Blog post by Janani Hariharan
3 years ago, like any other chamathu TamBrahm kozhande worth its salt, I stepped onto a flight to the US of A. I was all prepared for the big American life, with oorga, podis and thokkus in tow. Numerous trips had been made to Grand Sweets, Ambika Appalam and grandma’s house. We had spent hours going over which oorga was to be used when, based on a complex algorithm that accounted for shelf life, amount of oil/salt/chilli powder in each, my mood swings and cravings, and the number of hours the manga/elimichanga/narthanga had been sun dried. There was a small hitch at the last minute when Appa asked us to remove a few aluminium foil packets because the suitcases were overweight, but that was easily fixed by throwing out non-essentials like clothes and books. (Novels, never study books. Asamanjam.)
A month before I was to leave, Amma’s subtle hints about spending time in the kitchen turned to outright military commands. My smartphone was used to take photos and videos of sambar in various stages of being cooked. The Notes app was filled with recipes ranging from coconut chutney to channa masala. And then, finally and rather alarmingly, I was there. With a resounding thud, I had been dropped into a strange land and left to fend for myself. Out of all the wonderful, crazy things that ensued there, these are some of the TamBrahm-est ones:
- Excitement when sambar/upma/thayir saadam was made in any house.
Normally, I would whine and say ‘Upma va? Naa Maggi potukren, neeye saapdu adha’. After moving there, I zealously perfected the art of making semiya upma and even added in my own variations. It was a crime to not invite your other TamBrahm/Indian friends over when you made something tasty (or anything at all really), even if it happened to be curd rice. Ah, thachi mammu with vadu manga. Slurrrrrp.
- Speaking of thachi mammu, yogurt. Not curd, yogurt.
For some reason, the yogurt aisle in my local supermarket was always stocked with blueberry/strawberry/raspberry/banana/peach/some random flavor yogurt, and I had to push them all aside to find the quiet, unassuming plain thayir. One of the hardest things to explain to my American (or North Indian or Bengali or.. okay, any non-TamBrahm friend) is how rice mixed with curd and nothing else can be so soothing and comforting.
- Starbucks/Tim Horton’s/Dunkin Donuts versus filter coffee
Ah, the hankering for coffee, sorry kaapi, that follows every TamBrahm like a shadow. The first time you step into a Starbucks, you are forced to re-examine your ideas of coffee. There is mokka, late and then some unpronounceable Italian words. Whatever happened to just ordering a ‘coffee’? Beware, if you do that in the USA, you get a soulless, sugarless, dark kashayam. For you seasoned coffee drinkers, ‘coffee’ here is basically decoction. They then leave you to search for paal and chakkarai by yourself, enna kandravi idhu.
- Kelambungo to the nearest kovil
It’s funny how amma kooda kovilku pordhu is such a chore here, but once TamBrahm kids get themselves to the US, there are regular ‘Eating puliyogare after sooooooo long! – at XYZ Vishnu Temple with 5 others’ statuses. Dei, osi puliyogare sapadradhuku oru status a? Idhuku nee Triplicane laye irundhurkalame.
- And speaking of kovil, pandigai
India: Holidays are meant for sleeping. Who will burst crackers, do puja and all? All that is for chinna kozhandel da. Let’s see which Vijay movie is playing today.
USA: OMG, it’s <insert minor nondescript festival name here>! This is such a grand celebration in India! We need to go shopping. Let’s also stop by the Indian store and get stuff to cook tonight. Vilakku iruka? We’ll light and take photos da. Amma will be happy when she sees.
Skype while making pongal, Skype after coming home from the lab/work/wherever, Skype while traveling in the bus, Skype while doing sandhyavandanam. Enough said.
All said and done, being a TamBrahm in the Yoo Ess Eh is a lot of fun. Aside from people wondering if I also shunned milk because I was vegetarian (I will get withdrawal symptoms if you take away my paal, mor and paneer!) and being offered a salad as a meal for the same reason, I had a blast. With thousands of pottu podusugal packing their pottis and leaving every year, America is now second home for many families. Good only, more thayir saadam and puliogare for all I say.
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