1 Sardar Patel Road from Rai Bhavan to Halda 29
2 Anna Salai from Soic to Little Mount 5
3 From Little mount to YMCA 15
4 Velachery Main Road 22
Right. Did you take a good look? Once the saws have done their job, T.Nagar is going to look naked. 35 trees off TTK Road?
Look, I’m all for free flow of traffic. Who isn’t? But I have a few questions on the need to cut all these trees.
[1] Do all these trees jut into the roads?
[2] Do they have to be removed completely? I mean a little bit of pruning (as they do so well in Denver) won’t be enough to solve the problem?
[3] Ours is a hot city and driving (riding bikes) through many of the roads mentioned above is a pleasant experience simply because of the canopy offered by the avenue trees.  Should we lose this?
[4] Most importantly, how about those who walk?  Are the rights of vehicle drivers more  important than the rights of those who walk? The Corporation wants to make driving easier, more comfortable. How about the comfort of those who prefer to walk? Is walking a sin in this city?
[5] Scores of people do small businesses under the trees. All of us buy stuff from them. Do they have rights?
[6] The point about trees causing fatal accidents. Trees do not cause accidents. People’s carelessness causes accidents. People are hit by vehicles, there are head-ons where there are no trees. And there will be accidents even after all these trees are gone. What will the Traffic Commissioner do then? Stop vehicles from plying?
[7] Transplant: Where are all the transplanted trees? What is the percentage of their survival? Does anyone know?
[8] How will the cutting of 35 trees on TTK Road improve traffic there? You mean, the trees are gone and hey presto, the traffic flows smoothly? Or is it for building a flyover?
[9] And this question: The number of vehicles keeps increasing. Very soon even tree-less roads will be choked. What then? Is this a permanent solution?
[10] And this dark question: Who gains from the cutting of trees? I have a reason for asking this question.  A friend took a photograph of Sri Ram Colony near the Saidapet Court last week. You can see the how trees have been chopped off there. How come this area has not been mentioned in the RTI note? Are there any laws governing the felling of trees in theis city?
The CSG is preparing a petition in answer to this RTI. They have been consulting with experts on this matter. In the meantime, Exnora is organising a meet on “Global Warming”. Here are the details.
Dear friends, EXNORA is organising a meeting to find out measures for combating Global Warming. This is a mammoth meeting where children from different schools are participating; it is learnt that buses will be arranged for transport of children  This meeting is scheduled to be held at The Nehru Stadium on 20 July from 3-00 p.m. to 6-00 p.m..This is likely to be chaired by Shri Stalin. You can get more details of this meeting from Shri Ranganayakalu Cell 92834 13467 or #99410 07064 or you can speak to shri Nirmal #98400  34900.
please consider making some placards for this meeting and obtain signatures of children as we discussed the other day.
Sincerely M. SUNDARARAMAN Tel#24461660
So the minister is going to address a meeting on Global Warming! Pinch the baby and rock the cradle! Cut the trees and attend (help organise?) a mammoth meeting on Global Warming! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

July 6, 2007

Grammar – 35 Do you know the following words?

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 1:14 am

Are you familiar with these tech words spawned by the internet? Take the quiz:
netiquette, cookie, wiki, folksonomy, blook (that’s right!), me-media, godcast, blogoshere.
And here are the answers:
[1] netiquette: internet etiquette (ex: writing in upper case alone is a big no-no. It amounts to screaming).
[2] cookie: a file sent to a user’s computer after they visit a website
[3] wiki: a colloborative website edited by the users and contributors
[4] folksonomy: a word used for a web classification system
[5] blook: a book based on a blog or blogs
[6] me-media: a collective term used for personal content websites such as “Facebook”
[7] godcast: a religious service that has been converted into an MP3 format
People use these words all the time. Still, in a recent survey, a lot of internet users voted many of these words as extremely annoying. They found the word “folksonomy” particularly irritating. “I wince, shudder and want to bang my head on the keyboard when I come across the word,” one respondent wrote.
I can’t understand why people take this instant dislike to words. Words are letters strung together till you use them and give them meaning, right?
Do we associate some words with unpleasant memories and then every time we read it or hear it feel a shudder pass through us?
Do you have such “I hate it” words?

