Friday, July 08, 2011

Culturally sound.

During my recent visit to Chennai a remark made by an acquaintance set me thinking. She felt that my long stay in North India had alienated me from my Tamil culture and I had acquired a mixed (read muddled) view of Indian culture as practiced in the south. I wondered what she meant. I did not try to defend myself for the simple reason that I could not understand what she meant. Correct me if I am wrong but it is my opinion that there is no such thing as Tamil or south Indian culture. Having lived in a multi-lingual/cultural township for the past 38 years I find that human beings are pretty much the same – never mind their linguistic/cultural background. I get put off when people assign certain behavioral patterns to a particular community. There is nothing typical to a community. We see good and bad people everywhere. Again good and bad as I have pointed out in earlier posts are relative to circumstance. A person who controls his/her emotions and allows the world to see the pleasant side of one’s nature is called good. But like ‘the man in black’ there are several others with a golden heart but a short temper. They need to be understood –that’s all. Then we are all ambitious. It is just the level that varies. Were it not so society would never progress. There are those that trample upon others to reach their goal and others who take slow and steady steps to get there. Ambition is not restricted to just one or the other community. So when there is so much in common to all human beings why do people talk of their own community as being culturally rich and more superior to other communities?

I tried doing a little introspection and making a list of how and where I differed from my south Indian roots. If one calls insisting on a dress code for my children as being culturally sound I may not fit into the Tamilian mould. However, the dress code keeps changing. Ever since my arthritic leg started giving me trouble I started wearing salwar/ kameez for my morning walk to avoid tripping on the road. I find it so comfortable that I have started wearing it at home and while traveling. Does it make me less Tamilian in any way? I should think not. In pretty much the same way I think that my daughters too ought to be allowed to choose to wear a dress that is comfortable and culture/tradition has nothing to do with it.

I agree that the Tambrahms would be shocked to know that I finish cooking and have a bath later unless it is a day of religious significance. It is easier that way because I do not find time to bathe twice in the morning. I need to bathe before leaving for college so the ritual of bathing before cooking the morning meal had to be shelved. I can almost hear my relatives ask how I could do that. Is it not our custom to offer food to God before consuming it? Food prepared without bathing cannot be given to crows let alone Gods………

Shocking?? Well, when I take out rice for cooking I set aside a handful of uncooked rice in a container and when a decent amount is collected I give it away to a needy person. I feel that this is an equally good alternative and feel no pangs of guilt for not being able to offer food to God on a daily basis. I do not think that this has anything to do with culture. Or does it??

A good number of my relatives accuse me of not talking to my children in my mother tongue. To be frank I mix English and Hindi and throw in a few words of Tamil in my verbal communication with them. They do the same. It is a language unique to us. I spek to my husband in Tamil but we do mix a little Hindi here and there. There are times when I grope for Tamil words. Like the word Maali in Hindi means gardner. The Tamil word is thottakkaran. Laundrer is dhobi in Hindi and vannan in Tamil. I rarely use the Tamil equivalent of the words and unknowingly insert the Hindi term in my conversation. I wonder if it makes me a cultural misfit in my own community? Is it not sufficient that I try to be a well adjusted individual in society to be called culturally sound?

A final word. The Wikipedia defines culture as “An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning”. In my opinion the basic human requirement is peaceful co-existence. If this is achieved through social learning a person can be called cultured and this is certainly not the monopoly of any community or country.

Having thus defended myself, I think I can safely go to bed.


srijithunni said...

//..Having thus defended myself.// Do you need to do that.? For what ? How many people in Tamilnadu today speak pure Tamil.? One of the main reasons that many people start labelling you as show-offs / losing-culture-types, is because they start feeling insecure with your multi-lingual capabilities.

Sleep Tight and Sound
With Best Regards,

Ugich Konitari said...

HHG, Totally with you on this. It is a sad situation, when culture is reduced to adherence to rituals, chauvinism about language, perceptions about regional superiorities and so on. Sometimes, I feel that some folks actually grudge you the cosmopolitan outlook that you have about things, and mention all this cultural stuff to disturb you. And my experience says ,you dont even need to leave your domiciled state for that. The best thing to do is ignore such folks.

Anonymous said...

HHG - Hope you had a good time in Chennai.

Cultural rules, like the ones you have mentioned are archaic. There was a time when Tambram women draped 9 yards of fabric around them. With time, many people chose 6 yards. What is wrong if someone opts for a salwar ? Does it make them any less a human?

