Recessive Gene

I was born in Delhi where my mum grew up.
Every certificate of education I possess, bears the stamp of Mumbai University.
I speak a weird concoction of pure English corrupted by MS Word and slathered with that strange tongue called Bambaiyya.
I also understand most versions of the tongues spoken from Punjab to Maharashtra….I even manage a bit of Bengali (Gujrati stumps me though, I admit!)
My favorite breakfast is boiled-egg sandwiches and watermelon.
I like all the blends of tea that I’ve tasted.
And I am a techno-phobe ( I can’t even program my cellphone to ring the way I want it to!!)

But I’m a Tamilian.

When I made it past the 20-year mark, my family started to murmur about marriage (like the family of every Indian girl at that time). I found a slew of excuses to ward them off….”Let me complete my studies!”, “I have to get a job, that’s priority”. At some point, all those excuses started to fall on deaf ears. In desperation, I played my final card. I said “NO SOFTWARE PROFESSIONALS”. Since that rules out 99% of the eligible bachelors in the community (and the remaining don’t possess the ‘proper’ degrees, by virtue of which they aren’t ‘eligible’ any more) I’ve been on safe ground for a good while now.

Last year I was at a cousin’s wedding in Chennai (where else?). Alongside kaapi and kanjeevarams, I got a earful of the latest ‘grand experience’. The topic on everyone’s lips was the wedding the previous month, of the son of Mrs.Copper-Sulphate-Blue-with-mango-border-saree (visible in the distance) to his colleague. And why? Because ‘the girl’ was from Orissa.

“But you know, they are very nice people!”

Mrs.Jamoon Pink was assured by Mrs.Neckpiece of Cleopatra-with-coins-dangling-on-it.

“Yes, they were just like us. Imagine that!”

gushed Mr.2mm-grey-stripes-on-white to Mr.Something-between-coffee-and-cocoa solids.
They were interrupted by Mr.Podgy-in-navy blue-with-logo (with the company tagline stretched across that 70mm back)

“But I’m telling you, you can’t rely on them. Last month when I was in Michigan, I was telling that friend of mine…..”

Ah, I thought to myself…the wonderful Tamilian sense of geography. Chennai is the cornerstone of civilization, ‘Bambaii’ is the other end of the world, Orissa is another planet and Michigan is back home.”

Sometime, try talking to a Chennai-ite about Paris, the centre of western art, romance and culinary expertise. Chances are they’ll look at you puzzled and say

“But I was there yesterday!”

Your turn to gape….till you realise they’re talking about Parrys (in Chennai). It doesn’t seem to matter than I’m Tamilian then.

I’ve taken to complimenting people on their sarees and their musical talent and such things. Anything to avoid the marriage question and being asked what I’ve studied. ‘MBA’ is a few letters short of what’s required apparantly. The look on their faces seems to say “Huh? MCA…B.Tech…MS…BE…Computer Science…..these are degrees to have, don’t you know?” My workplace isn’t even worth talking about after that, so I take the easy way out and ask them the classic multiple-choice-question.

“Where does your son/daughter/son-in-law/daughter-in-law/niece/nephew work?”

The answers are:
G…Do I need to go on?
Ever heard of the Great American Dream? I call this the Great South-Indian Software Dream.

On one rare outing out with my cousins, one of them asked me surreptiously…

“Do you have boyfriends?”

I sputtered and said,

“Boyfriends? You mean, in the plural…and simultaneously?”

It was a long minute before I realised she was asking if any of my friends were male. So I explained as patiently as I could that since I had studied in a co-ed school and college, since there were boys in my building and neighborhood, it was inevitable that I’d be friends with some of them. Moreover, I added, since the world was not seggregated into Women’s section and Men’s section, it seemed slightly unnatural to divide schools that way. The converstaion ended abruptly with her younger brother (just back from a project in Amay-ree-kaa) cutting in to say,

“No, that is all rubbish. This is how it has to be.”

I can’t fathom how parents who don’t permit their daughters to talk to boys, to go out to meet a friend or have them over can throw them out into the big bad world…another country, another culture, another continent….and leave them to fend for themselves.
I can’t understand how a race of people so prone to clinging tightly, can so enthusiastically urge their kids to go and live abroad, knowing fully well they may see them once in a couple of years, if they’re lucky.

And there are things about Tamilians…that are the sacred laws to believe in.

  1. Every person who steps into the house needs fattening. URGENTLY. “no, NO, NOOOOO” are totally ineffective in keeping off yet another shovelful of kootu off your plate. Will you have kaapi? No? Payasam perhaps? Oh how about some Bournvita? ARGGGGGH!
  2. Women have long hair in plaits with flowers in it. Banshees have long hair that is left loose. Boys have short hair. Real men have mustaches. Anyone else does not belong to the human race. And when I think of the trouble my aunt had explaining the cropped haircut, pyjama-clad being that inhabited her house each summer…and getting her neighbors to believe that….not only is that ‘thing’ from Planet Earth…its my niece!
  3. People from Bombay don’t speak. (How do manage around Bombay? You speak Hindi? WOW!!You speak Tamil too??WOW!)
  4. Outside Tamil Nadu, no one has heard of good manners, etiquette or respect. (She is so nice and polite…even though she’s a Bombay girl!)


