Sunday, July 3, 2011

Of Payon

To attempt to write a sober-faced humour-dissection essay is problematic. Firstly one, the essay declares itself to be anything but funny. Secondly,: to explain "what is funny" is an exercise in futility. if a joke is 'lost' on someone, rarely ever does a knowledgeable explanation of the benign transgression achieved by the joke, evoke in the listener the laugh, which was the objective of the joke. So I seek your sympathies upfront before beginning this post that seeks to explain Payon to the uninitiated.

Payon - a 'character' created mislexic - is a writer who carries his self-aggrandizement to absurd extremes. His absurdity itself stemming from a refusal to grasp the world in the same way rest of us would. His language a running parody of the kind of unquestioned absurdities that one can see in the language of many of Tamil's literary magazines .

To 'get' him, I contend, one needs a modicum of understanding of what has come to pass for Tamil in the mainstream media. Rampant mispronunciation, grammatical errors and terrible sentence-construction - have become par for the course that they no longer 'jar' the reader/listener. It is quite possible a generation may not even realize what is wrong - and thus what he is parodying.

His humour covers a broad range including: grammatical failures, mistranslations, non-sequiturs, petulantly childish alternate perceptions, verbal cartoons and logical extension fallacies. The overall effect is nothing like anything. So much so, that the only reaction that seems possible is, to reflect his own style back, as a nod of appreciation
for his seemingly limitless capacity for absurdity in general. Even while doing that, one is not without the nagging doubt that one has not grappled with all that he has laid on the table.

Here are a few samples from his second book: திசை காட்டிப் பறவை (dhisai kAtti paRavai)

He writes his own foreword. The central joke being the writer who is writing the foreword in first person, refers to Payon in third person. As he progresses, in one paragraph switches the "I" to the writer of the book and refers to Payon, the writer of the foreword, in third person. Further in the foreword,it only gets more frenetic as he does the same within sentences, juggling possessive forms and verb suffixes to maximum effect. (eg. நேர்பேச்சில் பல தருணங்களில் பேயோன் சொல்லியிருக்கிறேன்). Each time one encounters a variation of the same 'joke', one is freshly challenged and takes a split second to reconcile it with our understanding.

Tamil is generally not written the way it is spoken. A certain tinge of archaism is to a certain extent inevitable in the prose. Sometimes writers attempt to achieve this by 'merely' taking a colloquial expression and freezing it up in its staid written form and consider it a job well done. What is achieved is actually an awkward and artificial formalization of a colloquialism, in the middle of prose. பேசாதீர்கள்! he screams in the middle of a paragraph. While there is nothing per se incorrect about that, it is hilarious to imagine someone shutting out the person who is trying to offer an explanation, my making the above exclamation.

Puns with as long a set-up as twitter would permit in a tweet
ஆங்கில சிறுகதையையும் அதற்கு லபக்குதாசின் மொழியாக்கத்தையும் ஒப்பிட்டு பார்க்கிறேன். ஒன்று மூலம், இன்னொன்று பவுத்திரம்.
குமார் தன் பெயருக்கேறப தங்கமானவனாக இருந்தான்
- is a classic example of 'where did that come from!'

He abbreviates தொலைபேசி as தொ.பேசி saving all of one letter.
Misuse of construction: நண்பரும் ஆழி பதிப்பகத்தின் செந்தில்நாதனுமான பதிப்பாளர்...
Hyper-extension - adding suffixes where not needed: அவர் எழுத்து அவ்வாறுபட்டது.
Mistranslation - பார்வை ரீதியாக சவால்விடப்பட்டவர்கள் for visually challenged
He follows @borehay and asks him ஓன் ஹவுஸா ரென்டடா சார்?

Then of course are those tweets, which are funny because of their 'very true'-ness. I have taken the liberty - with what I shall not say - of attempting to translate a couple of my favourites

He throws in word coinages for you to figure: ஊராந்திரம் (after all isn't this what we do m
ore often than the exaggeration inherent in தேசாந்திரம்)

Consider this: வாசகரின் ஒலிப்போக்கு நின்றிருந்தது - doesn't merely tap into the English expression - 'verbal dysentery', but with a converts the cruel to the mischievously evil - with nonchalance.

Make what you will of the tweet that says: 'I don't know whether it will rain today or if it is supposed to rain today".

That is (possibly) a part of a running rant about rains - where he expresses complete lack of understanding about the universal notion that rain is something wonderful, beautiful and poetry-inspiring.

