Friday, May 04, 2007

Meet The (G)Host.

Every time I talk to my dear old grandma back home, she says something that makes me smile at her naivete. For her, the US is nothing more than a country where the so called “bhalo chele meye” (good children) go to make a career and return once in two years with chocolates, wearing weird clothes. She, much to my amusement, thinks that women in the US are exceptionally modern, wearing denims and speaking in English, no matter how old they are.

The last time I called her up (that was when I told her for perhaps the millionth time that I can hear her fine, she doesn't have to scream her lungs out just because I was calling from across the other end of the globe), she instructed me, rightfully with her age and wisdom- I don't want to see you turn out to be an American when I see you next.

After I hung up, I wondered for quite some time what she meant. May be she was referring to something on the lines of short clothes and changed (or utter lack of) mannerisms that maligned our so called rich culture. Was I turning out to be American at all? I was shocked to hear my inner voice tell me-

No, but may be, you are turning to be a South Indian.

What ! What did you say? A South Indian?

I'll introduce you to someone very close to me, someone I befriended in Seattle, who is now like family. My only family in this new country. G, the lady who hosted me during my initial days.

And almost turned me into a quasi-South Indian.

G is amazing. I had only corresponded with her via emails before I came here. I would never know why I was expecting a buxom lady with traditional looks, waist-length hair weighed down by chameli flowers, wearing a bright yellow Kanjeevaram saree and tons of jewelery. My first surprise (rather, shock) came on meeting a cool chick with the most un-traditional ways. Coming from a family where we usually dress up for visitors, I was a little uncomfortable to see a woman wearing shorts, and be cool about it. Okay, now that was months ago. 

Soon, I was to find out so many other qualities that only increased her coefficient of “coolness” in my eyes. We soon became good friends. She called me names and teased me of my “dehatiness” (rustic nature), getting used to the ways of the country. Her husband, a decent, God-fearing man with fearful, angry looks and a thick mustache, dutifully informed me that if I hung around with G, my home would soon look like a garage, shopping for stuff I'll never really need. She has turned me into a shopaholic. I'll soon be sleeping on the streets, not only due to lack of money, but also due to lack of space in my room.

And thus I was introduced to the world of a South Indian couple in the US. Soon, I learned to chomp on the dosas, idlis, rasam, sambar, some preparation she calls the South Indian reduction, tamarind rice, and the coconut chutneys with relish. The weekends at her place would mean listening to the incessant melodrama of South Indian television on her TV (something she spends quite a bit of money on), with buxom women in gaudy sarees stealing babies and thick-mustached men wearing half lungis and speaking a language I was light years away from understanding. The characters in these soaps speak a lot of accented English, especially when they are fighting over paternity issues and property rights. Every time I heard that man screaming Surryyyaaaaaaaaaaa Suryyaaaaaaaaaaa (as if this is the last time he is singing), I would be reminded of the Surya bulbs and Surya tubes. Soon I started to recognize the latest South Indian tunes, thanks to the fact that G subjects me to the torture of listening to Tamil songs every time she is driving. I would never know what these words meant, but they seem to be words out of popular songs- Vaaji Vaaji Shivaji (I thought it was Bhaaji Bhaaji), Unnale Unnale, Aambal Aambal (God knows what they meant, and why every word is repeated twice). My name was soon abbreviated to a more South Indianized one. Though I understand little Tamil, I soon learned that one had to say “Serri” and shake the head before keeping down the phone, and there were other words like Adi Paawi, Vyanda Vyanda, Rhomba Rhomba, and Kunjam Kunjam (again, the repetitive words).

Perhaps the rudest shock came to me when I started to witness these guys screaming at each other. Nothing serious, they do that every day. They call each other names which when translated mean pigs and buffaloes. And G tells me that this is their way of lovey-dovey conversation. Imagine my plight being the helpless girl hiding under the dining table when these guys scream at each other in a language I couldn't understand. Later, when I asked her- What were you guys fighting about?, she would coolly reply- Fighting? We were just talking to each other. The most difficult tasks around her husband include getting him in a picture frame, taking him to a mall, or making him smile. He could talk about work and cricket for hours, without even realizing that the ladies at the back seat of the car were snoring. And G could shop for hours, never really getting tired of sales and discounts and outlet malls. She once told me to accompany her to the Burlington Coat Factory to which I made the mistake of asking her innocuously if we needed to buy something from there. The menacing look she gave me after that (which when translated into words meant, silly girl, do we go shopping only when we need something?) was enough to give me the message. And yes, the silliest thing according to her that I have ever told her is the fact that pati is parmeshwar (the husband is God), and it is wrong to call him names that belong to the four-legged bovines and canines.