And now having ranted…

  • I think a capuccino/mocha/espresso could never match up to my amma’s filter kaapi.
  • Degrees over dollars (or pounds or rupees) any day!
  • No ‘apna own bijnezzz’ for me…give me the security of a paycheck anyday!
  • I like mathematics.
  • Kanjeevarams over banarasi, kota and raw silk always.
  • I actually like being seen as a woman with a voice (that girl who filed a complaint against her would-be in-laws and had them arrested for dowry demands, all those female bus conductors….they come from the same state I do!)
  • Indian classical music for me is Carnatic, not Hindustani.


Yes, I am a Tamilian inherently. Sometimes I hate it, sometimes it makes me proud. Sometimes I wonder if having a lineage tracing back to a place can make you a part of it. Or it a part of you.

I still have a problem with the great South-Indian software dream though.

67 thoughts on “Recessive Gene

  1. :)Good post.

    I am yet to come to terms with the Great South-Indian Software Dream too…Hope i wake up soon in India 🙂

    I love the fact that i have so much to rant about being Tamilian 🙂

  2. Yea…. right. Actually you do get to see some dislikable and unseen portions of the world when you get to see it from the outside instead of living in it.Guess that is the case with people like us, born and brought up somewhere else.
    Though there ain’t no Bengali-Software-Utopia that I have to handle, but still one thing that pisses people like me is the astounding amount of regionalism.The biggest reason being most part of the hordes of PG students that throng here and elsewhere, who’ve stayed in WB till graduation.Would you believe that the first thing most of them do on coming here is find out all WBites and pester the PG warden (poor prof!) to place all of them in the same block…all rooms one after the one else to be seen there!Not to mention , they hardly talk to anyone else and even if there are 15 other colleagues hanging out with even just two them, those two bongs will still talk in bengali to each other relentlessly.He He…. the best part is when they start attending classes and on discovering the instructor is a bong himself, actually try to raise questions and speak out answers in bengali (OMFG!!) while there are about 45 other non-bongs sitting there…. yes, until the prof tells them to shut up or start communicating in something that is acceptable 😀 But yea, there are some exceptions there … and i’m glad they don’t act strange in a cosmopolitan atmosphere…Thankfully , such is not the case with UG’s here…guess they are too not-so-old to forego the opportunity to meet out with people not speaking their language.
    Btw, do you know the current PG hostel is almost divided into a “Bengali Block”, “Telugu Block”,”Tamilian Block”,”Mallu Block” and “Bihari Block” !!The “Oriya Block” fell short in numbers.Pity.
    Okay needed to rant this somewhere 🙁 I’ve tried umpteen times to make some of them see reason, but then supposedly “I say so ” cuz I’m not a “pure” bong since i didn’t live in WB.My ass!
    I’m happy living with my UG wing of mallu’s,reddy’s , punjabi’s , bihari’s , MPites and UPites.I enjoy the sarson da saag of punjab and the sojje-voodey n arisae of andhra as much as rossogolla.And no, I never felt the need to push my head into a “pure” bong PG cluster :/
    Thanks for granting me space to scream out….. and sorry for the eyebrows i might have raised.Sometimes I’m really mad at somethings , you see.

  3. And seeing the size of my comment i guess i forgot i had my own blog too …. perhaps the effects of having a headache…. causing others to have it too 🙁

  4. After a lot of soul seraching, i realised I don’t want to die a spinster. so, I acknowledge software engineers. It must be a cool profession (there is a gun on my head)

  5. thats a nice post… speaks a lot about a southie from mumbai… but the last few lines… of your likes and dislikes… hmmm…. are you using up this space for matrimonials? of course without the “jaatakam” (janam kundli) though…

    and please dont say anything bad about payasam (kheer) *sob*… its the only thing in southie preparations that has a lot of variety… and primarily because i love it… you can give any amount of gaalis to kootu…(some form of curry)…

    if you need someone with more degrees and less money… you are free to email me at any given point in time 🙂

  6. Lol lol lol…..I’m sure my family will be thrilled to pieces (not to mention relieved!) that the useless spewing I do on this blog is yielding some tangible results (matrimonial proposals). I shall stoutly deny that it was ever my intention, however!!!!!!

    Apoorva, how come my comments on other people’s blogs spark arguments while no one ever seems to get riled about anything I write on mine???? Besides, I thought you didn’t want to be chased by wise souls.

