Indians and Sri Lankans can agree on one thing, Aiyo. Today, this two-syllable word has made its way into the Oxford Dictionary. OED has defined the popular word as, “In southern India and Sri Lanka, expressing distress, regret, or grief; ‘Oh no!’, ‘Oh dear!’”
The latest addition includes various Singapore English words like mamak (Malaysian word for street stall), pancit (flat tyre) and even popular dishes from Singapore and South-east Asia like “char kway teow”, “chicken rice” and “rendang”.
Sometimes emotions cannot be expressed in words. These emotions are best expressed through silence. On most occasions, extreme sadness, anxiety and frustration overpower our ability to express it verbally. For Sri Lankans, these silent moments follow a particular word, ‘Aiyo’. This word is predominantly used in India, to express the same set of emotions.
Though Sri Lanka is a multi-cultured and multi-linguistic country, ‘aiyo’ had somehow crept into the vocabulary of the respective mother-tongues of all these communities. Throughout the years, ‘aiyo’ had helped us face a lot of negativities, and the downside of life. An ‘aiyo’ followed by a hug is just what someone would need on a bad day.
How many times have we heard our beloved cricket heroes such as Romesh Kaluwitharana, Kumar Sangakkara, or even Mahendra Singh Dhoni, screaming ‘aiyo’ through the stump microphones when catches are dropped in cricket fields? Every spectator in the ground, at home, and in front of a TV showroom along some random road, can relate to this emotion.
It is probably these little incidents on the international arena that have taken this small word to the Oxford Dictionary.
For Sri Lanka, ‘aiyo’ is not just another word. This word is uttered on a daily basis by people in the North and South. This word would have been heard in thousands of households in the North and the South despite and during 30 years of war. It is a word that would have been uttered by the mothers of terrorists and the mothers of the soldiers when they died in battlefields.
It is an emotion, uttered through an ‘aiyo’, when all is lost and everything around you falls apart. Ironically, everyone focused on the differences between the languages and forgot the similarities. ‘Aiyo’ is just one of many words that show the similarities of the languages spoken by the two majority communities of Sri Lanka. There are many others. But ‘aiyo’ is an emotion by itself.
Published in the Nation on October 15, 2016