Sunday, June 26, 2011

English and Tamil Rhymes

There is a dilemma in my home. Prasanna is two now; and we should be putting him in school in an year.
As a part of his fun education we have been buying cds of rhymes.
The Tamil rhymes are a lot of fun. Buzzers' "Kuzhandhai Paattu" - I is one of the best CDs I have listened. Very good songs and animation. You can watch a couple of them at the end of this post.
Me and my wife like the Tamil rhymes - they are very innocent; takes us back to our own childhood.

தோசை அம்மா தோசை
அம்மா சுட்ட தோசை
அரிசி மாவும் உளுந்து மாவும் கலந்து வைத்த தோசை
அப்பாவுக்கு நாலு, அம்மாவுக்கு மூணு,
அண்ணாவுக்கு ரெண்டு, பாப்பாவுக்கு ஒண்ணு
தின்ன தின்ன ஆசை
திருப்பிக் கேட்டா பூசை!

குருவி பறந்து வந்ததாம்
குழந்தை அருகில் நின்றதாம்
பாவம் அதற்குப் பசித்ததாம்
பாப்பா நெல்லைக் கொடுத்ததாம்
குருவி அந்த நெல்லையே
கொத்திக் கொத்தித் தின்றதாம்
பசியும் நீங்கிப் பறந்ததாம்
பாப்பா இன்பம் கொண்டதாம்

குவா குவா வாத்து
குள்ள மணி வாத்து
மெல்ல உடலைச் சாய்த்து
மேலும் கீழும் பார்த்து
மெல்லமாக நடக்கும்
சின்ன மணி வாத்து

These are, of course, written recently. When I was growing up, my mom had a set of older rhymes:

தங்கப் பொன்னே தாராவே
தட்டான் வீட்டுக்குப் போகாதே
தட்டான் கண்டா பொன் என்பான்
தட்டிக் கொட்டி,
தராசில் வைத்து,

We all love these, but we have a problem - the schools have interviews while admitting to KG. The interviews may involve reciting rhymes. Apparently, English rhymes are preferred.
So we got a cd full of English rhymes.
I am sure these all have meaning going back to Queen Elizabeth I, but they make no sense to an Indian and his kid.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a big fall
All the kings horses and all the kings men
could not put together Humpty Dumpty again

I am sure this has some meaning for English men, but you should watch the video. It shows Humpty Dumpty, with a human face, falling down and just breaking apart into pieces. The king's mean try to piece him together again. It looks like a horror movie.

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown
and Jill came tumbling after

The complicated interpretation is in wikipedia here.
In the 17th century, King Charles I tried to reform the taxes on liquid measures. He was blocked by Parliament, so subsequently ordered that the volume of a Jack (1/2 pint) be reduced, but the tax remained the same. This meant that he still received more tax, despite Parliament's veto. Hence "Jack fell down and broke his crown" (many pint glasses in the UK still have a line marking the 1/2 pint level with a crown above it) "and Jill came tumbling after". The reference to "Jill", (actually a "gill", or 1/4 pint) is an indication that the gill dropped in volume as a consequence. A variant of this is that liquids (specifically alcoholic beverages) were watered down, hence, "fetch a pail of water."
I cannot be teaching my kid about tax policy in 17th century England. All that he sees is Jack breaking his "crown" whatever that means.

Then some of the rhymes are plain nonsensical:

Little Jack Connor, sat in a corner,
Eating his christmas pie
He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum,
and said "what a good boy am I?"


Ding Dong Bell
Pussy's in the well
Who put her in? Little Tommy Thin
Who pulled her out? Little Tommy Stout
What a naughty boy was that to drown a pussy cat?

Ok, that is a new way to kill a cat.

Goosy Goosy Gander, where shall I wander?
Upstairs and Downstairs, and in my lady's chamber
There I met an old man, who would not say his prayers
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs

Cruelty to senior citizens

I am not comparing the "West" and the "East". These obviously make a lot of sense for them. But, why should my kid be learning these? Of all the things, why should my kid learn:
Chubby Cheeks, Dimple Chin
Rosy Lips, Teeth within,
Eyes are Blue, Curly hair,
Lovely too, teacher's pet,
Is that you?
Yes, yes, yes!

I have never seen any blue eyed kid in India.

I am not nit-picking. It is annoying that the schools push us in a direction of meaningless English worship.
I do not like "Sloka" classes in schools either. Making the kids talk in English all day and then having them attend sloka classes seems pretty stupid.
But it seems like I have no choice. I am trying to teach the kid "Humpty Dumpty" without being scared myself.

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