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“Dear me!” Mrs Laxmi Chopra stared at the man who had rung her door bell. “Is that Rishabh Agarwal?”


“At your service, ma’am,” smiled Mr Agarwal and made a mock-bow. She clapped her hands in delight. She was seeing her best friend after 10 years! “Oh, come in! Come in! After so long!” She chirped and led him in.


Rishabh closed the door behind him. Laxmi was surprised at the dilemma this innocent action put her into.


He was the same Rishu with whom she used to be so frank in college. They used to zip through the city on Rishu’s bike. They went for evening strolls. They sat talking together for hours. They had shared all their secrets, had never felt the need of any other friend, had never felt self-conscious about their friendship even when their classmates teased them about it. And yet, now she was debating whether there would be any impropriety in meeting him with the doors closed! How the times had changed! She had become a typical married woman, worrying about what the neighbours or her husband may say if they came in just then!


Rishabh, who was not yet married himself, remained totally oblivious of her quandary and found nothing amiss with her suggestion that they go and chat over coffee in a café. She took him to a café far away from her neighbourhood.

IE sem-  one, together with


Ai mere hamsafar, ik zara intzaar…

Thus sing the earnest lovers in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. But, who is your hamsafar? He or she is the person who will be ‘together (with you) in the journey (of life)’. In the same fashion, you can get to the meaning of other ham- words. Your hamdard is the person who is together with you in your pain; your hamkhyaal has the same ideas or views as you; your hammazhab shares your religion, and your hamnaam, your name. A very poetic word for neighbour is hamsaaya. And then, of course, is the hamshakl whom you have never found but whom the heroes and heroines in Bollywood movies and television serials seem to find with such ease and regularity!


Are you looking at the root in the heading and wondering why I am going on about ham- when I should be talking about sem-? Well, ham- belongs to the family. Remember that the IE ‘s’ changes into ‘h’ in Greek and Persian.


The word ‘Sanskrit’ itself is derived from this root! It is a compound of sam- and (s)kar-, ‘to do, make’ and so samskrta means ‘put together, completely formed, refined.’ Sanskrit always prided itself as the ‘sophisticated language’, the language of the scholars, and totally dissociated itself from the language of the masses by giving it a different name altogether- Prakrit.


Sanskrit abounds in words beginning with the prefixe sam-. A few examples are sambahu or sambhuj, meaning ‘equilateral’, samdarshi, equitable, samkalin, contemporary and samlingi, homosexual.


Now, have a look at the words in modern English from this family.

Sem-1: same, similar, simile

Sem-2: simulate, assimilate, dissimulate

Sem-3: semblance, dissemble, facsimile

Sem-4: sempiternal, simultaneous, ensemble

Sem-5: homogenize, homily, anomalous

Greek allos  Latin alius, alter other


Nandan Sen’s wife opened the door and a crowd of reporters barged in. Addled, she told them that they had come to a wrong address. They said they had not; this was where Mr Altruist, who had just won an international literary prize of 50,000 dollars, lived.


Mr Altruist? No, it could not be; her husband was a subaltern in the army. She was still telling them that when her husband came out, smiled at her, went to the reporters, asked them to sit down and started tackling their questions. So…he had, indeed, been writing all these years…so many years…under the alias ‘Mr Altruist’…and she had not even known! She felt bitter, betrayed.

‘Mr Altruist’ told the reporters that he would set up a primary school in his village with the prize money. Hah! She thought in rage…caring for the whole world…for everyone except his wife, keeping secrets from her, and she…she had so foolishly tried to think what he thought, like what he liked, dislike what he disliked…had tried to be his alter egohah!


Their altercation that evening was much worse than usual.


Three months later…


Nandan Sen was found dead in his room, with a stab in his stomach and a knife close by.


His wife had an irrefutable alibi. She had been visiting her parents, a hundred kilometres away, and had come back only upon hearing the dreadful news. He had been alone for the last two days, the gatekeeper vouched for that. Nothing was missing from the house either. In the absence of any alternative explanation, the police decided that he had killed himself.


His wife knew he had. That was all that that craven man could do, she thought. He only knew how to run away. Not once had he tried to alter the situation. Not once had he tried to find out what had actually alienated her from him. Instead, he had accused her of having an adulterous relationship with their neighbour! It was this last charge that had finished their marriage. She had immediately packed her bags and left for her parents’ home. But this that he had done behind her was even more deplorable. She never forgave him for his suicide.


IE sol- whole


‘Solid’ means whole, that is, with no internal cavity. To ‘consolidate’ an empire is to bring all its fragments together into a united whole. Solder and solidarity are the other ‘solid’ words.


Then, we come to the Latin root sollus which means ‘whole.’ It is the parent of:


Solicit, solicitous, solicitude, insouciant, solemn

The Latin root salvus means ‘whole, unbroken, uninjured, healthy.’ ‘Safe’ and ‘save’ are salvus words, as are the words below:


Salvus-1: Salvage, salvation, salvo

Salvus-2: salubrious, salutary


Now, the IE ‘s’ changes into ‘h’ in Greek. So the Greek root belonging to this family is holos, meaning ‘whole’. It is found in holocaust, catholic, holistic and hologram.


The IE ‘l’ remains an ‘l’ in Latin and Greek, but often becomes an ‘r’ in Sanskrit. Think of the words for ‘sun’. The Latin root is sol-, found in ‘solar’ and solstice, the Greek root is helios, found in ‘Helium’ or the ‘heliocentric’ theory (the theory that Sun, and not the Earth, is the centre of the universe). The corresponding Sanskrit root is saur-, found in saurmandal and sooraj.


Therefore, the Sanskrit counterpart of the Latin sollus and the Greek holos is sarva. Sarvashiksha abhiyaan is a movement to educate everybody. Sarvsammati means unanimity. Saara means whole.


IE ger-  to gather


In Greek, the word ageirein meant ‘to assemble’, and the open place where everybody assembled to discuss matters or to hear the proclamations of their king or the council was called ‘Agora’. Because everybody thronged the Agora, enterprising merchants started putting up their stalls there and with time, the word came to be used in the sense of ‘marketplace’ also.

The whole town came to shop, or saunter, in the central marketplace. So people regularly bumped into old friends or acquaintances, and when they met, they obviously talked. But, if what was on their mind was a taboo subject, they hesitated and looked around apprehensively. If anybody in the crowded agora heard them and reported, the talons of law would tear into them! So, what they did was that they pretended to talk very innocently about ‘the other things in the marketplace’, using no incriminating words at all, yet getting their message across to the listener. This was the birth of Allegory.


There are more words that grew out of agora. They are:

Agora-1: agoraphobia, categorical

Agora-2: panegyric, phantasmagoria


The other root in this IE family is the Latin grex means ‘a gathering, a herd.’


When you herd together the marks obtained in each subject, you get the aggregate marks. A man who cannot sit by just himself and flies with alacrity towards any group of people that he sees is gregarious. The people who flock together for a religious ceremony are called a congregation. To separate someone from the flock is to segregate him and an act that makes one stand out of the flock is egregious.

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