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Wednesday, May 31, 2017


For the past six months or so, the happenings in Tamilnadu have been hogging the headlines rather disproportionately.

A non - tamil would often find it difficult to follow the logic , or lack of it, of a common Tamilian ; be it the fierce loyalty of the unwashed masses towards their matinee idols in Cinema and Politics or the herd like behaviour in support of “jallikattu” or “bull-taming”. Any issue remotely connected to “tamil Culture” provokes such an emotional reaction not seen in other parts of the country.

It reminds me of a song by Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai made popular through MGR Starrer “Malai kallan”. (A trivia; the film was produced at Coimbatore , the then popular place for Film studios) .For those who read tamil (and understand poetry) Lyrics

The song talks of the uniqueness of the Tamil people over 2000 years of history and culture. Then it goes on to glorify the tamilian values nurtured through reat literary works like silappadikaaraam, manimekalai, thirukkural, thevaram , divya prabandham and so on. For a more detailed list of ancient tamil literature , one can go to Projectmadurai or Tamil Library

That got me thinking if there is anything really unique about contemporary tamilians in Tamilnadu and the diaspora world over. (Some popular radio stations abroad kalasam , Lankasri, eelam tv, paris tamil radio ). For a complete list

So, here I go….

Firstly, the names ; I don’t think there is any other language in the world that figures in names of people as “tamil” does. You have, Tamil chelvan, tamil chelvi, tamilarasu, tamilkudimagan, then thamiz , sen tamil and so on. Even the BJP leader of Tamilnadu unit id Tamilisai(literally meaning Tamil Music) soundararajan. Someone with lots of time and inclination for collectin useless information can check out madurai telephone directory .I can’t even think of one name starting with “Punjabi” or “bangla”, however much a punjabi or bengali may love his mother tongue.

Secondly, Tamils have a craze or affinity for “pattam”. “pattam” is a kind of untranslatable word which can mean an academic degree, lawfully earned, or an honorific bestowed by any formal or informal society, big or small, or even a nick name . For eg Sinnaih Ganesan is better known as Sivaji Ganesan and Jayalalithaa was just referred to as amma. EV Ramasami naikar was so impressed by ganesan playing the role of the maratha leader, he awarded the pattam Sivaji and it stuck. There are other actors with "pattam" like  captain or major based on the roles they played on screen.(Silk smitha did not act as silk; have to trace how she came to called simply as Silk or Silku.) Suffice to say , anybody who is anybody in Tamilnadu needs to be called by some name other than the actual name. Kamalhasan is called “thirai gyaani” or “ ulaganaayagan”

Thirdly is the popularity of debating societies or "patti manram" as they are called in tamil. Top speakers are house hold names and some are even treated as rock stars ; in great demand for any cultural or social functions. While Sunday debates are telecast by popular TV Channels, Festivals like Pongal and New year witness Special Bumper Patti manram. It is absolutely amazing to see a full house patiently listening to a group of men and women discussing a social or literary issue, quite unlike Arnab Goswamy’s panelists. The debate could be a passionate discussion on who was a nobler character in mahabharatam, karnan or arujnan or it could be a subject that touches every life; Who has more influence on bringing up a child, the teachers or parents. It could even be some trivia like idli tastes better with chuttney or sambhar. Week after week people do come up with a new subject for testing their eloquence and of course the capacity of audience to sit through hours of talk-talk-talk

Fouthly, the tamil’s love for silly jokes , particularly in their weekly magazines , is unbelievable.. About 10-20 percent of any magazine is devoted to silly jokes and till today there are jokes in every magazine on such stale issues like “sleeping in the office” “a king running away from battle “. To top it , these days, you also have jokes from the social media forums.

Fifthly, we have the monthly novelettes brought out by leading publications. There are only two genres, crime and romance. A new issue would cost Rs 20 / and an old one as little as Rs 2 or 3. Outside Madras Central you can see the shops selling these books  in Kilos. These novelettes , besides being the favourites of housewives and travelers, are an important source for plots for film directors.

Sixthly, tamils have a great affinity for lottery tickets. Surprisingly there are states like Sikkim and Bhutan who print lottery tickets in Tamil and Malayalam. I think Kerala has clearly overtaken tamilnadu in their attempt to woo Lady Luck.

Last, but the most disturbing trait is the readiness for self – immolation. Whenever a hero like MGR dies , the tragedy becomes personal loss to many a family due to spate of  the self-immolations that follow. 31 people killed themselves when MGR died . Very disturbing indeed. There were other issues like Anti-hindi agitation, Srilankan tamil problems, arrest of a popular leader and so on have triggered self-immolation.

Recently we saw some bizarre ways of protest at Jantar Mantar by Tamilnadu farmers. Not easy to decode; I suppose it is a complex mix of fierce attachment to the language and culture , coupled with total inability to deal with contemporary issues in a rational manner.

PS : This post does not take into consideration, Tamil Brahmins, who are a different species all together. They love Tamil, but they also love Sanskrit, English and any other language. Atleast , I haven't come across any of them with "Tamil" in their names.

The Tamil Brahmin Exodus started long before Kashmiri Pandits. The Dravidians with their anti-brahmin stance and reservations for education, successfully drove them out of Tamilnadu. Fortunately for them , the whole world outside Tamilnadu was good, a sort of carrot and stick; carrot outside and stick within TN. You will find them in corporate board rooms and back offices all over the world. Physically, they are too timid to tame a cat, leave alone a bull. They are outside the purview of this post, which is all about 'dravidians' as they like to be called.


Reji Koduvath said...

The plight of the present day Tamils has a historic trail.

Hailing from Kerala and while schooling in Tamil Nadu State, and also during command of soldiers from Tamil Nadu in the South Indian Caste (SIC) Battery of our Regiment, here are some of my observations (may not be digestible and may be taken with a palm full of salt).

Tamils historically have been followers - that too blind followers - and not leaders. In the earlier days they followed their kings (Cholas captured area up to River Ganges and across the seas up to Java & Sumatra); later their British Masters, followed up with political leaders, ending with movie idols. Most of the leaders for whom the Tamils prostrated and self-immolate nowadays were non-Tamils - MGR was a Malayalee and Jayalalitha was born at Melukote, Karnataka and the recent one to join the bandwagon - Rajanikanth is a Maratha from Bengaluru.

Tamils enjoy drama and melodrama. It is obvious from the Tamil stage-plays, movies and literary works - especially the recent ones as brought out by the author. They love their movie actors and actresses to be 'crass loud' with panache with a pancake of makeup over their faces.

Movie Watching is as much a weekly ritual as the daily morning prayer for Tamils. This has resulted in the movie world hijacking every sphere of activity in Tamil Nadu - from literature to politics.
Tamils are hardworking. sincere and loving lot of people, with ardent love for Tamil language and culture. The saddest part is that even the educated lot of Tamils are blind followers and do not hesitate to take up issues like Jalli-Kattu Ban on the propaganda that it is connected to Tamil Culture

colmurali said...

@Reji , I really don't claim to know much. just idle curiosity on social behaviour .I am not even sure if it is ok to generalize .

JD said...

Murali,for this sardar from mrika this was a wonderfully funny discription of I,Iyer and Iyengars

Unknown said...

Glad, you found it interesting. I am just hypothesizing. BTW, the main story is dravidians. I and Iyer is a tiny bylane less than 2 percent of TN.(but a much bigger portion of NRI and NRSI, ie south indians living north of vindhyas.)