Blog post by Mekala Murali
Born and brought up in a “modern Iyengar family, the type that one would typically not refer to as an Agrahaaram. My Iyengar household was filled with modern ideas where women were certainly not shy, modern outfits came into the family in the previous generation, English was spoken spashtama like Tamil and madi and theetu were long forgotten words. This however didn’t change the fact that some Iyengar values were taken for granted and hence deeply rooted. Even if you wake me up in my sleep I will still refer to my home as engaam!
Regardless of how modern the family was, one always woke up to “Kousalya Supraja…” and the strong aroma of filter kaapi – if my mom didn’t like you, you would get the 2nd decoction version! Vishnu Sahasranamam was taught under the pretext of developing speech clarity, increasing memory power or a tongue twister challenge! Thayir saadam was lovingly called dhadhyonam and was the quintessential solution to any problem – be it of the body or the mind. Perumal was an umbrella vocabulary, which covered the pantheon of Indian gods. Rasam was saathumadu, payasam was thirukanamadhu and liquids were not oothi-fied but saadhi-fied or vittu-fied! Dad did tharpanam while mom wore madisar but we girls walked around in shorts! The culture was a mish mash and it was just A-one!
Surrounded by TamBrahm besties in school, Avani Avittam, Golu, Krishna Jayanthi were common topics of discussion. Friday ennai thechu kulikardu was a routine and thayir saadham maavadu was a lunch staple. I never realized that my Tamil vocabulary was sprinkled with, or should I say heavily shadowed by, typically TamBrahm words. It didn’t matter well into my college days because English was the main language of communication between us friends belonging to Tamil, Malayalam, Marwari, Srilankan and Korean backgrounds!
It just so happens that I fell in love and married a non-TamBrahm Tamilian. Love has no caste restrictions right? So through our dating years it never mattered to us that we had to occasionally clarify ourselves, or simply resort to English. More important was sneaking into home without pakathaathu mami giving me abachaaram glances!
The first time this cultural difference actually dawned on me was when I was asked to go to his hometown to meet the extended family a little before my wedding. This was like a mini engagement ceremony and I was blissfully unaware of that. Being city bred one tends to think salwar kameez is a conservative/traditional garment that can be worn to family weddings. Ummm wrong! So to start off with I ended up in a simple salwar kameez for a ceremony related to my wedding. The elders frowned this upon. Then there is this little poojai that was being conducted by my husband’s grand mom with me in the middle of the gathering and suddenly she says to me, “kumbutuka ma”. From my knowledge of Tamil (thanks to Tamil movies) I assume she means say Namaste. So I fold my hands as we would in temple sannadhi. She gives me this frown and says “ada kaal la vizhunthu kumbudungaren!”. The whole room bursts out laughing! Only then does it dawned on me that she meant sevikanum. There are voices in the background saying things like “Iyer (Iyer being the generic terminology used for TamBrahms) ponnu nu nenachen, Hindi kaara ponna?”! Add to this my lingo of neku, noku, nambaam – let’s just say it was an interesting day.
Beginning from that 1st time till the wedding ceremony finished and we got back to Chennai there were many such incidents, which can be compiled into a book! But hey I am now well versed in the art of SWITCH! I can switch from yenunga mama to sollungo mama like a pro he he! Over the years, my in laws and I have formed a successful bridge wherein Krishna Jayanthi and Golu is celebrated with as much pomp and vigor as amman kovil thiruvizha!
Now we live thousands of miles away from home and speaking in Tamil has become a rarity! While I pen this article my husband quizzes me if my daughter is TamBrahm or Gounder. Who can say, she speaks no tamil at all! However, when she does I would hope it would be “neka?! noka… nekum nokuma?!!”