    Sen, my bachcha…jeeyo mere lal….keep promoting the dilution of the regions….that way we all get to eat roshogullas and idlis! U can forget all about the line of female admirers that queue up for any authentic ‘Bongali babu’, though!

    Rumpelstilskin, thanks for the offer but you don’t count…you’re a TAM!!!!!!Also, I hate payasams (yeeeeccccchhhhh….before I can recover from Pongal, Deepavali’s already here…!)

    Brad, will consider….if you promise to make the kaapi…this Tam girl hates cooking!

    Arunima, I don’t have anything against software professionals, except the fact that so many of them are ‘Eligible bachelors’!!! Its hazardous to my singledom…

  7. funny, how did u know i was tam, my name sounds so very “russian”… in any case… there is another solution, now that you have rejected the offer… you can invite me for diwali and pongal and all other festivals / ocassions where payasam is made… and i get you rid of your trouble… its a kinda good “win-win” situation… (mr stephen covey… are you listening?)

    apoo: lets try some other blog 😉


  8. This was kind of informative…I didnt know tamilians can/want to speak any other language other than tamil or english..I had 2-3 frds who never tried to speak any other language except mentioned above…..based on my experiences i thought tamilians are also very conservative….but u seem pretty open….Gd…

  9. It seems u want a tamilian bachelor thats why u opened the secret of ur tamilian roots….:-))


  10. Dey-aam….

    Rumplestilskin, it didn’t take Holmes to figure out which part of the world an ‘Iyer’ comes from! And since u guys ain’t reading my blog anymore, I don’t know you….strangers aren’t invited over for Pongal u know…

    Anonymous: People usually speak the language of the place they grow up in. I speak Hindi and Marathi much better than Tamil. I also know several Tams (outside TN) who speak other languages.

    Anonymous 2: (if this is a different person) Its no big secret…I believe I’ve mentioned my roots before.

  11. Sen.. I feel your pain. I’ve been through the same frustrations you mentioned, just from a different region.
    IS.. Wouldn’t dare fight through the throng already vying for your attention, should have guessed being a heretic would not stop you from sticking me in a pigeonhole!

  12. :)) i am still laughing. if this was a profile you would be the most in-demand girl by now – very well written

    P.S. you cant be that tech unsavy – you blog woman!!

  13. This was very enlightening Smithy. As much as I enjoy the posts in your blogs, I particularly loved this one because it’s so revealing, and it give us a small piece of knowledge about a fascinating culture which (I have to admit) I am almost completely ignorant about.

  14. Not love being chased by wise souls??? No no no… u got it wrong. Wise souls dont chase me (hence the name – Wise Souls). I love any soul chasing me!

    And Iyer… No. No give up. I am giving my GMAT, getting another degree, changing my profession and learning how to make kaapi.

  15. very nice post smithy!
    i’m from karnataka but its crazy how many things our cultures have common..i found myself chuckling and going ‘too right!’ while reading your post
    hahaha poor software professionals out there..oh well theres always me =D i dont mind getting married young!

  16. OMG… now i am a stranger… after 10 odd comments and reading almost every post… and wishing on your budday (though i still dont know the date)… i am a stranger…

    apoo: howz ur prep goin ? i can help with u kaapi though… cant say much abt my aptitude…

    on second thoughts, there is madame mahima out here who doesnt mind software professionals… lets gate crash that blog 😉

  17. This post has been long in the making hasn’t it 🙂

    What did the poor lads in software do to ruffle your feathers so. Or perhaps its some abtract freudian need to shun compensatory influences…hmm…

    Now, tell us how you really feel 🙂

    I wonder if any venerable quaint “maami” would chance upon this post and give you an earful about how post-modernist influences have shaped their thinking.

    Ahh what would we crib about if there weren’t any stereotypes….

  18. Wow, though being that u r a tamilian, it sounds like ur lineage breadths from the north to the south. 😉 I am a mallu and mine stretch from the west to the south; lesser compared to u geographically, but believe me, disposition- or culture- or any other quirks- wise, we fall in the same ballpark. Whoo wee, it sucks…the hypocrisy and the mediocrity in the society sure does suck.

    Ah well, who am I kidding? I am in it too. sheesh.

    good one.

  19. smithy! I tried that same trick too- 11 years ago saying that i did NOT want any jaatakam of a guy residing in America, but guess what- I have been here for over 11 years… whom u marry- when u chose to- well, it is not ENTIRELY in ur hands!

  20. Upon reading this discussion about a tamilian and his idiosyncrasies, I am tempted to mention about this sign board I read while driving on NH enroute to Bangalore. It read…
    “Long Live Classical Tamil” 🙂

  21. I agree with Ava, idea, a very revealing post. It’s the same in Italy, Italians are the most prejudice people against other Italians that you will ever find in one nation.

