The South Indian Relationship Chart

I mentioned in my last post that you can explain familial relationships in Kannada using a 2×3 matrix that I wanted to draw some day. The truth is that it is actually a 2xn matrix which I have wanted to draw since childhood. Now that I have reached middle age and in any case the end of the world is near, I have decided that it is not a good idea to delay this any further. So here is the matrix and the explanation.

The matrix has 2 columns, and I have depicted 3 rows, but as each row represents a generation, there are an infinite number of rows. I have numbered the rows 1, 2, and 3, but there will be rows before and after as well.

To use this matrix, first, you place yourself on it. Then you follow 2 simple rules to find the co-ordinates of anyone related to you. Which box they fall in will tell you how they are related to you. This relationship is unambiguous as long as certain (impractical) conditions are satisfied.

The two rules are:

  1. If a person is in a block, his or her father will be in the block immediately above, and vice versa. For example if you are in A2, your father will be in A1. Conversely, if you are male, your children will be in A3.
  2. If a person is in column A, his or her spouse will be in column B of the same row. So if you are in A2, your wife or husband is in B2.

By applying the above two rules iteratively, you can locate any of your relatives. Once you find the block they should be in, look at the legend. Depending on whether their gender and relative age (relative to whom, will be explained further) their relationship with you will be clear. There are some special cases which are also explained.

Let’s see how this works using a few examples.

  1. If you are in A2, your father is in A1. Your siblings, being children of the same father, will be in the same block as you, i.e. A2. So they will be called aNNa, tamma, akka or tangi, depending on whether they are your elder or younger brother or sister.
  2. You are in A2, your father in A1. Your mother, being your father’s wife, is in B1. Because she is your mother and it’s a special case, she’ll be called Amma.
  3. Your father’s siblings will all be in the same box as he is. So his brothers will be either doDDappa or chikkappa to you depending on whether they are older or younger than your father Their wives will be in box B1 and will be doDDamma or chikkamma depending on whose wives they are.
  4. Your mother is also in B1, so her sisters are also doDDamma or chikkamma depending on whether they are older or younger than she. Their husbands are also doDDappa or chikkappa depending on whose husband they are. (I think it won’t matter here whether they are older or younger than your father)
  5. The children of all people in #3 and #4 will be in the same box as you, and therefore will have the same relationship to you as your siblings do – aNNa, tamma, akka or tangi, depending on their gender, and age relative to you.
  6. Your father’s sister, being his sibling, will be in the same box as he. In her case, her relative age doesn’t matter. She will always be called atthe. Similarly, your mother’s brother will always be called mAma (or mAva). A mAva’s wife will also be called atthe and an atthe’s husband will be called mAva, by rule #2.
  7. You are in A2, your spouse is in B2. His or her father is therefore in B1, and will be a mAva to you, and his wife will be in A1, atthe to you.
  8. If you are in block A2, your mother’s brother’s children will be in B2, as will your father’s sister’s children. They will all be bhAva or maiduna, attige or nAdini, depending on whether they are older or younger than you. If you end up marrying one of them, special case rules apply and she’s your henDathi or ganDa depending on gender.
  9. Likewise, if you are in A2, your spouse is in B2, and his or her siblings will also be bhAva or maiduna, attige or nAdini. Here, the age is considered relative to your spouse rather than to yourself. So your wife’s elder sister will be attige even if she is younger than you, and your husband’s younger brother will be maiduna even if he’s older than you.
  10. The rules for maga, magaLu, aLiya and sose are self-explanatory. I have created 2 charts, one to refer to if you are male and another if female, but this is only for convenience and in fact, there is no material difference between the two. If you are male, your children will show up in the block immediately below yours while if you are female, your children will show up in the block below your husband’s.
  11. Your grandparents are all ajja or ajji – there are no special relationships such as naana or daada, unlike Hindi. Grandchildren are all mommakkaLu.

Using these rules, you can place anyone who is related to you by blood or marriage in the matrix. I mentioned in my last post that I worked out that my maternal uncle’s wife’s brother would be chikkappa to me. Applying the rules should make it clear how it works. I (A2) → MAva (B1) → Atthe (B2) → her brother (B2). In B2, male and younger than my father, therefore chikkappa.

This works in every case as long as a simple rule is followed – if marriages happen between A and B of the same row only. This means no inter-generational marriages and no marrying someone in the same box as you are. These rules, to be clear, are not enforced beyond a certain point. For one thing, in South India, there is also a tradition of women marrying their maternal uncles. This matrix breaks down in this case. For another, there are unusual ways in which this rule can be broken. For example, person A’s wife’s brother marries B. Person A’s brother C marries B’s sister D. This is a perfectly normal marriage between two people not related by blood, but according to the rules, C and D would fall in the same box. So while there is no prohibition on this marriage, this anomaly would definitely be noted in the “hey this is interesting” sense. That is because Kannadigas have a mental image of the matrix I have depicted when they use language.

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