June 30, 2007

I am unable to speak well in English, ma’am!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 12:27 am

Here is another request.
Could you please help me? I am a graduate from DU. Ma’am, my communication skills in English are very poor. Whenever I speak I’m unable to frame good sentences. Ma’am, please tell me how I can improve my communication skills and how to frame good sentences.
 Dear friend,
                     Do read my earlier post on this. I have listed a number of things you can do to be able to speak well. Many of us are unbale to spaek well in English simply because we do not get to hear good English being spoken around us. The best and the easiest way is to listen to English being spoken.
Do you watch BBC? Listen to their newscasts? Do it regularly. As I said before, how does a child learn its first language? By making sense of the sounds around it, right?
Watch English movies. Especially the old ones. Don’t you like Alfred Hitchcock movies? In these movies, the characters speak slowly, enunciating the words. At the time when Hitchcock made his movies, it was considered necessary to make the words clear and intelligible to audiences.
Read, read, read! Read at least 100 pages of a modern book a day. If you like thrillers, read Mary Higgins Clark – my husband recommends her books highly.  You know what, you could read comics, have you read the Tintin series? I love them! Ask book-reading friends what they are reading. Then go to the library.
Become a member of an online book club. Here is one: Here you get to read chapters from a book every week.   It takes only 5 minutes to read the daily portion. It comes to you via e-mail. You get introduced to a whole lot of authors and you could choose the book you want to read in full! Read the blog Suzanne writes every day as introduction to the book segment.  
Read the papers. I read three newspapers daily and catch up with the day’s news online as well. You could log on to thehinduonnet, timesof india,, and whatever else that you like.
All in all, this is the formula. Surround yourself with the language. Constantly form sentences in your mind. Describe to yourself the things that you see, feel, smell, hear. When you write, try to be as accurate as possible. Why should you make spelling errors? Writing without mistakes is a habit. Cultivate it.
And finally, here is an offer. If you write a dialogue between A and B, each party saying five sentences to start with, I’ll be happy to check it for you.
All the best. Keep talking, reading and writing. Pickle yourself in English!

June 23, 2007

Grammar – How can I get my child to narrate a story?

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 8:19 pm

A reader writes:
Hello Mam , Can you please help me ..
I came across your name and your blog when I was browsing across ..
I have a 4 1/2 year old boy.
He is not good in story telling..
I believe the stories are taught in a very lengthy and action oriented manner (that is what I observed when I was allowed to participate in the class room session once) .
So he could basically understand the story and narrate it back in Tamil.But when I ask him to repeat the sentences which were taught in school he is unable to do this..
How can I teach him well the short/simple version of the story effectively ..
And I also it would be more helpful if you can share me the tips of how can I improve his oral communication skills..
Thanks in advance, Best Regards, Kamaladevi
Dear Kamaladevi,
                               “Communication skill” is an umbrella talent. It includes a lot more than story telling. Since your child’s immediate need seems to be the ability to tell a story with confidence, let’s concentrate on that.
[1] Forming simple sentences.  The easiest are the ones that start with “I”. So ask him to talk about himself. Try this: He stands in front of a mirror where he can see himself. Then he begins to describe himself.
I am a boy. I am four and a half years old. I am tall. I have dark hair. I watch TV. I like to play foorball … I go to school. I like to eat ….. I have a sister …
Once he has got these sentences right, he will get them right if he is asked to repeat them, go on to phase 2.
(When my kids were small, I would constantly ask them questions, wherever we were – outings, in the kitchen, out sitting – anything concering them, they had to choose. What do you wnat to do today? What do you want to wear? Which plate do you want? What do you want to watch today? Kids just loved it. Mom does everything according to their wishes! This “asking them” serves several purposes. Their sense of themselves, their self-esteem, their ability to make choices … Of course, I had this condition. They had to answer the questions in full sentences, not in a word or two.)
Phase 2: Once they are comfortable with the sentences, we need to put them in order. Now, about himself.  First, the description (what does he look like?), then what does he wear, what does he play, with whom does he live, what does he like to do the most? And finally, an ending sentence: I am a happy kid.
Phase 3: Time to expand his world. Ask him to describe you. He already knows many of the phrases used in description, like, ” dark hair”, tall, wear … etc. He just changes the “I” to “You”.
Phase 4: Now the third person. Ask him to describe dad, grandma, grandpa or the sister if he has one. In these sentences he has to add the “s” to the verb. Sunita is tall. She wears a frock. She likes to sing. She watches Animal Planet, etc.
Phase 5: Take a huge picture of a fruit/animal he is familiar with. He is then asked to describe it. He has to answer questions like, “What is this?” And the answers must always be in a full sentence. “What is this?” will be answered with a “This is a mango.” By the end of the Q & A session, he has mastered a number of sentences. The mango is yellow. It is sweet. We eat mangoes in summer. We cut the mango and eat it. I like mango juice. I have mango ice-cream sometimes.
One teacher I know gives them a cordless microphone for these sessions. Boy, do the kids love it!
Now for the story. Children learn to narrate stories simply by listening to them. Tell him a story every day. I used to tell the same story to my kids again and again. And I always narrated them in diffeent voices for different characters. For example, in the “Fox, crow and the vada” story, the fox and the crow had different voices.  And I emphasised the word, “beautiful”.  You tell your son a story, or “the” story every day – find out which one he likes the best – and he is bound to repeat it soon. While narrating, ask him leading questions. He feels part of the story. Keep the sentences simple.
Once there was a crow. He was hungry. (What do crows eat?) He flew everywhere. He saw a woman making vadas. When she was talking to someone, the crow stole a vada. He flew away…
You tell him stories. The kid will catch up.
Get him to narrate incidents that happened that day. What happened in school? Did you sing? Did you sleep? Did you play?
Ask him to describe the weather. Is it cloudy today? “It is raining!” “Look at the sun, it is shining!” “Look at the stars! [sing] “Twinkle, twinkle …
How did the kid learn to speak Tamil? Through constant listening, right?
Kids learn English skills in two ways. Through repetition. Through constant correction. You repeat, ask him to repeat. Only, don’t make it look like a chore. Start with “Hey!” listen to this!” and which child will not want to hear?   

