The Open Dosa

Consuming the Ordinary Differently

DHONGAMUNDDA – How I Forgot Telugu When I Learnt Malayalam

When I was in the first grade, I spoke Telugu fluently. My parents were teachers in Nellore. I only have vague memories of my childhood, but Amma sharpens it whenever she is bored. I remember the nights we spent on the terrace of our rented house. We couldn’t afford an air conditioner those days. We slept outside the house looking at the stars. Our house owner lived in the ground floor. I studied the basics of Telugu language from Little Flower High School, and the tuition centre that my parents sent me to. Whenever dad heard me speaking Telugu fluently, he felt jealous because even he was not that fluent even after his five years of teaching career there. I made good friends with my neighbourhood Muslim family and they taught me new words in Telugu.

I was a restless child and I spoke to everyone and impressed them with my Telugu nursery rhymes. Amma tried very much to teach me Malayalam but I would run off and hide in Nannama’s room. Nannama will always be my favourite. She was my house owner who fed me rice, and ghee made of buffalo milk. I was friendly towards everyone except Ravi uncle. He scared me with his curly moustache.

Nannama prepared pickles for me because I loved it. I would eat more rice with pickles. Every evening the neighbourhood gossip groups came to Nannama’s house and they’d discuss everything.

When she agreed to marry him, Amma had only one condition – that Appa should have a government job. Appa repeated PSC exams (Public Service Commission) to fulfill Amma’s dream. In his last attempt, he cracked the PSC exam when he was 32. We came back from Nellore to Kerala when he was appointed as a clerk in the Cooperative department. I lost my bond with the language when I left Nellore after my seventh birthday. I believe that when I learnt Malayalam, known to be the toughest of south Indian languages, I forgot Telugu. Nannama continues to call me and wishes me in Telugu on my birthdays. She is 89 now and her voice gets shriller every year. Now I am unable to communicate with her in Telugu. I need Appa to translate Telugu for me.

A Telugu nursery rhyme that I remember fondly is called “Chamchiku Chamchiku chambandu”. I sang it along with some actions which I was taught in my school. My cousins remind me of this whenever we have family functions, because as a child, I used to sing this rhyme all the time. All my Malayalee cousins were fascinated by this Telugu nursery rhyme. Once we had a family get-together at Amma’s place. I remember the stage which was set in front of our Tharavadu (Ancestral  house). Someone asked me to sing a song. I went to the stage and started singing my Telugu rhyme. Everyone stood up and clapped as if I had done something great because they expected a Malayalam song.


My roommates are from Vijayawada and they are obsessed with Dubsmash. I really wanted to try one in Telugu. So they wrote the dialogues in English and asked me to enact it. Whenever Appa calls me, he makes use of the opportunity to speak to my roommates in Telugu. My roommates are crazy and they made me sing ‘Munbe vaa’ in Telugu and posted it on Facebook and now it has around 593 views.


My parents used to watch Telugu movies at home but I’d sleep off on the floor. I hate it when I see someone at home enjoying something without me. The first Telugu movie I watched was “Magadheera”, with subtitles. Ramcharan Teja, with his long and fluffy hair became my hero until I got fascinated by the broad – shouldered Prabhas.

Appa used to call me ‘Dhongamundda’(bastard) because this was the first Telugu word I spoke. When I was three years old, Geethakka, my house owner’s daughter, looked after me when my parents left home for work. She used to drive street dogs away, calling them Dhongamundda and that was when I learnt my first word in Telugu. Once my dad came with a stick to beat me and I said “Po Dhongamundda” and ran away. I recalled all these memories when I watched Baahubali in Urvashi Theatre. It was the first time I watched a Telugu movie without subtitles. Urvashi theatre is just 10 minutes away from our college. We were a Malayalee gang and no one knew Telugu but I managed to laugh at all the right points by imitating the couple who sat next to me. When they screamed I did the same and when they laughed, I laughed along with them.

Three months later I watched the movie again in Mazhavil Manorama (a Malayalam TV channel). I hate watching movies which are dubbed from other languages but I was able to make more sense of the movie when it was presented in my own mother tongue. I kept talking about the movie and the language used in the movie that whole night to my family members.

During my last visit, Appa opened his cupboard and started searching for something. I stood in front of him without an expression. He smiled as if he had discovered a precious treasure. He gave me a bundle of papers and said “I felt proud of you when you came running with your Telugu answer script with full marks and you must know that you lost something very precious. Kids learn everything easily and forget them easily”. I opened those bundles and was surprised to see my Appa’s treasures, which included my LKG answer scripts.

As of now, I am waiting to watch the next part of the movie. I am dying to know why Katappa killed Baahubali.

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Lincy Francis

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