When we were in school, and later when we were in college, a genre of humour, heavily dependent on puns, homophones, and lateral thinking, flourished. These were the ‘kadi’ (tamil for bite) jokes. A few of us were accomplished masters, while everyone took a stab at it. At its peak, all popular magazines ran ‘kadi’ jokes, with Ananda Vikatan’s Mr. X jokes leading the way. Then slowly, the popularity of kadi jokes waned, and it went into a decline. Of course, die-hard afficionados kept the genre alive, punning away in like-minded company. Today, it seems to be making a comeback, taking the form of ‘Thathuvams,’ forwarded by email and text messages.
These thathuvams are a spoof on the elaborate analogies employed by Tamil movie dialogue writers to get across a ‘message’ to the audience. So, we have the hero’s mother tearfully telling the hero’s sister, “Selai mullu mela vizhundhaalum, mullu selai mela pattalum, kizhiyiradhennamo sela dhaan.” Roughly translated it means, “If the sari falls on thorns, or if the thorns fall on a saree, it is the saree that gets torn.” Dialogues like these were all the rage till a few years ago in Tamil filmdom. Today too, there are a few practiontioners who hang on to this. And then you have the “punch dialogues” – kind of like one liners, but not quite. The most famous are Superstar Rajinikanth’s punch dialogues, like “Naan oru dhadavai sonnaa, nooru dhadava sonna maadhiri” – “If I say it once, it’s like saying it a hundred times (rough translation, again).”
Which brings us back to the thathuvams, which spoof both the long-winded analogies that pepper dramatic monologues in Tamil cinema and the punch dialogues. The ubiquity of cell phones and the internet, coupled with cheap SMS rates and hundreds of software engineers waiting for something to do between projects have meant a resurgence of the kadi joke, albeit in a new avatar.
My current favourite is this one, forwarded to me by Tilak: If you drink Ethanol, you will dance in front of others; if you drink Methanol, others will dance in front of you! Stinging social satire, if ever there was some!
The kadi joke has seen a sort of comeback in the print and electronic media as well – Bosskey’s work on Ananda Vikatan, as well as numerous DJs and VJs on FM Radio and local TV (‘Blade’ Dheena doing both TV and Radio!) continue upholding the strong kadi tradition.
Unfortunately, the essence of kadi lies in the multiple meanings of a Tamil word, and the semantic antics of similar sounding Tamil words, and that make it almost impossible to render good kadi jokes in English. There are a few cross language ones, which makes use of English as she is spoken by us Tamils. Here are two: What is common to Communism and Krishna Jayanthi? The answer is Karl Marx – Karl being homophonic with the Tamil kaal, meaning leg or foot. For Krishna Jayanthi, people decorate their houses with small footprints (purportedly Krishna’s), and hence the Karl Marx / Kaal Marks joke. See how laborious it is! Nevertheless, I shall soldier on with another. What is common to boxing and Bhadrakali (note the alliteration!)? The answer is knock out, pronounced the Tamil way, naak out. Naakku in Tamil is tongue, and Bhadrakali (none other that that terrible mother goddess Kali herself) is usually depicted with her tongue hanging out. Hence the Knock Out / Naak Out joke.
So, with all the forwarding of thathuvams (which by the way means philosophy), what do I do? Like a true wannabe geek, I go and rotate them randomly on my sidebar!