June 17, 2007

Grammar – 36 (2) A good pun is its own reword!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:30 pm

Well, it’s reigning puns now. A friend sent me the following on e-mail. See if you can crack them.

Can you list the words on which the pun has been played?

Grammar – 36 A pun can be fun!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 7:03 am

Shakespeare used it a lot. “I’ll show my mettle” said one of his characters. “Mettle” stood for “metal” meaning money and “mettle” also means ability. You can see it is apt for a merchant to say that. This is a pun on the word “mettle”.
A pun has been described as  the lowest form of humour. You take a word and build a situation around it. A word that sounds similar to your original word is equally apt for that situation.  You crack the two meanings and laugh your head off.  You have caught the fun! Here is a set of puns that Basab Pradhan forwarded to me. Happy cracking!

The ability to make and understand PUNS is the highest level of language development. Here are the top winners in the International Pun Contest:
1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The Stewardess looks at him and says, “I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”
2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, “Dam!”
3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.
4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, “I’ve lost my electron.” The other says, “Are you sure?” The first replies “Yes, I’m positive.”
5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.
6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. “But why?”, they asked, as they moved off. “Because,” he said, “I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”

 Ok, if you didn’t catch up with all of them, here are the answers. [1] carrion-dead animal / carry-on-hand baggage [2]  dam / damn [3]  The pun is on the  saying, “You can’t eat your cake (kayak) and eat (heat) it too”. [4]  Check out the word “positive”, as opposed to “negative” charge. [5] “Transcend (go beyond) dental medication” sounds like “transcedental meditation” a form of meditation practised by monks. [6] Have you heard the famous Christmas song “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”? These guys were chess enthusiasts, right? So the last part “chess-nuts boasting on the open foyer (the front part of the hotel) is a take on that proverb.

