Friday, June 20, 2008

Peters and Non-peters

We witness dwindling symbols of 'culture' and 'tradition' in today's Chennai. I'm a part of it. And so are most of the girls I know. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about anything big, or anything of great consequence or damage to our saastrams and sampradayams! A few observations, amusing ones, drive me to write this post.

How many times have you walked down a street and seen a foreigner, in very indian clothes, smile at poo-kaairs (flower girls/women) and kariga kaarans (Vegetable sellers), who return a knowing smile? Hell, even if I saw them everyday, they probably wouldn't smile at me, in all my Indian-ness and Chennai-ness! I believe that foreigners are way more polite than we indians are. But would I get the same treatment if I were as polite? No. And why? This woman, this (as the pookaris and kariga karans might put it) Vellaikaari, took to those 'articles' of 'culture' and 'tradition' that tamizh-penns these days seem to have shed blissfully :) And what might those be, you ask? First, the round red (or whatever colour!) mark on the forehead. The Pottu. Trying to coax us 'learned' tamizh girls into getting back to the pottu mode, dear paatis and ammas and maamis told us how that particular point on the forehead has a divine connection to the pineal gland, and thus, how we must not refrain from 'the act'. But what did we say? We said, we could just touch the particular point once a day, if it were so significant, and forget about walking around with a pottu. They obviously gave up on us, and our reasoning, probably with a "indha kaalathu ponngal laam yenga namba sonna pechu ketkardhugal?" line! We laughed it off!

Second, maligapoo. Jasmine flowers. Even today, thousands of tamizh women adorn their hair with neatly tied up maligapoo every evening, and thousands of pookaris are still in business, selling moonu mozham pathu rooba (It would be weird to translate that!), or actually, less than moonu mozham these days! The flowers that I loved pinning up to my tightly plaited, coconut-oil-oiled hair when I was younger, and less 'learned', now touch my hair only during kalyanams, or festivals, or poojas (despite the fact that i DO know that some guys STILL fancy the smell!), and that too, ten times smaller in size, and for a much shorter time period! In a few minutes, I'd be answering the question "thalaila poo vechukaleya di?" with "yengayo vizhundhurthu, vidungo parava illai!". Gone are the days when I'd wake up to crunchy, brown, dried flowers on my bed, with half-white fading, dying, flowers revealing a white string, pinned up across the back of my head, one plait to the other! I was very Kenyan-tamizh then! ;) Coming back to India, changed it all :) But of course, we always have enough things to blame!

Third. Golusu. Anklets. As a child, i wore these extrememely heavy, ridiculously noisy silver ankelts, loaded with a million small chalangu (the collisions of which cause the sound to emanate), which i would carefully take off before playing hide and seek, for the fear of being given away by the oh-so-tinky noise! I loved them depsite the fact that they scratched me more than i'd have liked! I still remember the jeweller asking me if i was learning Bharathnatyam! I wasn't. I still bought them! I don't know when i finally stopped wearing them, and when i took to buying beaded, noiseless, SINGLE 'anklets' (and NOT golusu), from besant nagar beach! Well, there still arent any anklets on my feet!

So here we have this foreign woman, a decently sized maroon circle posing in between her eyebrows, her BLONDE hair neatly pulled back in a long plait (perhaps the hair was oiled too!) and adorned with atleast one mozham of malligapoo, wearing a purple/pink salwar kameez, like she was born in it (!!), BOTH her ankles circled by velli golusu (silver anklets), with not as many chalangu as my childhood noise-makers, but enough to be heard, and a genuine, belonging smile on her face, riding a bicycle in the crowded streets of Mylapore Tank. Was she more Tamizh than me? She was Tamizh enough to earn the smiles of those who wouldn't really care too much with others. And what do we do? We complain about the crowded streets of mylapore tank, and the cows in the middle of the road, and consequently, their shaani (!) and avoid going there unless we HAVE to buy Kolu Bommai, or eat in Saravanabhavan! :)

