Samosapedia: Best bloody diaspora desi dictionary in the world

Samosapedia: Best bloody diaspora desi dictionary in the world

Q&A with the founders of a hysterical new online dictionary for South Asian patois
samosapedia
In Tamil "Samosapedia" could translate to "hold the samosa" sealing this name as a community responsibility to contribute.

Part dictionary, part open encyclopedia, part gag reel -- four guys launched desi humor site Samosapedia barely a month ago, collecting terminology that celebrates the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of global desi culture and language.

In their first month Samosapedia's Arun Ranganathan, Vik Bhaskaran, Braxton Robbason and Arvind Thyagarajan amassed 2,000 words contributed by almost 200 active users with close to 400 words queued for publishing and an average of 35 new words submitted every day.

Words and phrases like jhakaas, bindaas, ghaati, useless fellow (my favorite), cheap and best, Doordarshan and oblibolly.

Words many Indians wouldn't even know. Samosapedia is a reminder that ours is a land of 23 official languages (all different), with more than 400 living languages. And that we're sitting on a "veritable golden repository of poly-nation linguistic cross-pollination" that is both relevant and hilarious.

Back in June CNNGo commissioned Daniel D' Mello's compilation of Indianisms including "doing the needful" and more. The story went viral, amassing hundreds of thousands of page views, comments and spontaneous contributions. Consider Samosapedia the main server.

CNNGo: What's the big idea?

Arun RanganathanArun Ranganathan.Samosapedia: Someone recently said to us that a language was a dialect backed up by an army. As sinister and cynical as this sounds, it gave us pause.

Something that saddens us deeply is the death of languages around the world.

In a South American country somewhere, today, the very last speaker of a language just died and this happens with surprising frequency.

We feel native language speakers have a duty to shore up their awareness of their own beautiful languages and dialects and pass them on with pride.

Nowhere else in the world, unless you take the entire continent of Africa as a whole, would you find the linguistic diversity we have amongst the South Asian diaspora.

South Asians cumulatively constitute a huge part of humanity, and so we felt that it was about time we shared the bubbling wellspring of mirth in our heads with the rest of the world.

And outside of all the jargon and slang, having these wealth of tongues lashing at each other, intertwining and snaking across nations has created one of the most interesting sets of patois on this planet.

Yes, we would call the urban, living, contemporary languages that are finding their way into Samosapedia a kind of patois, one that is spoken and shared by more than a billion souls.

CNNGo: How does Samosapedia work and how will it grow?

Arvind ThyagarajanArvind Thyagarajan.Samosapedia: It is truly by the community and for the community. The words, the word of the day and the rotating monthly background artwork are submitted by the junta at large.

Although moderated and curated, our administrative process is mainly to screen for hatred, racism, or any kind of bigotry, since these don't meet our own standards of what the site should project.

While we encourage people to be rigorous and detailed without being overly verbose, we want people to bring a certain levity, playfulness, irreverence and personal narrative to the site.

Anyone can vote for words they like and we track user votes and use this information to surface content.

The reward centers in our brains respond to fun and laughter and Samosapedia hopes to spread these two items like Kissan Mixed Fruit Jam on the ghee chapati of society. Have you eaten? Please take.

CNNGo: Who are the administrators and founders?

Braxton RobbasonBraxton Robbason.Samosapedia: Vikram Bhaskaran, Arun Ranganathan, Braxton Robbason and Arvind Thyagarajan are the culprits behind Samosapedia. 

Collectively we have backgrounds in entrepreneurship and technology start-ups, writing, acting, storytelling, data mining, strategy consulting, branding, software engineering, web architecture, design, art, illustration, mountain climbing and high-altitude astronomy. 

One fellow here single-handedly communicates in Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, French, Kannada, Amharic, Hindi or street Tamil. Another chap dances salsa, trains capoeira and generally makes nuisance, while one more scoundrel will put blade, put sketch and put kai left right and center.

And then there's the hero who has a penchant for camping, wrestling bears and selling companies, but we won't talk about him.

All Samosapedia's known depredators are young professionals in their early 30s, who are absconding between New York City, San Francisco and Bangalore. 

CNNGo: Tell us about the naming ceremony.

Vik BhaskaranVik Bhaskaran.Samosapedia: When Arun and Vikram first chatted, the working title for the notion was "wonly.in", for "wonly in India" or even, "we are like this wonly."

But the idea was bigger than India, and demanded a more unifying name.

Pakistanis and Bangladeshis for example have their own unique lexicon, as do the Sri Lankans, but we all also have so much in common that we wanted a site name that the entire diaspora could relate to.

We thought this would be a great opportunity to create something truly inclusive that transcends regional boundaries while respecting and celebrating highly localized culture and jargon.

We had already registered the URL "wonly.in", but suddenly, a brainwave delivered Samosapedia.

Arun recalls an electrifying moment when we broke into a spontaneous Dappan Koothu dance and registered Samosapedia.com on the spot.

Samosapedia is the perfect name for us for a number of reasons. Clearly we all have a special fondness for hot samosas. Especially during monsoons with a hot cup of chai. And what could be more iconic to desis than the samosa, which exists in some form or the other just about everywhere you'd think of as having a South Asian influence, whether it's in a Burmese soup or the "sambusa" in Kenya and Ethiopia? 

Plus we love the cognitive dissonance that the words “pedia” and “samosa” create when placed together.

Finally, the fact that in Tamil "samosapedia" could translate to "hold the samosa" seals this in as a community responsibility to contribute.

Imagine a picture of Uncle Shomu pointing straight at you and saying "You hold the samosa". Ayyo, uncle!

CNNGo: Rakhi is on August 13. Define the pan-Indian festival, Samosapedia style.

Samosapedia: Rakhi is the sacred thread used during the Raksha Bandan festival. Traditionally, sisters tie rakhi to their brothers' wrists, but the practice is often used by girls to issue a KLPD to would-be suitors. 

At first glance, "Rakhi Brother" is the worst possible designation that could be bestowed upon a young and aspiring studmuffin of school-going age.

What is a serious, filial and traditional affair in North India, has a rather sinister purpose in the South.

The dreaded day of Raksha Bandhan arrives and all the young males rise early, with trepidation, brush-teeth-wash-face and shave, even when most don't need to, just to feel like a man.

Today is the day that all the cutest girls in class are about slap the cuffs on the hopefuls and dub them Rakhi Brother. "Rise ye jilted child" they seem to say as you mope around suringified for the rest of the day.

But you are a valiant eng bai and emotions do not weigh heavily upon you so you recover quickly and realize that this dubious recognition is actually some form of attention, a unique connection that you can rely on to link the two of you, Rakhi Brother and Rakhi Sister, in a cozy social twosome.

"Aicchhhhh!" you think to yourself as you seek out your Rakhi Sister to attempt a leading conversation.

Sita Wadhwani is CNNGo City Editor in Mumbai.

 

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