June 15, 2007

Sivaji=Rajnikanth+Shankar+AR Rahman+Sujatha-story

Filed under: Language,Movie — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 11:25 pm

It’s one of those rare times when a movie becomes a mega blockbuster before it is released. One must appreciate the timing of the release, though. The Ash-Abhi wedding got over and it’s off-season for sting operations. The BCCI was thoroughly snubbed by Ford, and CBI by the Argentinian court. And who wants cricket anyway? It’s hot and we need something “cool” and out came Sivaji. The movie is cool, it rocks!
Big news for the media, Rajnikant fans, theatres and those who make their fortune through pirated editions. Bottomline? The R,S,R,S combo sells.
There is no point trying to watch the movie the next couple of weeks. The price is too hefty for bragging rights. Thanks to audience enthusiasm, you’ll get to hear nothing on the screen. All the action will be off-screen. One has to be sure one wants to pay to see that.
I did the next best thing. I asked the man whom I had hired to drive me around town if he was planning to watch the movie today or tomorrow or in the next few days. No, he said. He was offered a ticket for Rs. 300/- He wasn’t tempted. He didn’t think the movie was worth taking leave for. He knew what to expect in a Rajnikant starrer. “In a few weeks the price is sure to come down. I’ll watch it then,” he said.
If he knew what to expect, why would he watch the movie at all? “Habit,” he said. “I’m a regular movie goer.”
So what did he expect in this movie? “Rajni’s style. The way he speaks. The way he produces things out of air. The unexpectedness (?) of his actions. The what-would-he-do-next? expectation. He is athletic, quick on his feet and funny. He looks kind. He is one of us. He is a comic, even in fight scenes. ‘It’s all fun mamoo,’ he seems to say. ‘Don’t take this seriously. Just sit back and enjoy yourself.’ And in the end everything works out fine, there is a message and the movie makes you feel good about who you are.”
Songs? “I’m not a big AR Rahman fan. He is too western for my taste. I like numbers that are folksy.”
Dialogues? “Yes, we like the punch lines. You can leave the theatre practising them. I think the punch lines are written first and the story is written around it.”
He is old. Is it ok if he chases a girl young enough to be his daughter? “Oh that? He is acting as the father as well. If he isn’t doing the role of the son too, how do we get to see the young Sivaji? With the wig and the make-up, he does look young, doesn’t he?”
[Special diet and make-up, high quality resolution, visual effects (VFX),  scan using a 4K resolution all done at Prasad labs. Some 30 people are supposed to have worked on it. The superstar’s skin colour and texture have been improved by special effects giving him a youthful look.]
The movie goes on for three hours! “Yes, that’s how it should be! We paid for it, right? We feel very satisfied we got our money’s worth.”
So, his real life is one thing. On screen he is an entertainer. We like his style, his mannerisms, in fact we’ll be disappointed if he didn’t give us that. We know the story (rags to riches to rags) but we go to see him, so it’s a good thing we already know the story. We can concentrate on what he does, without having to unravel the tale. All we care about are his presence and his punchlines.
Rajni did not diappoint the reporters when asked for an unrecorded punchline. “I am a king, I may be a king, Amitabh is the emperor,” he said, smiling.
UPDATE: Now it was Amitabh’s turn to deliver his punchline.”Comparisons are odious,” he told the correspondent in his baritone, measuring out his words neatly. “We have our own styles. I hear he is very popular in his state and all over the world, especially in Japan. He must be good to win such adulation. But he is he, I am me.”

June 9, 2007

How can I speak well in English?

