Blog post by Meghna Kumar
This incident is just another testimony that I can remove the “me” out of “Palakkad Iyer” but, I can never take the “Palakkad Iyer” out of myself.
Born in Vadakantharai Gramam in Palakkad and growing up in Coimbatore meant weekly visits to my ancestral home (Tharavaadu) and visits to numerous Kaavus (another word for Amabalam or temples), and endless cups of Nei Payasam (Ghee Payesh, a specialty at these temples, simply to die for). This also meant that my Tamil was broken and there were repeated incidents of how casually I’d slip in a word or two of my Malayalm-slash-Tamil accent and be the center of a laughter riot at school.
The icing on the cake, however, was this incident that happened when I was in the 9th, the memory of which still so fresh, like it happened yesterday. One of our teachers was absent, which meant a free period, giving me enough time to finish my Math homework (which I never used to do back then). I was seated at the far end of the class (ironical, because I was one of the shortest in class; still am) surrounded by some of my best friends back then and we used to have the most fun in class. The substitute teacher who came was a Tamil professor, who was very popular among students (those who took Tamil as their second language would enact his mannerisms for the rest of us who took Hindi and we’d laugh so hard).
So, I was busy, trying hard to finish the homework when I noticed that my Math textbook was missing. I knew one of these pranksters around me had taken it and hid it somewhere, or passed it around, so I kept demanding it from them, but in vain. Scared that I’d be kicked out of Math class, I stood up, bravely, and said the teacher, “Sir, ennoda Math textbook kaanarthukku ilai.” The entire class, including Sir, was in splits and I, not realizing what I had just done, was bewildered and thought that everyone knew where exactly my book was the entire class was involved in this. Sir, kept repeating what I had said, and me being the tube-light I was back then, didn’t understand what was so funny; rather it was something serious (to me atleast).
A minute later, my book appeared on the desk, I sat down and a friend of mine from the back called me, repeated the exact words I had just said and (about 5 minutes later), I knew what I’d done. I felt embarrassed; face pink and hands over my eyes, the boys around me still laughing, hands held to their stomachs.
Why? – Because “kaanarthukku ilai” is a typical Kerala-Iyer word for “kaanala” in the typical Tamil slang, or “missing”…
…And so the nickname “Mami” stuck with me (one of the other names I was called) followed by a gesture of crossing one’s arms around his/her cheeks uttering “Abachaaram” (translation for sin in our clan, rarely used), because, well, I love meat *wink face*. Something that always brings a smile to my face, every time it crosses my mind, and every time there’s is a re-union and someone brings it up (among other things).