Saturday, September 29, 2012

How Kishore solved a Tenglish crossword

When Mark Twain said there is no such thing as a new idea, he knew what he was talking about. I wrote about the possibility of bilingual crosswords convinced that this was something radical. Apparently not. Kishore Rao points us towards a Tenglish (Telugu + English) bilingual crossword being published in a Telugu newspaper. This article is Kishore's narration of his serendipitous discovery of the crossword and his attempt to solve it.

Blogging has been sparse this month - my non-virtual life is taking up a big share of my time these days. Please bear with me. I have some interesting posts in the pipeline that I hope to publish over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, enjoy our inimitable Kishore's article which I must tell you is far easier to follow than his original flurry of emails with mysterious subjects like "Open this only after you have read my previous mail", "Read this after you read the previous two mails" and so on. Thank you for being comprehensible for a change Kishore :-)

- Shuchi

One day, having returned home from work and demolished some street food that wifey-dear had brought home for me, I was about to discard its newspaper wrapper, when I spied a crossword on its reverse. Sakshi-Newspaper-Tenglish-CrosswordFurther research with my limited reading abilities in Telugu brought forth the following discoveries:

The newspaper in question సాక్షి (Sakshi = (Eye)witness) was a daily and the crossword was un-numbered. Initially, I thought this was an one-off feature but discovered later that it was published regularly. I had not heard of this paper though my dalliance with Telugu is nearly four decades old. Wikipedia informs me that Sakshi was started in 2008 and has the second largest circulation in Andhra Pradesh at present. My search of other major Telugu newspapers did not yield any crosswords.

Strangely, the crossword was titled టిoglish (Tenglish). Apart from the oddity that this was clearly a portmanteau word created out of the combination of Telugu and English (as is common with many other similar words like Hinglish, to describe that cross-breed creature that results from the matrimony of an Indian language with English), and that the characters used were partly Telugu
and partly English characters, the choice of the first character was peculiar. Telugu, like most Indian languages has two separate characters for the soft and the hard un-aspirated త and ట (like त and ट in Hindi), which approximates to the 't' as pronounced in the French word 'entrée' [t] and the English word 'tomato' [ ʈ ], respectively. Hence, though the word Telugu is pronounced with a soft t త, the title of the crossword corresponds to the hard T.

As foreshadowed by the name, it turned out to be a bilingual puzzle. The headings to clues were crisply worded with aDDam (Across) and niluvu (Vertical); unlike the Hindi and Kannada ones which use phrases like 'up to down' or 'left to right'. The freeform grids were 10 x 10, had lots of black space with even 6 unches in some cases. What got my curiosity was that some clues not only had a number at the beginning and the enumeration number at the end, there seemed to be numbers within the clue itself! Well, some clues had numbers, and some didn't. Why the difference, I wondered...

The crossword addict in me pounced upon the puzzle as a test case of whether my Telugu was up to solving a crossword in that language. My Telugu comes from merely reading bus boards in Hyderabad and some similarity of the script with Kannada (of which I am no master), and I was not able to fully decipher it for the nonce. But even with the answers given alongside, I wondered how this Tenglish crossword worked.

Alas, my Telugu was not up to scratch and I had to resort to the tools of the modern day researcher: the suite from Google (Transliteration, Translate and regular Search Engine versions) to get it, besides referring to online dictionaries.

However, I thought this format of crossword deserved more attention and shot off an e-mail to Shuchi, laying my newly discovered crossword at her doorstep and confessing that I was baffled with the numbers in the clues. Just as I was pondering on whether to get into the newspaper laundering business (as the scrap I had was liberally stained with foodstuff), so that I could take a photo, I was able to get an online snapshot, thus sparing me the sponging and ironing.


One really feels an ass after clicking the Send button and realising that the dawn of epiphany had arrived a nanosecond too late. I had managed to decipher the numbers in the clues and patted myself on my back: the ghosts at Bletchley Park would have been proud of me.

The numbered clues worked like this:

The clues had a Telugu word, for which one had to think of an English word (the answer), from which the specified letters were to be extracted to give a subsidiary word as defined at the end of the clue.

Clue 1A reads ఊహించు (oohinchu = think) and leads to the English word 'speculate', where the 4th, 5th and 2nd letters spelt out the word 'cup' which, as mentioned in the clue, is called గిన్నె (ginne).

Clue 8A reads ప్రామాణికత (pramaNikata = validation/certification) and leads to the English word 'standard' where the 1st , 3rd and 5th letters spelt out the word 'sad', which as mentioned in the clue, is called దుఃఖo (duhkham).

Having solved all these clues, with a little help from Google Translate, I shot off another mail to Shuchi, and once again, history repeated itself. I had now broken through the veil of clues without numbers. Time to order the Kryptos from Langley, I mused, hoping the guys at the Company would not mind.

Just like the previously explained clues, these clues too had a main word and a subsidiary word, both in English, but in contrast to the ones above, instead of giving the letters to be picked from the main word, a different method was prescribed.

Clue 3D ఆకర్షించుట (aakarshinchuTa) has the answer 'attract'. Taking the last three letters as instructed, the word 'attract' becomes 'act' నటించు (naTinchu).

Clue 4A నేర్వరితనం (nerparitanam) has the answer 'skill'. By dropping the first letter as instructed, the word 'skill' becomes 'kill' చంపు (champu).

Clue 7A చక్రం (chakram) has the answer 'wheel'. By removing the first letter as instructed, the word 'wheel' becomes 'heel' మడము (maDamu).

This crossword was quite innovative and I was impressed by the unknown setter's ability to do this regularly as this requires not only a good vocabulary in both languages but also the skill to play with components of the words in two languages at the same time.

And this, my friends, is the way I got to spend a good three-fourths of an hour deciphering a crossword in a language I am not on very good speaking terms with.

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