Well, not all foreign women give me this feeling of lost heritage. There was once I had to walk out of Naidu Hall, in Tnagar, for the fear of laughing out loud at a bunch of american women, and their Indian chaperone, dressed in spagetti strap tops, and skirts, their pony tails circled with endless concentric circles of maligapoo, their feet lost in a sea of green Pothys polythene covers, deep in conversation with the saleswoman, with momentary interruptions from the indian chaperone, about what colour petticoat would best suit each saree they had bought, as 2 very exhausted looking american men, dressed in shorts, carrying huge bag-packs, sulked behind them! My mother was decent enough to smile, and continue her shopping :)

Amma and I sat down opposite another Maami and her daughter, at the aforementioned, eternally crowded, Saravanabhavan today. The next table, had a bunch of foreigners, with a very weirdly accented english, deep in conversation in their native language. The Tamizh waiter took their order, and the conversation sounded something like this -

(M - foreigner man, W- Waiter)

W - Orrder sir?
M - Yus. I want an Eppel Zuice (apple juice).
W - Aapil juice ah sir?
M - Yus yus. And a Tho-maa-tho Zuice? (Tomato juice)
W - One to-mae-to juice, ok...

Blah. The rest of the order was drowned in the din. A few minutes later, the foreigners at the next table were happily eating what we call "meals", with rice, and sambar, and the things that actually taste good at saravanabhavan. I smiled. I looked across the table, and realised that the tamizh girl sitting infront of me had ordered a Pizza! and her maami-mother, some Chaat item! Why? AND, she dropped a fork, and made all the foreigners look her way! Aah, i continued to savour my sambar vadai! :)

And thus, we girls become what college guys today call Peter (with stress on the r. More like Petrr). Also, Scene, or better, Vethu scene. Shed your pottu, maligapoo, golusu, and the likes, and speak english, and you have a direct ticket into peter-land! All are welcome ;) Sometimes, the criteria differ, thus, for further information on peters and their characterisitics, feel free to intreact with my dear cousin,visu, who presently likes to call himself Vishwa, for mysterious reasons! Peter, perhaps? :D

Of course i have to add that it is the Tamizh Ratham, and mentality that counts more than all the articles of show! ;) I don't need articles to yell out my tamizhness, do I? Sheesh, Captain Vijaykanth would be proud of me!

Yours "Tamizho Tamizh"ly,
Signing off!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


This blog has witnessed a myriad of descriptions of the the people we call Maamis, over here in Iyer land - The matchmakers, the grapevine controllers, and participants, the pattu-podavai-gold-jewellery fancying women, the "oru paatu paadu ma, kathukara illaiyo?" dialogue throwers,and the likes! With this post, I bring in one more aspect, and one that has been overlooked till date, but not purposely. The Mookuthi (Mooku kuthi,Nose-stud). They come in different sizes - sizes directly proportional, usually, to the age of the person on whose nose the jewel sits - and shapes, but always having to do with the 'round' shape, and never anything longish, or more importantly, never a ring, for apparently, a ring removes all 'decency' from the woman's face! But this unwritten rule, exists only in South india. Amazing, how all (or almost all) South Indian women share that opinion. In the North, on the other hand, the ring is fancied quite a bit, and if not the whole ring, atleast half of it is! Of course, younger generations just find the ring more 'hep' and stylish, so we're seeing more of it here too! Now that we're at differences, I might as well mention that South Indian women prefer their piercing to be on the right hand side of their nose, whereas north indian women, prefer the left. Whew!

Coming to the point - I got my nose pierced. I am now more a maami than i ever was! Why, you ask? Because, I not only love gossip and have quite commendable knowledge when it comes to Pattu podavais, and other podavais too, not only because I'm liking carnatic music more, and finding myself increasingly at ease having my hair in a kondai (Bun), not only because I'm able to have lively conversations with different paatis, and realised recently that I'm not bad at imitating people/speaking like others, but ALSO because, now, when I look at my face in the mirror (probably with a pottu on my forehead), i DO look very maami-ish! VERY. You have no idea!