    The southern Italians are “ignorant dirt farmers”, the northern are “stuck up, rich Germans” etc. And the ones in central Italy, well we just keep to ourselves, and judge them all. lol

  22. Right on about the fattening bit. Everytime I visit my best friend’s house (shes a Tam), her mom just has to get me to eat something and then she worries about me not eating enough, not eating frequently enough, not having enough fruits… but you know what? I just love her mom for that! I havent seen anyone as persistent and active enough to make dosas for me in under 5 minutes just cos she knows I love southie food!


  23. GArfy: Come one over .. I will make the Dosas for you without the fattening 😀
    Smity: the offer of carnatic music, Kaapi , hot sambar and not-so-eligible bachelor , not-really-a-software professional still holds 😀

  24. Tht ws really fun to read…cant believe getting ur kid married to the “right” boy is still such a big deal. I’m not tamilian but wud u believe I’m close friends with about 10…most of them are mixes tho as in tam/srilankan, tam/malaysian and even tho they’ve been outside/never been to their country..they tell me they are prepared for an arranged marriage (somewhat)…its v weird..but i guess its culture.

  25. So I’m in Iyer-land for a while.. (2 weeks.. ) and I made friends with my course instructor who’s a Mumbai-born-brought-up-Tamilian married to a Punjabi-dude-from-Delhi who feels more at home in Chennai than she does…

    I’d show her your post.. but she jus left for home (apparently her “bachcha” at home…is crying for “Mamma” !!)

    She had a lot to say about life in Chennai.. stuff that you have already mentioned in your blog…
    But the things that have troubled her most of all in CHennai are (that):
    – She has to be conscious of what she’s wearing to work/to the market.. unless she wants to be the “Talk of the Town”
    – She has practically NO social circle, just not as easy to make friends as it was in Mumbai..
    – Most women at work chat only about “SUN TV” or gossip about other women..
    – If she spends too much with time with the “guys at work” then she’s again abt becoming the “talk of the town” or that they might get the “wrong impression” about her..

    I don think this is something you can experience until you actually LIVE here for an extended period..

    Ok.. Im writing all this..coz I have lots of free time.. M waiting for my cab to take me back to my Hotel.


  26. btw… AWESOME the way you remember all the saree-descriptions… (unless you wrote this WHILE you were at the wedding !!)


  27. btw… AWESOME the way you remember all the saree-descriptions… (unless you wrote this WHILE you were at the wedding !!)


  28. Lovely post. I completely identify with the feelings about Tamilian software professionals!

    Nice blog, am here for the first time! Will be back……

  29. Hey did you know that the Tamil race has over 5000 years worth of heritage. That’s much older than your average aryan clan.

  30. as a card bearing tam myself must admit was a bit miffed at some of your comments … a tam trait – don’t really wnt to acknowledge what’s true! but was very pleased towards the end! also may i add – mani ratnam over yash chopra/kamal and rajini over any khan and thayir sadam over any food ever made 😀 there i’m done

  31. I am a person who has never ever been outside tamil nadu except say for a few days in all these 29 yrs…

    You can imagine better if i say my hindi vocabulary starts with “kya?” and ends with”Mein Hindi nai maalum”

    like it or not, we a have stereotypes in one way or the other…

    and let me not get started on my girl searching which looks likely to go on till India wins World cup soccer (not in another 30 yrs for sure :D)

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  34. Lol… Ok… I’ve gone on a reading binge it looks like.. and a commenting binge too!!
    To b honest, seeing the number of my consecutive comments, I refrained myself from commenting again too soon… but what the heck.
    Funny aint it? You grew up in Delhi and I grew up in Chennai!! And I damned love it(Chennai I mean)… cant stop laughing at ‘typicalism’.. It sounds kind o incredulous dosent it?? Civilization itself? When we see how rigid, dogmatic and conventional humans can be?

  35. @ ‘nonnymus: What’s this…the ‘playing hard-to-get’ on the blogsphere game? Plizz to comment as often and as freely as you like…in case you haven’t guessed, bloggers lurrrrrve comments! Also, I didn’t grow up in Delhi (NOOOOO!!!!!), I was only born there and immediately whisked off to Mumbai (thank goodness!). Yup, the stereotypes sure are funny when seen in that light, it’s when they become de rigeur for life that its painful.

  36. This sure was a wonderful piece of humour although you might not have meant it to be. Ha, warding off marriage proposals. I’ve been doing that for the past 3 years and now my mom has decided that giving me the silent treatment may work. We can have an arrangement though to keep both parents happy :D! Kidding!
    But of all what you’ve said, its so much prevalent in other states too. I never stayed or grew up in Bengal so many a times I find some of the things they do so ridiculous. But at the end of it all, its our roots which do give us an identity. What we should continue doing is assimilating others too, like u’ve done staying in Mumbai. & ofcourse, food is never to be missed 🙂

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