My name is கப்லன், மைக்கேல் எஸ். கப்லன் (or maybe கப்லான், depending on your accent).

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2010/06/28 07:01 -04:00, original URI:

I am probably going to be writing blogs on various topics related to things I learned at the World Classical Tamil Conference and the co-located Tamil Internet 2010 for a while now. I just learned so much, it will take a while to get through it all.

So think of the as the first of many different blogs on the topic.

This one is more about me than future ones will be. :-)

First of all, regular reader Jan Kučera should text me ASAP at the phone number I mailed to your address because I foolishly did not collect a phone number and want to not miss you in Bangalore!

Okay, so on to some observations.

It is really really cool when Ministers and the Chief Minister know your name, shake your hand, and thank you for what you have been doing (and then saying enough about the things that it is clear that mean it!). This may seem like an obvious point but I had never really thought about it before, and certainly have never even met anyone as important before (I technically had met one of them before but no such interaction took place then).

I am really humbled by so much of that – the importance that language has for them and everyone I talked to, and their genuine pleasure about so many of the things that have been happening for Tamil.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think I was working on something important – I did. But I guess I never expected really important people to think so.

When they were on stage and I was sitting in the front row (where I was asked to sit as a “Special Invitee” (சிறப்பு ௮ழைப்பாளா்), thanks to Venkat, the INFITT chairman!), they’d periodically look at me and smile. I think I smiled back, hopefully no too goofily...

I was surprised how much of their words I followed, but then I’ve been in the space for a while.

The “Celebrity” aspects of my visit actually started sooner than that -- from when I first landed in Coimbatore and a பொன்னாடை (ponnadai) was put around my shoulders. I can’t really describe it and I only learned the word because I embarrassingly asked Muthu what it was – I hope I spelled it right. Basically it is a shawl but when given to someone of importance up on their arrival its a பொன்னாடை. Here it is later, in my room:

The look on my face was probably much better than after I saw myself in the mirror. So unworthy!

And being a சிறப்பு ௮ழைப்பாளா் had its burdens, I’ll admit. I had a security guard and an attendant not too far from me at all times, and a driver on call at all times even though he was needed usually only two times a day (and one day, four times) at most. It is weird having people do things for me that I’d rather do myself, but even weirder when I see how my insistence that I could do it was taken as not trusting them, not thinking them worthy. Sri suggested I just let them do what they wanted to do, and I finally gave in and did so, mostly. I think they liked the “celebrity” aspect of their protectee/subject a little bit, too

I don’t know if my security was armed or not, but he was never required to brandish it. He may have been there to protect others from me running over their feet, or something.

It was no trouble at all staying interested and engaged with the plethora of adults and children and young adults who kept walking up to me, so interested in me and why I was there and how the chair balanced. It was a lot of fun and amusing when someone would come up to me right after and tell me that the last group of kids were the Hon. Minister’s and I would be glad that I wasn’t getting tired or cynical about it!

Their enthusiasm actually kept me going the whole time. I came back to the hotel exhausted but while at the conference I never felt it.

The volunteers were also amazing and I felt bad that so many of them were terrified of my accent, and I will forever be grateful to Sri Lakshmi for being the one they always came to, and with a graceful smile she’d unfailingly have the answer to the question. After the first day I would test that understanding and tease her a little with stern faces coupled with phrases like “you are continuing to fail to displease me” which would at first horrify her and the when she parsed it again would realize what the words were actually saying would smile.

I have almost none of the pictures of myself and people who wanted pictures other than the ones I saw in the newspapers, but if anyone sends me links they may become Facebook profile pictures in the future. Hundreds of them were taken, maybe almost a thousand.

And to the young girls who would come up, pose for a picture with me that a friend was taking and then run skitter without so much as introducing themselves, I will forever be a little bit baffled, but this week I learned that you don’t need to have a pale face like mine to be recognized for blushing!

And so many noticed when I shaved for Saturday (when the keynote and the main presentation were both happening). Everyone approved, and several people even wanted to take pictures again.

I am going to need to learn Tamil now, for real. It is all fun and cute to be a recognized expert in something one knows nothing about. But after ten years it is a little embarrassing. It is time to move past வணக்கம் and நன்றி and being able to spot my name (மைக்கேல் எஸ். கப்லன் or மைக்கேல் எஸ். கப்லான், as both were there!) in the program so I would know where to go…

And that song, the one that some of the popular Tamil singers worked on? It is still stuck in my head, but I don’t mind. I still love it. And I want to be able to know what all the lyrics mean!

Anyway, there is more but I just wanted to get this first blog out there. :-)

Kannan on 28 Jun 2010 12:29 PM:

Wow! congrats on becoming keynote speaker, looking forward to read your experiences during Tamil conference.

BTW, the shawl is referred to as பொன்னாடை, பொன் (pon) = Gold, ஆடை (aadai) = cloth.

Pavanaja U B on 28 Jun 2010 9:37 PM:


How long you will be in Bangalore? We are having Office 2010 launch by the Bangalore DotNet Users Group (where you were a speaker once) on June 3rd afternoon at Microsoft GTSC Building. Will you be there in Bangalore till then?



Michael S. Kaplan on 28 Jun 2010 11:40 PM:

Still being determined how long I'll be here. I assume you meant July 3rd, right?

Michael S. Kaplan on 29 Jun 2010 4:38 AM:

The keynote was fun, though I must admit the full presentation was more fun, and not just because it was longer. I got to really dig into the source for so many of the problems over the years....

Saravanan on 30 Jun 2010 7:45 PM:

Hope you enjoyed your stay in Tamil Nadu. Do you have presentation/video posted online ? Looking forward to read about your experiences.

There are few photos of yours here :)

You can get the lyrics of the song from here. But there is no translated version though. I will try to translate.

Michael S. Kaplan on 30 Jun 2010 9:11 PM:

The videos and slides are not up yet, I will get to putting copies of slides up here soon after they put slides up on the site.

The pics are fun. :-)  I do not mind the lyrics in Tamil, I'm trying to learn!

Michael S. Kaplan on 30 Jun 2010 10:02 PM:

But as a side note, if the beautiful singer at around 4:40 in the video who sings:

செம்மொழியான தமிழ் மொழியாம்…

தமிழ்மொழி – தமிழ்மொழி – தமிழ்மொழியாம்

is interested in a Tamil language advovcate from the USA, I am single! :-)

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referenced by

2010/07/14 License plate curiosity in Tamil Nadu

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