Having lived in Bombay for most of my childhood, I didn’t know many customs were uniquely TamBrahm and assumed all Tamils talked like I did and ate like I did. Coming back to the “native place” was a wake up call of sorts. Some fun experiences, and not-so-fun ones later, I settled in. So here are some things that define Chennai and being TamBrahm for me. It’s just for fun, so don’t get your punals and nombu kayars in a knot!
Agraharam and Ahaaram
What is life without food? And what is a TamBrahm without curd rice? I have tried out all kinds of cuisines, but every time I am faced with a dish of pasta or a bowl of Greek salad, I secretly hanker after curd rice and mango pickle, or puliyodharai and vadam. Or even hot tomato rasam. I visit star hotels and food festivals, and secretly think my paati’s cooking beats all these fancy dishes hands down. Especially the curd rice and vatha kuzhambu that paati handed out to the kids, accompanied by stories of Vishnu saving Gajendra from the crocodile. Once a curd rice eater, always a curd rice eater!
Another strange quirk is that I can’t for the life of me eat food with fried onion or garlic in it. At least, not the usual rasam, sambar, and curries. I do gorge on pav bhaji and raita which are loaded with them, and can’t explain it. Comes of being a TamBrahm I think.
When I’m at my aunt or paati’s place, I do the honours the right way. I let go of all inhibitions and lick the rasam/sambar/payasam off the plate or leaf and follow it up with the fingers all the way up to the elbow. Hey, nobody’s looking and paati sure doesn’t mind!
Gourava Prasadham and Miscellaneous Fried Items
On festival days, I feel a little bad about fobbing off ummachi with just a payasam. As a kid I used to watch my mother and grandmother making mountains of goodies which were all off limits until the pooja got over. It made us enthusiastic about getting our shlokas right and finishing the pooja fast
Sandhya and Vandhanam
If I eat without having had a bath, I feel slightly guilty, like I’m doing something forbidden. Which it was, back when I was young! Sometimes, I light the lamp and say the only shloka I‘ve retained – Gajananam, whenever I remember. Other days, I just feel guilty and quickly switch on the TV to forget my sins.
Ve Iyers talk Yinglish, walk Yinglish but eat wonly achaaramaana sappadu
I have now, after long years of practice, stopped freaking out when my mother says “ There is a Pisas in the fridge”. I eat the Pisas with complete sang-froid and wash it down with a Kokkacola. TamBrahm – 1, Idaly -0! Also, I have made peace with the fact that Inbosus and Sundaram Motaar are apparently the only two real companies in the world, what with Simbsons having lost its sheen. Unless I want to be excommunicated, the Hindu is the only paper I will ever get to see in the house, even though that kadangaaran N.Ram is helming it.
Amma, naan BE-MS-Phd-double Phd-MBA pass ayitten!
Because just a BA or BSc went out of fashion in the 60s. Because we TamBrahms like long names. Because athai payyan and pakkathu aathu mama ponnu have letters after their names all obtained in the States, and we will have to do combined family operations of chullu bhar paani mein doobna/naakku pudungindu water tank- le jumping if we don’t follow suit. All that brainwashing has its effect on the sub-concious. Inspite of a youthful rebellion against higher education and dismissing its correlation with intelligence, I find myself completely impressed by heavy sounding titles, like MS,MD, PHd, especially if they have a phoren origin, preferably from the US of A. I fought against it for years, and finally gave up and joined the Dark side. I figured I can’t win a fight against DNA. Did I mention I finally added an MBA to my letters?
What’s in a name (or so said an asamanjaan called Shakespeare)
True to the tradition of differentiating relatives with same names by adding the companies they work for or the geographies they live in (remember Simpsons Chandru, Railways Ramani,Poona Thyagu?) I have tagged my relatives/friends with identifiers like Deloitte Aravind, TCS Raghu, Infy Madhu, Richmond Ragini..and the list goes on.
Chennai without December season kutcheris is like bonda without potatoes. Every sabha worth its name has a small canteen with out-of-the world food and menus worth dying for. The long queues and the fights to get hold of chairs and chuda-chuda rava kichdi and cashew bonda have to be seen to be believed. By-the-by, the sabhas also have kutcheris. As for me, inspite of being unable to understand or appreciate the finer nuances of Carnatic music, I am firmly convinced that classical music is real music, and wax eloquent on the 2 ragas I know – Mohanam and Vasantha. I also make sure I am seen in at least 2 concerts every December season. And whatever you may think, it is not for the superb vadai and poori at the canteen in Music Academy.
Drinks – not of the Bovanto kind
When I drink at parties, I usually skip the hard liquor and opt for wine and feel very good about being a chamathu ponnu. After a sip or two, I can hear my mother saying “Chi chi, whiskey drinks ellam kudikaraiya”. Once the mind voice advice begins, it pretty much kills the joy of drinking and makes me feel like I’m an alcoholic about to sing “ Thanni thotti thedi vandha kannu kutti naan”.
Like all self-respecting TamBrahms in Chennai, I hide my origins when I talk to people outside. When I first landed in Chennai, I talked pure Iyer bashai with auto drivers and got a blast of invective from them usually ending with the word papaathi. I had to ask my mother what that was! Then I cunningly assimilated the local lingo and tried my best to blend with the natives with a strange dialect that went something like this “Neenga yenna pannindu irukeenga? Aath-veetukku right le dhaane sonnen, marandhidithu- nnaa sollunga parava illai.” (Spot five differences!) . It took me another 5 years to realise why people still instantly outed me as a “papaathi”. Now of course, I have become “namma mannu ponnu” and qualify as an expert user of Madras bashai.
Madras, nalla Madras!
Temple, pond, heat, humidity, sweat, market, hawkers, madisaru, people, and more people – I love Mylapore, and by extension, Madras! What could compare with namma singara Chennai?