It could be that some of those women are just envious that they are unable to break themselves from the shackles of those primitive rules.

Hip Grandma said...

srijith:I admit to feeling a little guilty when I was told that I was a cultural misfit in South India. it was upsetting but apart from the reasons quoted I cannot think of where and how I am different. I felt better after defending myself from well......... MYSELF.
BTW, do you still live in Chennai? If so I've missed meeting you again.i wonder if you live in the apt. complex above the bank in the Balaiyyah Garden bus stop.

Suranga:It is annoying the way people attribute superficial practices/ qualities to be parameters defining the culture of a community. Like, it was the custom for brothers to send gifts (mainly products from farmland) during Shankaranthi to married daughters who would have no share in the ancestral property to symbolize that the girls were still part of the family. Does it make sense to follow it now when brothers are salaried employees combating with price rise and inflation? The entire discussion on cultural identity was sparked off by something as insignificant as this and it put me off. Really.

The Brown Vagabond:i admit to feeling a little bored in Chennai. I think I am getting too attached to Jamshedpur and the dazzle of metros does baffle me. I felt like a villager.

The archaic rules were the only ones I could think of as being the ones that i do not adhere to. To be fair, no one accused me of breaking them. Salwar/kameez is now a 'behanji' dress that grandmas like me wear. Jeans and shorts are preferred by the next generation. However, i do not subscribe to the view that one ought to follow inconvenient rules in the name of tradition and culture. A certain amount of flexibility always benefits society.

dr.antony said...

Cultural practices do differ in various parts.But people generally adapt and absorb the place they live in,and it is natural and understandable.
My brother went to Germany as a Malayali,now I often hear him speaking German at his home.His children do not speak a word of Malayalam.
It is simply a global cilture these days

R's Mom said...

Oh my God! I am an insult to a Tambram then!

I dont have a bath before I cook in the morning, I dont light lamps on all days (forget it on sundays becoz bath is late), I dont keep aside any rice for the needy (I give money to a friend to buy toothpaste etc for an orphange), I wear skirts, jeans, salwars anything except a saree, I dont wear a bindi, sindoor, thali or anything, I speak to my child in Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, English with a sprinkling of Bengali and Tamil..

How HHG, please go back to your friend and tell her this..of course we are not of the same generation, but I think my mom is also like me (Unlike my MIL who is VERY VERY Tambram ;))

apu said...

HG, I don't think you need to worry at all. People who stick on to everything their grandparents did (regardless of the utility today) may find you "uncultural", but culture moves, and it's actually what we make of it. Foe e.g., I find the insistence on practices like giving your daughter stuff for every festival, paying for the delivery of her children etc silly in this day, when women are educated and earn well. We need to drop things that don't work for us. bet if your acquaintance's children were based in Europe, she would have been boasting about their proficiency in French or German!

(And - we could have met up during your Chennai visit!)

Hip Grandma said...

dr. antony:Yes it is a global culture these days. a friend's g'kids staying with them after tsunami in Japan are longing to return simply to have a go at the sushi stuff available there. Their food habits and preferences have changed. they are tired of eating stuff that passes off for chow mein and pizza in India and our dal, rice and sabzi is not relished at all.

R's Mom:c'mon. lets shake hands. i am glad to have both you and your mom for company.
On a serious note I've always felt that there is no culture in cribbing and complaining about changes for improvement in society. Culture earlier demanded that women remain invisible without a voice of their own. Does it prevail now? Don't mothers want their daughters to have a say in running the house? i may be over reacting but I want this issue to be clarified. What is so cultural about adhering to certain customs and claiming to be cultural ambassadors of the community? i would rather be flexible to accomodate more people in the social ambit.

apu:I agree with you totally. Regardless of financial constrains one is supposed to give gifts to one's daughters to the point of dreading their visits and we have girls making atrocious demands just to show the gifts off to their relatives (read in laws).

Sangitha said...

Aiyyyo Swami, the shiva-shiva circles got you too?! Show me someone who says Vannan? Please, like my kids say, he/she must be born in BC days! :-D

I have no guilt about all that I do and would share but so many shiva-shiva will lose their nights' sleep! :-D

Cooking and then taking a bath makes total sense. You wash your hands, right? There - that's the mini bath that counts! ;-D

Gayu said...

OMG!!!!! Then even I am also an insult to the Pallakad Iyer community....

