TamBrahm in the US – Oru Quick Paarvai by Janani

Blog post byΒ 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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Skype

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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55 thoughts on “TamBrahm in the US – Oru Quick Paarvai by Janani

  1. Janani….,

    So well captured…I can related it to myself..when i came here 11 years ago…Now, I try to make it so authentic as possible at least for Festival days…!!

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  2. Ha ha ! Nice post, brought my early US days to mind. 777 puliyodarai mix, upma, frozen chapathi, etc were a saviour for a long time. And then started going to temples for food – sunday langar in gurudwara, thurs Sai Baba temple, hindu temples on all festival days (like Senthil of Boys movie :D), pot luck meetups, free food talks, etc. It definitely is a big transition for us πŸ™‚ I gave up my coffee totally as I found nothing close to filter kaapi, changed to Tim Hortons hot chocolate for a while. Nice memories, thank you! Keep writing !

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  3. Well Janani. I am a Tambrahm settled in US over 40 years. Your very excellent post kindled old memories. How true it is that the very same things we take for granted while in India appear precious once out of our own country. We used to invite ourselves to our married friends’ homes for dinner for thayir saadam!! Idli used to be a rare delicacy. With a plethora of Indian stores and temples and restaurants the thrill of hunting for Indian items is gone. Good coffee is one exception . The closest to KDC( a true Tambrahm knows what I mean) is a short triple Flat white from Starbucks !! You newcomers will love it. Great writing Janani!!

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  4. Well penned, Janani! Though I am a TamBrahm and never traveled to US even once, I can still relate it to many of my TamBrahm and other Indian friends who live in the USA. You have captured the intricate details so vivdly. Hope to read more from you more frequently.

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  5. Very well written! Infact it brought tears in my eyes when I read everytine we visit India, suitcase will be filled with Amma’s podis … Well I used to do that way until last year as my Amma is no more now 😦 But very true, she’ll buy from local stores , grand sweets, ambika appalam etc and her own excellent sambar podi… I still have some of her sambar powder and everytime I use it, can’t describe my feelings ….visiting India in a couple of weeks to do poonal ceremony for our son and I can’t enjoy to my fullest with my mom not being there. Hoping and praying she’ll keep pouring her love all the time from heaven !!!!
    Thanks for kindling my sweet memories :)))
    Karpagam.

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  6. Reminds me of the day when my daughter got married and left for the USA . We had the same confusion of what to pack and what to leave behind. This was followed by another exercise at the Chennai airport due to excess check in baggage.

    A year later when my son went for higher studies his first comment when packing was “how do you pack 20 years of your life (in India) into 3 suitcases of 23kgs each !!!

    I guess with Tambrams it is always “living abroad” the “Indian life”

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  7. Its so well written. I can totally relate to the Kaapi. I was so distressed by the Starbucks hype. I can never ever compromise on the Kaapi. 2 years down the lane, i still make my own coffee. Puniyama pogum Indian stores ku !

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  8. As someone who spent a year in London (not as exciting as U.S.A as per tambrahm beliefs), I could totally relate to the feelings expressed about idli/dosa. People befriended each other solely based on their skills of making sambhar. A very nice read. The only thing written there which didn’t strictly adhere to tambrahm code was that the author could not have been skyping while doing Sandhyavandanam.

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    1. Haha guilty as charged. Iyer aathu ponnu, so no sandhyavandanam for me. I have, however, heard of friends doing this during Avani Avittam and such, so I included it πŸ™‚

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  9. Loved each and every single point. Couldn’t agree more..Adding to Upma and Thayir Saadam, even idli/dosa batter is saving me on most nights. Back in India, used to ask the questiton, “innikum idli,dosa ahh”?? And used to ask “Why don’t we have something else?” But now I can see the reality of how these 2 are feeding my hunger most of time!!! Best part is, they are easy to make πŸ˜›

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    1. This is so true! Ironic how the simplest dishes become our saving graces once we have to cook for ourselves. More respect for TamBrahm ammas πŸ™‚

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  10. I can totally relate to Food and Kaapi.
    It was in Hong Kong- I was deprived of Coffee for 2 long weeks. Was looking forward to have a bottle of Filter kaapi when I’m back home (You see, a cup of filter kaapi will be a gross understatement for me :-p ) . Then I bumped into Starbucks when I was en route Chennai in HK Airport. Same mokka, latte, Americano and some more tongue twisters. Then somehow managed to decipher that menu and I ordered some random coffee, with soy milk. (Yeah! I go Vegan when I’m abroad ) . Though it was nothing close to the filter kaapi back home, it was more like a constellation prize in a competition . I felt guilty spending more than Rs.700 on a cup of coffee (Hey! our arithmetic skills puts supercomputers to shame when we convert currencies )

    It was in Switzerland. Being deprived of Indian food (Discount the MTR Read to eat stuff. They were horrible! ) I bumped into a food shop which read “Idly, Dosai, Vadai….” . My face was glowing like a 100Watt bulb. Then it read 2 Idlies with Chutny – Euro 7. There I started running, never turned back.

    I went abroad on short trips only to strengthen my existing notion that India is the best country to live.
    I missed home so badly that I was searching for temples (and was fortunate enough to find one , a couple of streets away from my place of stay, in Vienna), following the IST, Seeing Sun TV Serials (Yeah! the same useless programs that I used to curse when my patti sees). But I managed to do everything to make myself feel at home.

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  11. This is simply amazing…Couldn’t shun that giggling from that start.Excellent use if slang which made it so interesting!!To many more of these!

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  12. Spot on!!! A great read which puts a smile on your face right from the first sentence and doesn’t wear off until you are done reading the whole thing. The author has penned down her views with great presence of mind and witty writing. Definitely a must read for all the USA going tambrahms out there.

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