My next shock came when I was informed that her mom too is an avid reader of my blogs, and she had thus passed the link to the other members of the family. I was stumped, not knowing what to say. Soon, the amount of appreciation I got from the blog-readers in her family compensated for everything.

And thus started my first ever association with a South Indian family, their ways, their cuisine, their language, even the foul language, and the way they fought and screamed at each other. It is strange how we live in different corners of the world without even knowing who will next become an essential part of our life. So much so that the last time I was on the phone with mom, she remarked that I have developed a mild South Indian accent, and before hanging up she told me something to which I replied- Serri. She couldn't understand if I was asking for a Sari or a glass of Sherry.

And thus started my South Indianization in the US. My introduction to the world of kootus and kozambus, half-lungis and veshtis, mustached men, and women on TV who could better be punching each other at the WWF.



shruti said...

very well written ..well havign been born and brought up in cal..and having mainly bengali and north india frds .. I was not ready for anything that bangalore was to offer me when I shifted here in december 06 . Being a marketeer I was looking forward to understand this strange land called south india being totally unaware of the people and their ways . FOr me every person from south India has been just that a south indian ...but I have come to love the friendliness and helpfulness of the people here as well as bangalore as a metro and a city ..more than other metros excet cal ..and even I felt that tamilians were really nice people .

Daniel said...

My friend on want to say the enviroment will effect people. if you stay the same place for a long time, you will come to love the people and something that you hate in the beginning.

Kavi said...

:) Lovely ! Havent read a better account of a Tamil lifestyle in a while ! Being one myself, can relate to all of what you've captured so very well !

There is another aspect that i learnt from this post is how things that are are so innately part of one culture are seen as remote by another ! ( I didnt quite realise the double double reptitions untill this post and its abscence in other languages. Maybe thats why our Chief Ministers have two wives and get away with it. And films are punctuated with double meaning dialogues )

//It is strange how we live in different corners of the world without even knowing so many people who are soon going to be an essential part of our existence//

That was powerful prose ! Lovely. Made my day !

cliche said...

Too good.Awesome:)

simba said...

Atho bhalo likhcho kee amaake ekta addiction mothun hoye gaeche. roj hajaar baar khule khule aami dekhi, aajke kicchu notoon aache ki na bole.

Di said...

he more way of being perfectly tamilian ( no offence to anyone..i happen to like the language :)) is to use the adjective sooooper ..just about every where!

Pitara said...

your blogs r really addictive. very nicely written. my sis in studying in Tamil Nadu says that her professors' style of praising also scared her off in her first year.

:o I wonder, if the four-legged canines are "man's best friend", then why is calling someone a DOG an insult????

Anonymous said...

Even though you have written very well, I can't help but point that South Indians doesn't mean only Tamilians. There are Kannadigas, Telugites, Malayalees and even Maharashtrians who belong to South Indian category. Hope next time when you write please mention that you are talking about Tamilians and not South Indians in general.


Neelu said...

Even though i am a south Indian myself i can find lot of difference between a telugu or a tamilian or a kannadiga, i have recently shifted to Bangalore from hyd and was quite sad that i dont understand their lifestyle or their language or their food or even the temples,but after stay for over a month i see that the difference is in the way we perceive it and end of the day all are same,maybe they have songs which are loud or one word in songs repeated twice,or tangy food,but at some moments we all bond,weather it is a telugu or tamilian or a Bengali, unity in diversity is truly a very wonderful word:)
hope you are enjoying the south indianization part.

alpine path said...

Great post! Being a tamilian, I really enjoyed the way you put things. I'm ROTFL :) And, welcome to knowing more about south Indians.

Laker said...

Total Crappy blog....Grow up and learn to consider people as being from ONE SINGLE NATION...

Laker said...

Total Crappy blog....Grow up and learn to consider people as being from ONE SINGLE NATION...