Tuesday, June 13, 2006

His & Hers – A comparative analysis of idiosyncratic neighbors. Part 1

I fell in love with a malayalee. When I was younger, probably less wise and way too brash I fell for a lass from a strip of land tucked between the sea and self importance.

I am a Tamil Brahmin - Tambram for short. I was an epitome of the motor mouth clan of white dhoti clad counsels for everybody’s general well-being may it be Sivaraman from the next street or the President of the United States. I remember my uncles, when they sat around chewing betel leaves and tobacco cured in rose water in the ceremony of rites for a dead grand aunt, always had a piece of advice for the captain of the Indian team, Governor of Tripura, Boutros Boutros Ghali, local legislator and the cook in the smoke kitchen. My clan was curiously deviant in there ways. They debauched in the early part of the night with popular Scotch, rum or viscous strong beer that guaranteed far reaches of inebria within a short span of time. Later they held their breath, walked to their leaves of dinner and their waiting wives. Tucked in a substantial amount of rice, lentils, flavored with heart stopping quantities of clarified butter and rounded off with double fat buffalo yoghurt and passed out.

Early morning was an alter-world. The house resonated with the nasal din of a humble turntable with an elderly lady doyen of carnatic music singing a popular rendition of the Lord’s thousand names. The uncle in question looked shaved (Swish blade), scrubbed and squeaky clean. He was clad in a wet dhoti and offered his daily prayers for over an hour. We kids were woken up to the smell of jasmine, pungently sweet joss sticks, asafetida from the kitchen and the names of the lord in the two hundreds. My uncle was closure to salvation. He had cleansed himself of the demon he was the previous night. He was ready to tackle the day and offer free suggestions to World leaders and passersby. This was planned redemption through extended exposure to moisture. He eventually contracted a disease that cursed him with swollen scrotums that were as big as melons. The doctor reasoned; the groin region was subjected to prolonged wetness.

My family’s lineage is apparently from sage Atri – one of the seven sages who eventually became a star in the constellation Orion or Great Bear. Later the lineage was subjected to temple work and farming in the paddy fields of the Cauvery delta in Thanjavur district – the granary of the south. Further the kings gave them land for their temple work or apparently wise counseling and they employed the lower caste lesser mortals to plough, till and reap the rice. The Brahmins of Thanjavur sat at their smoke flavored houses (the kitchen smoke was trapped between the tiles and cured the beams), drank endless amounts of buttermilk or coffee and the rice reached home. The idle men learnt vices yet did not lose their religion. Much later on a Sunday a bit after midnight I was born as the symbol of mutant values from the days of Atri.

When I grew up and fell in love I talked to my parents. They were happy that she was not a distant tribe like a Khasi or even better an Inuit. A malayalee was of a familiar clan. Familiarity is also the birthplace of contempt. My uncles and aunts who always knew everything better were the official harbingers of doom. They predicted a manipulative evil bunch of people who will charm their ward to submission and leave him helpless.

When I say malayalees I am talking about the Nairs or the Menons. Not the Palakkad Brahmins or the Namboodiris for that will be an endless thesis of vile games of cheap revenge and cynicism. While we are there I should shamelessly define the class too. I am not discussing the Dubai romancing working class here. They are probably busy trying to get a footing and define a paved path for their families. I am talking about the descent of well-respected civil servants, royalties, doctors and engineers - the people who built the post-independence Kerala and their descendants who dropped the torch along the way.

I have been married for ten years now. I have been the silent voyeur with a dedication of an anthropologist in observing malayalees. It has its fair share of idiosyncrasies, lunacy, Parkinsons and wisdom.

As a rule there are very few malayalees who agree with you on anything. Including the next part.

Click here to read Part 2.
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