He has a deal with his friend (the equally fictitious Labakudas: who is attributed with the most howlarious of mistranslations) to drop names for money. The rates per dropped names is funny in its mock seriousness and is possibly a hat-tip to the core idea of Woody Allen's Whore of Mensa, which I namedrop for free.

Taking expressions literally: இதை எங்கே போய் சொல்வது (முழு முகவரி தேவை)

Taking expressions literally, missing the point:
நேற்று மாலை திரையரங்கு போனவனுக்கு டிக்கெட் கிடைக்கவில்லை. ஏமாற்றமாவது மிஞ்சியதே என்ற ஆறுதல்தான் மிச்சம்

It is only then that you notice how 'ஏமாற்றம் தான் மிஞ்சியது' is actually a flowery expression in the first place. It is such a stock expression, that we peddle without giving a thought to its poetic potential!

Then there is his deadly category where he teases you by being funny and at the same time throwing in a certain degree of philosophy or poignancy. You are wary of taking it seriously and becoming the joke yourself

இருபது ஆண்டுகளுக்குப் பின் யாரோ எழுதப்போகும் எனது வாழ்க்கை வரலாறுக்குள் இருந்தபடி வாழ்வது சிரமமாக இருக்கிறது.

His கவிதை அகராதி is a Devil's dictionary-ish wicked take on components of Tamil poems today.

It is replete with ribs at recurrent themes, unimaginative expressions, the heightened melodrama and inflated sense of self-importance that poems bring. For example, this is the dictionary entry for the word I:
  • the narrator of the poem.
  • the sensitive know-it-all
  • the biggest humanist out there
  • he who ends up getting alienated when he starts thinking poetry
  • the one who shares what the self knows
  • slightly resembles "you" but happens to sit on this side
Heck, the man makes a 'poem' with Unicode font errors thrown in at critical parts of the poem (painfully familiar to those who type much in Tamil)

As I have used up my superlatives, I should plan to end the post now, with a summation:

In case it wasn't abundantly clear, the point I was trying to make is this:First there is Payon. Then there are the rest of us, who feel compelled to point out our attempts at being light by using exclamation marks!


  1. ... and you forgot, smileys :) Like the one preceding.

    Beyond doubt I have not read anyone like Payon in Tamil till now. Amazing grasp of the language which allows him to mold it whatever way he wants to. Some of what he says you can't think yourself. Even if you were to think of it yourself, you wouldn't know how to express it yourself!! Atleast you can't express it the way Payon does.

  2. for us mere mortals, it is "First there are dagalti and payon, then the rest".
    ஒரு சின்ன கருத்து
    "It is quite possible a generation may not even realize what's wrong"
    நானும் இந்த வட்டத்துக்குள்ள வந்துடுவேநோன்ற பயத்துல தான் சொல்றனே என்னவோ. முதல்ல மொழி எண்ணங்கள் பரிமாற்றத்துக்கு. பிற்பாடு தான் மறைஞ்சிருக்குற உணர்வ தூன்றதெல்லாம். இப்பிடி கருத்து இருக்கறவங்களையும் குறை சொல்ல முடியாது பாருங்க.

  3. Suresh, இன்னிக்கு ஒரு அட்டகாசம் பண்ணிருக்கறு பாருங்க. 'எவ்வளவு தூரம்தான் போறாரு பார்ப்போம்' is the only reaction fossible.

    Karadi, மொழி குத்துயிரும் கொலையுயிருமா இருந்தாலும் அனேகமா சொல்ல புரிஞ்சிரும். அது தான் பிரச்சனையே.

    Consider this TV ad:
    டாக்டர் சொல்றாங்க: கிருமிகள் அழியும் இரண்டு மடங்கு அதிகமாய்.

    என்ன சொல்ல வராய்ங்கன்னு புரியுது. அதுக்காக?
    என்ன உளறல் மொழி இது? This rankles nearly no one nowadays.

    This has been forcibly converted from Hindi.
    And sometimes it is not even dubbing
    constraints. Even when there is no-lipsynch compulsion, you see this weird syntax forcefit.
    Check out the next time you see ad. There may be no humans in the frame when this weird language is spoken. Heck, I've heard it in radio ads!

    And look at this further:

    டாக்டர் சொல்றாங்க - பேச்சு வழக்கு
    இரண்டு - formal உரைநடை (as opposed to ரெண்டு)
    அதிகமாய் - back to பேச்சு வழக்கு (as opposed to அதிகமாக)

    All within the span on one bloody sentence.

    அதுனால குறை சொல்ல முடியும். சொல்ல வேண்டும். சொல்லிக்கொண்டே இருக்க வேண்டியது நமது கடமை *சோடா குடுப்பா*