I walked quite confidently into a small, stuffy room on the top most floor of a huge jewellery store, after very strongly dismissing my mother's suggestion of getting a diamond nose stud. The whole piercing experience was quite a pain, though I'm sure it couldn't have lasted more than 15-20 seconds. Seemed like an era of pain (despite the hideous red-coloured numbing cream, which evidently did NOT work!), like I could visualise the entire length of the gold penetrating every layer of my skin picometre by picometre! I couldn't scream obviously, or push away the pierce-r's hand either, for the love of the rest of my nose! So the silence proudly showed itself off as fat drops of tears at the edge of my right eye! And when i looked into the mirror, I was looking more at my eye than my nose :)The pain eventually did die down, within 5 minutes actually, and we continued commenting on random jewellery like the whole instance hadn't happened at all!

The past few days have been a series of mixed comments -
You look older.
You look like a villager.
You look outlandish.
*Says hi casually* *Notices something is different* *Opens mouth and eyes wide* *Silence* *Snaps back to so-wats-up?*
You look weird.
Your face has lost its Innocence!
And occassionally, You look nice! / You look cute / It suits you!
But the one's i'll put on the "made me laugh the most" list were -
Amma's comment - Maarvaadi madri iruke di ippo! (you look like a maarvaadi!)
Paati's comment - (after staring at it for a whole minute probably!)Romba nalla irukku ma! Ponnu kuthindadhu laam nyabagam eh illai, pethiya paathaa sandhoshama irukku (Its very nice, I don't remember the times my daughters got their noses pierced, but i'm happy that my grand daughter's got it done!).

I wouldn't want to forget this episode. It has been recorded! :)

Now, to an equally important part of the post... This post, I dedicate, to Mr. Nikhil Harikrishnan. Because
1) It's part of my punishment for missing the deadline (for my picture to reach his inbox) and sending the picture (by mistake!) to some random fellow who will probably now send me a thousand 'Franship' requests.
2) He has been one of the oldest and more vocal supporters of the campaign to get my piercing.

Credits for the above - An email sent to me by the aforementioned gentleman ;)

3) He asked for it!!!! :D

But more importantly, because i didn't see why i shouldn't! And, he said i look cute with the piercing! ;) Of course one can never be too sure if he just made that up :D

Nik, I'm well into the 48 hour deadline to put this up! I couldn't imagine what punishment i would get if this TOO was late ;)you better comment!

Yours "as my worthy friend seshan here said, 3 holes in my nose..."ly
Signing off....

Monday, June 02, 2008

The ROAD, conquerable?

I'm sorry about dwelling on the same topic, but driving does seem to be the first thing i do every morning these days. I thus dedicate another post to it, and also to dear doc friend Nidhee, who has very carefully formulated "The 4 psychological stages of a beginner in driving":

Stage 1 - Phase of Confusion. The ABC of driving is apparently simple enough. Accelerator. Brake. Clutch. The theory of it is easy to understand. However, when a beginner does step on these 'pedals' (which i must say, work much simpler in a bicycle!), its pretty mysterious how this car thing moves! And thus one keeps wondering, where the hell's what! Even more so, when one forgets to take off one's footwear, and thus, cannot 'feel' any of the pedals!

Stage 2 - Phase of enlightenment. One finally figures out which pedal is which! And how the car moves! But there's a catch - the gears! Now what the hell is that? And why the hell did they pick 'H' of all letters to desgin this box! H! Thus, the enlightenment needs to be extended. Of course, that process definitely includes going to the 5th gear instead of the 3rd, and also, the reverse gear instead of the 4th, much to the instructor's wrath!

Stage 3 - Phase of Pseudo-confidence. Point to be noted - this phase happens to be our favourite ;) You think you're running the show. You honk at the right places, turn the steering-wheel to the right degree, gears going good, pedal pushing better than ever, but, but, but... you're in for a surprise! I hear, most people finish their driving lessons at this stage, thinking they can drive for the rest of their lives, they own the road, they've conquered it! Apparently not. Which leads us to stage 4!

Stage 4 - Phase of reality. One decides to now take daddy's car for a nice long drive. And what happens? Everything is wrong somehow! The car vibrates noisily, jumps up when one releases the clutch, everything is haywire! And then it dawns upon the beginner (yes, still the beginner!), that one never really drove the car! It was the instructor, ALL ALONG!

And thus, one goes through the first 2 stages again (but this time, for REAL), and then converts the 3rd stage into the "confidence" stage! Well, hopefully!

Yours "i havent even crossed stage 2!"ly
Signing off...