Tam Bram I am!

By Rohini Mohan
I was raised for the most part in Madras (which I can never bring myself to call Chennai), and am as Tamilian as they come. But it was not until I went to Delhi to study that I realized that not only am I an Illad, which is BITS Pilani jargon for anyone from Chennai, but also a Tam Bram, short for Tamilian Brahmin, deserving of my own peculiar little niche. My irreverent peers who neither knew of nor cared for any form of political correctness mercilessly branded every rookie who walked in the door, slotting us by our accents, our body language and our other idiosyncrasies. It was all one grand joke, but as I thought about it, I figured there is logic to the stereotyping. I shall proceed to unveil some unique Tam Bram attributes as gently as I can, but this is not for the overly sensitive or easily offended, so caveat lector….    

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.  

34 thoughts on “Tam Bram I am!

  1. Karthik Balasubramanian

    Well written piece though our community no longer fits well to its stereotypes. You missed the carnatic music part though.
    Karthik

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  2. Rekha Nair

    What a neat little, entertaining piece! The author has humorously captured the essence of the TAM BRAM stereotype. However, I can’t help wondering whether tam bram is too narrow in its definition. What about the innumerable differences that exist within its sub-species such as the Palghat Iyer? The author mentions several vintage male Tam Brams and only one (sorry excuse) female Tam Bram. So, is the term more applicable to men than to women? Then is it Tam Bram or Tam Brahm(in)? These are somethings to think about.

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  3. Prabhu MC

    In an era where the need of the hour is to throw race, religion & caste prejudices to the wind, we still have people – educated though, glorifying achievements of individuals on race and cast lines.

    In all likely hoods it might take a few more generations when this world gets rid of caste and religion based divisions.

    Wish good send prevails at least on the upcoming generations to lead the world to a caste less and secular society.

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  4. Manu

    Well, I happen to have a Tam Bram girlfriend and I loved the piece.

    You guys are a very lovable lot, I can’t understand why Tam Brams are so maligned by certain authors..

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  5. vpdot Post author

    It is a pretty close and inter-related community as I have been discovering recently. Husband( who is neither Tam nor Bram) suggested a reference to an article on Jewish intelligence in Slate by William Saletan which could be used as a template for the superiority TamBrams feel! Here is the link:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2177228/nav/tap3/

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  6. Tyson Iyengar

    Pretty lame, just like what an Iyer would write. You need to get to tiruvallikeni, not mylapore to get to the real stuff, Tam Iyengar Bram, boy…And not every tam bram drinks Horlicks, and likes math..Go Physics.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Vadivel KomaliVilasan

    Hey there, i thought this was pretty articulate and humor is well stitched into the message.
    On a different note, I unfortunately happen to be a tam bram and hope to change this stereotype. Sunnyvale btw is filled with the most “give up” people on the planet. To add to your stereotype, how about men and women with an apology for a physique, the most unsophisticated accent, bald headed losers with pot bellies and mustaches. They’ll sit around enslaved in tech drudgery in their sorry cubes while morons with no intelligence, but armed with nothing but a flashy B(aka: BS)school degree will rake in the millions, the model wives and the lifestyle with a 6 pack in the making.

    To all those who disagree, i couldnt care less. To the author, thanks for writing a beautiful article again.

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  8. Nadagamidi Guddinchi

    candid confessions from a tambram! i have definitely witnessed many instances of this stereotype. but i agree with mr. vadivel komalivilasan that most of them are quite satisfied fitting into this stereotype mold. while tam brams (most of em) are smart people, i have observed that they are risk-averse and complacent when it comes to moving way past the “stereotype threshold”.

    i don’t know about millions and model wives.. but i’m yet to see a tambram who questions religion. instead they mindlessly pass it down to the next generation.

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  9. a.chakravarti

    😆
    Loved this post, despite being an “iyer-order” Iyengar!
    Just one peeve: We Mysore Iyengars are very true-very blue Tam Brams too, even if our reference is Vantikoppal Srinivasar kovil instead of Mylapore. (Legend is that our forebears migrated outwards from TN and spread wisdom and learnedness in their wake…) We have just as much thayir-saadham, vendekka and rasam coursing through our veins as the Madrasi papaan. And we do just as much mana-kanakku. So there!
    To the critics: We are laughing at ourselves – it’s a good thing. If caste/race superiority is what you see, you have self-esteem issues. If Iyer Vs Iyengar is what you see, my dear fellow-iyengar, you must be very insecure!!!

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  10. V.Kumar

    Excellent presentation. I agree with every bit of it. Are you 10+2+IIT and USA by chance?. Good level of thinking make it an interesting reading. Best wishes.

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  11. kumarshankaran aiyar

    😉 😆
    superb Vidya. Romba nana irundudu ketela.

