'Vatukan' - An Exercise In Etymology
Long back, while at primary school in Kerala, we got to learn a word from the Malayalam language lessons: 'vatu' ('t' retroflexed again). This was said to mean 'a young Brahmin'. It sounded funny enough (well, in Mallu pronunciation) - and disparaging enough - for most of us to use it as a communal nickname for the few 'Palghat Iyer' students in our batch. Well, Kerala is a very sectarian place, from the ground up!
I heard the word 'vatukan' when I was somewhat older. In our part of Kerala (strictly the central part), it is an infrequently used word and generally meant 'a disagreeable fellow'. I remember trying to connect 'vatukan' with 'vatu', unsuccessfully - 'vatukan' was used against anyone, without caste connotations.
While at College, our Malayalam language professor told us, 'vatukan' actually is a 'traditional slang word' for a ... Malayali Christian! That was quite a big surprise (still later, I got to hear from some folks who hailed from southern Kerala that the word was still very much in use in their part of the province - to abuse Christians. As I said, Kerala is ... well, you know!).
In those days, there used to be an international correspondent for 'The Hindu' named Batuk Gathani. The surname sounded Sindhi (it still does to self) but the first name appeared to be the same as 'Vatuka', corrupted (the V-B thing is universal, the Bongs have no monopoly there). Somewhat later, I happened to read about Batukeshwar Dutt, the young Punjabi revolutionary who accompanied Bhagat Singh on his final, fateful mission.
Somewhere on the web one sees: 'Vatuka' refers to the god Siva - it is indeed derived from 'vatu' (which means Brahmin). The 'ka' at the end is a diminutive, so 'vatuka' means a 'little vatu'. Aside: 'vatu' too seems to refer to a brahmin student (a 'brahmachari') and not one in his prime. Not sure how Siva came to be referred to as a little Brahmin - although mythology says he did very briefly assume the form of a 'vatu' to test Parvati's devotion.
In a work on Kerala History by Raghava Variyar and Rajan Gurukkal, there is mention of a name that featured in one of the ancient inscriptions: 'Chattan Vatukan'. The said person was apparently the leader of a guild of Christian merchants. So, the 'Vatukan' - Christian connection seems very old indeed. In those dim days, the word does not seem to have been derogatory. Perhaps the story of 'nasrani', a classical word for 'Christian' (and which now is very much a politically incorrect word) is a close parallel to 'vatukan'.
Let me stop this search by admitting I still do not have the last word on this word - a word that mysteriously links Siva and Mallu Christians of a long-gone era.