Blog post by Janaki Srinivasan Kumar
If madisaar is unique to Tambrams, so is the term maami. Not all married women or women beyond a certain age are maamis; this is unique to our community alone. It took me quite a while to understand this, though I was born and brought up in a very traditional Tambrahm family. The only difference is, I didn’t grow up in West Mambalam or Mylapore, but in Kolkata. Nevertheless, we were traditional to the T. We followed every single norm, ritual, madi-achaaram, echu-patthu – you name it and we were familiar with it. Our Paati was very strict about speaking only in Tamil at home. For every festival, we made the requisite palagarams, drew Kolam outside the house, hung maav-elai at the entrance etc. So, though we were physically uprooted, culturally we were completely grounded. We did have a few Tamil family friends and each of them co-incidentally happened to be Brahmins. So, right from childhood, we were used to referring those aunties as Maamis… “Amma, Maami vandurka” or “Vango Maami” was very commonly used. Hence I grew up assuming that all aunties are maamis.
I got married and settled in namma own Chennai. And this is a place where I learnt so many things that I had not known before. Soon after marriage, my husband and I moved to Chrompet and started our married life. Until then, I was never used to having so many maami neighbours, or so I thought. And I being quite social, used to mingle with all of them. This was the first time I was speaking in my mother tongue to my neighbours and I was quite excited. I used to call all of them maami and used to get glaring looks in return. I felt a little uncomfortable at first and assumed that may be my Tamil is not so good. So I used to tell them, “Sorry maami, Tappa nanaichi kadengo. Kolkata-laye irundathunaala, ennaku romba nalla Tamil teriyaadu.” It was only during one such conversation when my husband overheard me and called me inside to clarify. I was confused. He said, “Ei…ni enna aval-ellam poi maami-nu koopadrai? Avalaam Brahmin Illai. Tappa nanaichi ka pora. Aunty-nu koopdu.” I was surprised. “Really, namba mattum thaan maami-a?” I asked. He laughed. “Pinna, ni ithana naal enna nanaicha…ellarum maami aaha mudiyuma? Inda floor laye, ni mattum thaan maami.” And he made it sound as if I were some queen. “Ni mattum thaan…” So, this is why so many dirty looks from aunties for so long-a? “Paavam aunties-ku naamam pottu vittaya?”, my husband chided. Hehe…. maybe, if not literally, pechu-vaakula, yes.
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