    I am a tam bram and had been born and brought up in Kolkata, lived there for over 30 yrs, my parents migrated 5 decades ago. In Kol we do have a parallel ‘pappan’ community operating, with Avaniyavattam, Gokulashtami , Navaratri celebrations of Mami’s and Akkas walking with 2 mozums of mullai poo on their well oiled hair and sarak sarak in Kanjeepuram pattu all across. Though, I happen to converse inBong and consider myself 90 % Bong, I am too proud about the TAMBRAM lienage. Even today I keep the traditional Filter coffee [ a very restricted delicacy] a cup i would sneak out in a restuarant in Abu Dhabi [I live here]. Ofcourse, I have converted an Amchi Mumbai Mallu [Priya my wife] to like the ever mouthwatering Rasam and Thayir sadam with all the seasoning intact. My son Siddhu has been pestering me to teach him Tamil ……….

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  12. RAM

    Very Interesting study of a true brahmin , but where is the “Brahmannyam”, its lost. Similar to one popular saying that: Hinduism as a practice has regressed, though Hindu wisdom is the most evolved.

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  13. ashwath

    A beautifully written blogpost.. Jokes apart our community needs to shed the materialistic cravings and help in shaping the real India. Jai Hind!

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  14. verytamandverymuchbram

    This article is for the eyes of madras tambrams only, it’s so true and great..I guess, the others would never be able to relate it that much…too bad for them!! However, the test is not valid for tambrams migrated to Europe..the ‘th’ gets inside you there!!:)

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  15. Radika

    Congratulations on a very amusing article on my ethnic stereotype, though I am from the other nerdy heritage (Chemistry, not Computers; Stella Maris and MCC before Univ of Wisconsin (a Cow College, and very proudly not Ivy League AT ALL;  11 +1 +3 +2 +UW, so from another era). Other difference would be Raja Annamalai Puram / Mandhaiveli via Woraiyur from ???? Tanjore stock  😆

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  16. Praksy

    Awesome article…. lol…. but trust me not all TamBrams are into math…. I was a science student till +2… i hated math… I did not take up any engineering entrance exam… (III was not a dream… it was a nightmare)…. And trust me my mom does NOT want a tambram DIL…. I hate horlicks….But i love my curd rice… and i love it even more when my mom calls it “tacchi mammu”!

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  17. Jyoti

    LOL!! awesome article on Tambrams!!
    I take it that it takes a true Tambram to an article like this one. Excellent observation.
     But hey, tambrams also make good lawyers and CAs. I agree with Kartik (above), you missed out the carnatic music part. Classical carnatic music is an integral part of a typical Tambram household. 

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  18. prashanth

    actually mylapore is a neighborhood in chennai
    but hell yeah most of my cousins have followed the above script to the word

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  19. Gopal

    Correction. Summary: Iyers are not Shiva worhshippers, it is just that Iyengars will worship only (exclusive) Vishnu (and his consorts) and no one else.

    Iyers are smartas – inclusive of all deities in Sanatana Dharma.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartism

    You may find as many Iyers named after Vishnu/Lakshmi as named after Shiva/Parvati. Iyers favorite deity may be any – including Vishnu.

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  20. MockJay

    I stumbled upon this article while searching for dosa batter on Google.. LOL. Even though this is a rather old article, I would still like to comment and hope to get your response back. I must say you have captured the unique trappings of Tam Bram traits . I could resonate most with “sumptuous”(my father says this a lot), “cumbersome” and “Hindu”. I often get annoyed when they say HinDu, SAnskRiT(rhyming with “basket”), HyDeraBAD etc., My mom even goes so far as to pronounce sanskriti as sAnskRiTi. It’s ironic how brahmins are touted as vedic scholars and they are so sanskrit-ically challenged. Go figure. But if it’s any consolation, my telugu-bram in-laws from Hyderabad also pronounce many of the sanskrit words similarly. So, maybe it’s not something unique to T-Bs, after all.

    I’m afraid I did not agree with a lot of things you portrayed as typical tam bram. The number of T-B parents that raise their kid to study at IIT must be an insignificant minority compared to their entire population. I was also raised in urban Chennai and studied in a top CBSE school, and I know the number of people who prepare for IIT exams and those who finally make the cut is a very small number, and hence is hardly worthy of stereotyping. The Ivy league is also not appropriate of being tagged as tam-bram territory. I mean, I don’t know a single person who studied at the Ivy League, and I know a lot of T-Bs like me who don’t know either.

    A general observation I made is that today’s brahmins are not so good at English grammar and vocabulary as much as our parents and grandparents were. My major gripe is that so many of them eat meat and stuff, but they still maintain their condescending demeanor because they are born brahmins. All said, even though I outwardly scoff at anyone identifying themselves as tam-bram (generally, I don’t wear the identity on my sleeve, I’m rather low-profile about it), I am inwardly proud of all the nice things that come with being tam bram, not the least of which are being vegetarian, sattvik nature, self-respect and kalyana samayal :).

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  21. kw

    Sad and lame, not even stereotypical, sunk way below that. I grew up in a TB household, and the humanities and creative sides and sports are given equal importance. Many of my gen did not go the engg route. As for alcohol taboo, get out and see the world. never had horlicks.

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