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:28 pm

Reader Sunandan wants to know.
Now Sunandan, that’s a dicey question. We all have our unique capabilities and being able to speak well, speak efficiently (if not sensibly) is one of them. Who is a good speaker? One
[1] who thinks clearly. That is, thought A followed logically by thought B and so on.
[2] who can translate those thoughts into words quickly. That is, there is perfect synchronisation between thoughts and words. For example, if someone tries to hit you, almost automatically you put your hand out to protect your eyes. Even as your hand rises, the words “Hey, that’s wrong! Don’t do it!” should flash in your mind.
[3] who can convert emotions into appropriate words. For this you need a good vocabulary, ability to string words into meaningful sentences. You know there is a “he” and there is a “hit” and there is a “wrong”. Can you put them together to make a sensible sentence?
[4] can creatively play with words. This helps in coming out with interesting, effective replies in a conversation. Say “yes” or “no” for all sentences, your conversation closes in two seconds flat. Don’t be surprised if people avoid you.
[5] who knows the art of asking questions. Your questions should be pleasant, must encourage the listener to talk and should be non-intrusive.  You don’t expect a person to respond to you if you come up with, “How did you become so fat?” Personal remarks are a big no-no in any conversation. Try, “Hey, you’ve changed a bit since I saw you last!”
[6] who understands the value of listening well. Most times, you could simply trigger a conversation with a smart remark and get the other person to talk. You need to show interest with remarks like, “Really!”, “You don’t say!”,  “Wonderful”, “Great!”, or “I’m sorry”. I bet he will go away saying, “Thanks, I thoroughly enjoyed that conversation with you!” One of the people I interviewed said, “You have a genuine smile. I really liked it!” See what I mean?
Now to speaking well in English. Most of us Indians are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to learning to speak in English.  We can read and understand the language well. But speak? We find that difficult. That’s because one learns this art by listening to others speak. How does a child pick up its first language?
If you are being brought up in a family where everyone speaks English, or where there are plenty of opportunities to listen to English being spoken, you’ll pick it up naturally. One more thing that helps is constant correction. Even as you begin to speak, make your first sentences, there are people to tell you what the right sentence is. This is a huge help. But this is not always forthcoming in our families. So what do people like us do? I’ll tell you what worked for me.
[1] I am a voracious reader. Even as a kid I’d read any English book I could lay my hands on. I would read the newspaper page in which the grocery came packed (yes, there was a time like that!). I would read every English book in the school library. This helped me become familiar with sentence patterns. For example, reading helped me absorb tricky  constructions like, “He lay on the floor, in the shade of the tree” and “He is the better of the two”. It helped me learn my question tags. “You wouldn’t do that, would you?”
[2] Since I had to learn to speak, I simply memorised the dialogues (direct speech) in the story books I read. Right from “Someone has tasted my porridge, someone has tasted my porridge too, someone has eaten my porridge!” in Goldilocks to “Whoever breaks the bow, marries my daughter!” in the Ramayana.
[3] Once I learned a new word, phrase or a sentence, I would go around looking for a victim. I had to try it on a listener – willing or unwilling. When I was a seven-year-old I came across the phrase “pretty sure”. I went up to a visiting uncle and said, “I’m pretty sure you don’t know this phrase.” Brash. He said the phrase was wrong. “Sure” couldn’t be “pretty”. I was so happy I knew something he didn’t.
[4] Another practice I have (to this day) is forming sentences in mind. I try to describe anything I see, hear, smell, taste or touch. I see a perosn, I immediately do a word picture in my mind. A simple one first. He is tall, he gesticulates as he talks. He has a gruff voice. He looks away as he talks. He seems to choose his words carefully. Description, followed by an estimation, opinion. If I was asked about that person later on, I could say airily, “Oh, quite an interesting guy! He has this habit of looking away, but that may be because he’s careful about choosing his words!” Neat, eh?
[5] I also do a lot of listening. I listen to BBC news. I listen to a couple of Indian, English news channels. At my workplace, again I do a lot of listening. Even as I learn new phrases, new expressions from my colleagues, they think I’m a patient listener and come to me with problems. It’s a win-win for all of us!
So [a] read, [b] memorise [c] try out what you learn in conversation, [d] do the describing exercise, [e] speak whenever you can and if people correct you, take it in the right spirit, [f] listen to English being spoken, [g] learn at least a couple of new expressions a day.
Also, learn to modulate your voice. In English as in any spoken language, there is word stress (certainly is pronounced sur-tn-lee, with emphasis on the first part) and there is sentence stress (“I didn’t know!”). Stress on different words in a sentence can give different meanings to the sentence. “I didn’t see him!” is different from “I didn’t see him!”
There is also the pitch. A speech delivered at one pitch, a monotone, is a big yawn. You don’t have to be dramatic, but you need to raise and lower the pitch according to what you say. A question has to be delivered to sound like a question. “How are you?” cannot sound robotic. Many English words have sounds that convey their sense. We need to be aware of that and speak them to bring that out. Say “SPLASH” and you’ll know what I mean.
Beyond all this is our natural ability to speak. Some people like Amitabh Bachchan are not inclined to talk a lot. They are men of “few words”. Not all of us can become great orators and go, “Friends, Romans and countrymen!” But we can all learn to speak calmly, put across our thoughts coherently without fillers like “um”, “er”, you know” and “like”. Yes, with practice, constant practice and a lot of listening to, we can do it. So try!
Final tip: form the sentence in your mind before saying it.  Take a few seconds to check it for accuracy.  It is better to speak less than to blurt out a lot of nonsense. 

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