THE JOKE’S ON THE TAMBRAM
THIS ABOVE ALL KHUSHWANT SINGH
Waiting for comeuppance
In contemporary parlance, Tamil Brahmins are known as Tambrams. Among the Hindu sub-castes, they enjoy the reputation of being the brightest as well as the most orthodox in conforming to Vedic traditions. They are strict vegetarians. Besides meat, fish, poultry and eggs, they abstain from having onions, garlic or mushrooms because they are born out of polluted soil. They are also obsessed with bowel movements. I know quite a few exceptions to the general practice: those Indian families with men who did not wear sacred threads, had scotch, served beef and married their offspring to whites, Muslims and Hindus of lower castes. I admit they were a rarity. Another thing I noticed about Tambrams is high self-esteem, short tempers and inability to laugh at themselves. Come to think of it, only two religious communities crack jokes about themselves and are able to laugh at their foibles: Parsis and Sikhs. Both have the self-assurance of achievement and despite the fun they make of themselves, do not lose their sense of superiority over others. The Sikhs have lost it in recent years and have become as touchy as others. I received a notice from the lawyers of SGPC that if I did not stop making Sardarji jokes, legal action would be taken against me. I threw it in my waste-paper basket.
Did I say Tambrams have no sense of humour and are unable to laugh at themselves? I withdraw my charges with apology. I’ve just finished reading No Onions Nor Garlic. It is about Tambrams, written by a Tambram, Srividya Natrajan, who teaches English at a Canadian University. Her story is tortuously complicated, totally contrived and overwritten. Despite all that, it is Indian humour at its best.
The principal character of the story is Professor Ram, head of the department of English at Chennai University and an ardent champion of Brahminism. He lives in a newly-constructed apartment built by a property developer (also Tambram), who has made a huge fortune using shoddy material, getting past municipal regulations and the police by periodically bribing them. With Prof. Ram live his wife, son and daughter, brought up as orthodox Brahmins, and a maidservant-cum-cook of a lower caste who serves them with devotion, receiving a pittance as wage without ever asking for a raise. Their mornings begin with hot coffee and butter-milk laced with evacuants (I presume it is Isabgol) to keep their bowels moving like clockwork. The professor is not so careful about his bladder and at times, wets his trousers and socks. He scans pages of The Bindhu (I presume The Hindu), a Tambram-owned paper he assiduously reads, paying special attention to the columns on the beauties of Hindu religion which appear alongside the crossword puzzle. (I skip the religious columns because they constipate me, I do the crossword religiously because they move my bowels.) Ram is forever promoting himself. He hawks his book on the significance of the sacred thread — published at his own expense — wangles invitations to international seminars by cultivating the British Council, US Information Services and the University Grants Commission. Arthur Koestler described such seminar-wanglers as “Modern Call Girls”. His bête noir at the university is a Christian lady professor, who organizes Dalits to fight back the Tambram hegemony. Much to the chagrin of Prof. Ram, they manage to instal Ambedkar’s bust in the Convocation Hall. He does not take it lying down. While rehearsing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — in which he plays the principal role — and teaching students how to speak “proppa Poppadum English”, he plans to instal a mammoth-size statue of the goddess of learning, Saraswati, on the beach facing the university.
Prof. Ram’s children come of marriageable age. So, besides the columns on religion, he and his wife carefully scan matrimonial columns of The Bindhu. They chance upon an advertisement inserted by an NRI couple living in Canada. They eat no onions, no garlic, no eggs and are Tambrams. They have a divorced son and a daughter and want spouses for both. What could be better from Ram’s point of view? Negotiations are opened, the date for a double marriage ceremony fixed, cards sent out; all seem to be going hunky-dory.
Meanwhile, Prof. Ram and the Christian lady professor come to blows over the Ambedkar statue. She hits him on his head, knocks him down to the floor. He bites her heels with his false teeth and draws blood. It’s a case for the police. But providence saves them. It is revealed that Prof. Ram’s son is in love with a Dalit girl, his daughter is lesbian and the poor maidservant of low caste is the mother of both Prof. Ram and the Christian lady professor. And right at the end of No Onions Nor Garlic, the author reveals that she is the divorced wife of the NRI couple’s son.
“Utterly improbable”, you will say. I agree, but add: “utterly readable”.
Punjab’s election festival
In Punjab, the land of milk and
Makkhan is synonym for sweetheart
Punjabis are fond of dahi and lassi
Bhangra dancing is their finest art.
Green revolution changed the face of
Foreign remittances made it richer
Its rustic drink, the desi thharra
Acquired the grade of imported
Punjabis are gourmets by nature
They know what to eat and what not
To them, gastronomy is a divine gift.
They relish fatted food and spicy
No wonder, in Punjab’s elections,
Chicken became extinct after mass
While candidates tried to woo voters
Liquor flowed like filtered water.
(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)