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I’m back to blogging after a sabbatical. And this time I have decided to keep writing. I thought of starting off with the idiosyncrasies of a community called Tambrams.

Before I embark on this topic, let me explain what or who a Tambram is. Tam=Tamilians and brams=Brahmins. They are Tamil Brahmins from urban Tamil Nadu or from the Tamil diaspora anywhere in the world. Hailing from a middle-class Tambram family (the whole community is middle-class from their behavioural point of view), I was lucky to have been brought up outside Tamil Nadu and my native place Palakkad (which is the home-town of most Tambrams).

The Tambrams are regarded as very brainy, nerdy people (and they are). Math and science are their religion; anything other than these doesn’t exist or is banal and below their dignity. If you aren’t an engineer or a scientist, then you are invisible to your relatives. People in this community value only those who have been rankholders throughout their academic life and are now in high positions in any company (mostly IT).

Most Tambrams are well-educated. Both man and woman work. Moreover, man also helps his wife in the kitchen. He knows how to cook unlike many communities, where men are just supposed to devour the food and not cook because “Cooking? Huh! It’s a woman’s job.”

But despite this high level of education and intelligence, the Tambrams are obsessed with their meaningless archaic values. No offenses meant, but it’s time they woke up and started adapting to the century they are living in. I have a great respect for the Vedas and the Hindu religion and various aachaarams, but one must not impose it on anyone, not even their or their relatives’ kids.

Tambrams are also one of the most hypocritical communities. Even if they are doctors, engineers, management professionals, their values go back to the 1100 AD. They will always discourage you from using your left hand while taking or giving money. (So cut the left hand, why keep it?). If you say you are not religious or you refuse to go to the temple, you are in big trouble mister/miss because you are not supposed to say all that. It’s blasphemous.

Similarly there is nothing like a personal view. If your ideas don’t go with the community’s you are a sinner. “How can you not agree with us or have a different set of ideas?”

Women are of course the ‘Lakshmis’ and ‘Saraswathis’ of the family. No matter what their interests are, they are enrolled in music and dance classes when they are toddlers. Parents love to show their kids off. “My daughter sings very well.” “Kuzhandai (little one), sing ‘kurai ondrum illai’ for mama.” Unlike many communities in India the tambram girls are given the opportunity to go for higher studies.

In spite of all this, however much the girl is educated, she has to be culturally rooted.

First and foremost: Pottu or the bindi. Every girl or woman should apply bindi and keep it throughout the day, no matter what the attire is.  If you don’t apply bindi, even an elderly gentleman would come and ask you, “kulikkalaya? (haven’t you had a bath)?” This is indirectly asking about your pottu, ie. if you have taken a shower, you are supposed to have a bindi. Mind you this applies for the women only.

When I was telling my friend about this ‘pottu engey’ (where is the bindi) question from relatives, she suggested, “Just tell them you have applied it on your bum and see how it shuts them up.”

My sister and I don’t really follow the pottu culture because we feel we must apply it depending upon the clothes we wear. For example, a bindi hardly goes with Jeans or western wear (despite Madonna and other pop singers westernising it). When we visit our cousin in Chennai, her husband instructs their 4-year-old daughter to apply pottu on our forehead by saying, “Look akkas don’t have pottu.” Embarrassing, isn’t it?

The community also doesn’t understand fashion. Actually fashion or glamour is something that is considered beneath them. If someone applies make up, you can see people backbiting – “Oh look at her, she has coloured her lips and has done her eyebrows. Her hair looks like coir with all that hair colour. yuck. She has grown and painted her nails. How ‘uncultural’. Chhee chhee modern influences.”

When it comes to marriages, the tambrams are strict about their caste. Iyers seek alliances from Iyers. And Iyengars from Iyengars. Any intercaste marriage is like a big sin, amounting to terming such a person an outcast. “How can you marry someone from another caste? It is just not done.”

Tambrams have the most boring wedding ceremonies. They just can’t enjoy anything in life. Check out any of their wedding albums. Forget posing, Mamas, mamis, bride, groom… none of them would even smile. They all look like they are in mourning. (Mourning that they are getting married?). It’s rare to find a smiling tambram in photos! No mehendi, no sangeet, no naach-gaana. A sombre reception the evening before the wedding. And the wedding… oh smoke-filled and resounding with Nadaswaram tunes.

Talking of Tambram weddings, you will find a lot of mamas and mamis conversing in English as if they know only English… the NRI effect you see. Tambrams also love to show their knowledge off. Adorned with heavy gold jewellery (real gold), and heavier Kancheepuram saris and jasmine gajras, the mamis form a group of their own and gossip about what the other is (or is not) wearing.

The veshti-clad mamas have a lot to talk about: politics, politics and politics.

And the NRI Tambrams would make another topic altogether. They spend 20 odd years in their motherland, become software engineers and move to foreign lands. There they behave like the brand ambassadors, the saviours of their Tambram culture (which they might not have even done back home). They celebrate all festivals, perform every ritual religiously by calling pandits, prepare traditional cuisine. To the extent of putting us to shame when it comes to showcasing their love for their culture. I wonder the dilemma of their kids. The identity-crisis they must be going through. Also, will the next generation really carry these customs forward? I doubt.

If the NRI tambrams are so rooted to their tradition, why living outside? Better be with their people and their culture.

And of course, it’s thanks to Facebook and other social networking sites, such people get to show off their religiousness and adherence to their culture and customs to their relatives back in India.

The eating habits of Tambrams is not a new thing. My north-Indian friends still tease me by saying that the people in my community have atrocious way of eating rice.  They

1. make small chunks/balls of rice
2. have even the liquid food (curd, rasam, payasam) from the plate/banana leaf with their hand
3. make slurping noises while popping their food in
4. lick their hands right till their elbows because of the flowing curd/rasam (eww)

Their obsession with curd rice beats every kind of obsession in the world. Wherever they go, Tambrams crave curd rice. I remember during our visit to Kashmir a couple of years ago, we didn’t get any south Indian food for almost a week. Then when we landed in Jammu, we found a restaurant that served dosas and rice and curd. I was astonished to see their relief in having south Indian food. My sister and I, however, stuck to parathas and pizzas 😉

Every community has its quirks and twists and I’m sure there must be weirder people than Tambrams, yet it goes without saying they are the most hardworking and sincere lot anywhere in the world.