I am married to a Maharashtrian. I don't take bath before cooking, nor I make the traditional "Kolams". I celebrate South Indian festivals, but not they way it used to be in my Thatha Patti's house. My daughter can't speak Tamil, however she loves listening to Tamil and Malayalam songs. I use onions everyday in my cooking, no Amavasya, Pradosham etc etc....

Rather than blindly following the crowd, one should follow those things which are comfortable to our lifestyle.

I like the way you write such thought provoking posts!!!

Take care

It's Dee for U said...

Hi HHG, Culture is something that evolved from a group of people. Something that got in discipline into the lives of people. Something like all the best practices followed and collected for a good life. The generation now, is making a culture for themselves. The fast food culture I would call it :). We are evolving a multi - lingual, broad minded, multi- national, a very new, more Indian culture. Probably these people are not aware of it. So please dont feel bad. We shall emerge out stronger than them and have a final laugh. :)

Hip Grandma said...

Sangi:the shiva - shiva group has always existed and they have always been defied. i don't worry too much about them. But to be told outright that I was not sticking to the culture and tradition of my community set me thinking. However, my take on culture is different and I want it to remain that way. Culture does not mean being critical of anything that is different to the accepted version. Let changes be welcomed if it is good for society.

Gayu:I don't think you are an insult to any community just because you choose a life style that is suited to your community. Being a good neighbor tops the list of cultural identity.

Its Dee for U:
'We are evolving a multi - lingual, broad minded, multi- national, a very new, more Indian culture. Probably these people are not aware of it.'

Totally agree. Culture is not just a few practiced rituals/tradition. It is more about being a sensible/sensitive human being which is most important.


Nowadays we generally see cultural differences here and there. Offcourse, the entire world is habituated with that change. I am from Telugu background, but when i speak with people in chattisgarh they often consider me as MADRASI.//
i dont know the reason behind it. But, i think difference between the slang and the way we pronounce the language may differ when we deal with certain people with the main places of origin.

These things generally happens everywhere in india. But, the only thing which we can do is that we need to teach our offspring the fundementals of the real origin and culture of our particular language and history,

Hip Grandma said...

Indian Lilliput: welcome here. Any one who is not a North Indian is a Madrasi for Bihari/Jharkhandi and Chattisgarh populations. So you, me as well as kannada speaking/ malayalam speaking peole are all Madrasis out here. the other nick name is Khattas because we consume a lot of tamarind. That apart I think we need to teach children to respect all human beings as well as nature. culture will automatically follow.

Unknown said...

Oh Padma - this multicultural ethos truly goes a long way . I dont know how many purists there are these days anyway .Your gesture of keeping aside a cupful of rice for a needy person would appeal more to God than a meaningless offering to him . I would think it more significant to thank him silently on a daily basis for making us happy and giving us a good deal , no ?

passerby55 said...

Hi! (Preeta) ( i addressed u with) I hope you are doing well. THis space kept reminding me of all the pleasant and golden moments i have shared. I cherish those days. Some moments in life remain glued like Magic.

I share something very similar to what you have mentioned in this post. I know a few others too. I had to pick up my mother tongue, after marriage, I did it. But my kids dont use it at all. SO it is a circle, As far as, i know i dont want my DIL or SIL to speak to me in my mother tongue, They can communicate in sign languages if they had to come from across the borders, I am happy that way too.

Live and let live! I hope we learn this soon...

thank you again! God bless you..

Hip Grandma said...

eve's lungs:ofcourse it is. we normally make delicacies in the name of god and consume it ourselves. i often remark that if Gods really came down and feasted on our offerings we may cut down and make do with less. In our hectic schedule and the kind of terror attacks/train accidents one hears of there is absolutely no need to talk of my culture and your culture. In Mumbai during the recent bombings people got together across culture and community and that in my opinion is true culture.Isn't it?

'As far as, i know i dont want my DIL or SIL to speak to me in my mother tongue, They can communicate in sign languages if they had to come from across the borders, I am happy that way too.'

so typical of you. Ha,ha!i too feel that a son/daughter in law needs to be comfortable in our company and one needs to strive for that rather than talk about cultural superiority.

Tassu said...

Hehe your awesome !!! Loved your thinking and everything else about you ! I'm also an indian , I stay in Kolkata(W.B)I belief one should change with time and as long as you pray to God you can fit in any culture/religion irrespective of what people say , I think the main reason why people bitch about people like you is plain jealously.

Hip Grandma said...

tassu:welcome here. i really do not have a problem with people practising a religion or adhering to certain customs and traditions. But they ought not to determine whether the person is cultured or not. Culture is something different.

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