Typical Tam Brams are bespectacled and brainy. We love our math and curd-rice. Our English grammar is perfect and our vocabulary is extensive, but you may not recognize the words, which are so squeezed and manipulated before they escape the tongue that they sound Tamil. There are also certain particularly polysyllabic words that we love to sprinkle in our conversation; ‘cumbersome’ is one, ‘sumptuous’ is another. A gift is often called a ‘presentation’. We have our own brand of wit, wry and caustic. Given our ‘piure’ vegetarian diet, all our body weight is concentrated in the pia mater; probably from the okra that we love to eat. Alcohol and other intoxicants are officially taboo, so we have spent several generations guzzling gallons of Horlicks.
There are two broad categories of Tam Brams; the Vishnu followers or Iyengars and the Shiva worshippers or Iyers. Somewhere along the way the Iyengars claimed that Vishnu is all pervading. Looks like we Iyers did not protest loudly enough, hence the saying, “The Iyer and Iyer you go the Iyengar you become…”
The center of gravity for most of the Tam Bram community is broadly Chennai and specifically Mylapore, a suburb of Chennai. Show me a Tam Bram from Kutcheri Road Mylapore and I will show you the bluest of Tam Bram blood. Of course there are the zillion or so that live in the US, but then ‘Amerikya’ is a mere extension of Mylapore, so that doesn’t really count.
There is a good reason behind the cosmic connection between the Tam Bram and Uncle Sam: our school system is 10+2+IIT+USA. The Tam Bram journey to IIT begins in the womb. When baby utters his first words, something like 12 12s are 144, amma and appa ecstatically acknowledge that maks (math to you) will be no problem at all for Little Ramanujam.
So anyway, this model papan (synonym for Tam Bram) has lived by the rule book so far. Post IIT, he picked up an Ivy League Masters, a dream job at Intel, an apartment in San Jose. His fame is spreading. The Jaadagam (horoscope) wielding mamis (aunties) at Mylapore Temple, veritable masters at strategic alliances have gotten wind of him. In collusion with the TVS 50 riding, cell phone toting Shastrigals they will hook him up for life before he can say ‘network application’. And he will be riding into the sunset with the tall fair girl from BITS Pilani who is currently completing her PhD at Georgia Tech, and who, incidentally he will set eyes on for first time when they meet briefly at her uncle’s house in Sunnyvale. Once his mom is completely convinced that she can make all 233 variations of rasam, the two are off to the races, to live the American dream and to raise their very own mini Papans. Every Tam Bram probably has a cousin like this guy.
Some pretty famous Tam Brams have graced the earth. Sir CV Raman, Vishwanathan Anand, TN Seshan come as no surprise. Genetics notwithstanding, we have produced some pretty formidable sportsmen – Ramesh Krishnan, K Srikanth and Venkataraghavan have all fought the shackles of a steak-less diet and put us on the map. Jayalalitha is unforgettable with her giant hoardings bringing much-needed shade from the sun. And Mani Ratnam is our stellar contribution to the tinsel world. Everything in moderation is our motto. We dislike surprises, so we plan meticulously for the proverbial rainy day – Sparta may as well be another suburb of Madras. Not only do we drink our water with no ice, many of us do not sip the glass it comes in. We are conservative and cautious, traditional and tame. To quote Quick Gun Murugan of the “Modalla sambar, apparama ni (First sambar, then you)” fame: We are like this wonly!
Are YOU a Tam Bram?
Take the Litmus test – answer this simple question to find out, it’s foolproof.
How do you pronounce the word Hindu? If your D sounded like D as in Dog you’re in, if it sounded like th as in The, you’re out- sorry, wrong DNA, better luck next lifetime.