Mehmood in Padosan 1968

To understand the dark side of stereotyping one need not look much beyond India. Let’s start with some basics about Tamizh, or ‘Tamil’ men. A dark rounded man with three white stripes on his forehead and a badly matched turban is NOT Tamizh. And gasp!!! Definitely NOT  “South Indian”. If the intention is to represent Iyer men alone, this is still a failed attempt. Really? Yes, ‘coz Iyers hardly ever (I don’t say never – only hardly ever) wear turbans.

And here’s the surprise. Iyer men form a mere fraction of the group we may now call “South Indian Men”. Such a representation is an affront to the vast majority of Tamizh, and other South Indian men – here I remind you that Hindus apart, that there is a large Christian and Muslim population living in the southern states. Even if we are considering the “Hindu” populace among South Indian men – Iyers are by far a minority.

And now, turning to the all-important issue of the turban – men from very few communities in South India wear turbans on a daily basis. It is often a sign of some honor accorded to them or worn by heads of large families, village leaders etc. It is considered an insult to wear a headgear when a senior person is present. Yes.

As far as “rounded man” goes I can only say obesity is not as much a problem in South India despite the regular & staple consumption of rice. I shall be back with some researched data about this assumption of mine

Till then let me leave you with a thought – Tamizh (not South Indian) men are called “Singham” (Lion). If you can get out of the juvenile image of the very offensive movie I know you are attempting to recall right now, let me direct your attention to the fact that here are no obese lions.

Tamizh men, and women for that matter, do not use “Aiyoo” all that often.

One last thought – Clubbing all states south of Odisha as ‘Madrasis’ is just as wise and bright as calling Punjabis, Rajasthanis,& Gujaratis the same. As far back as I remember, the Northeastern States have been battling a ‘Chinki’ bias and taking pride in their individuality. Maharashra, Gujarat, and Goa are distinct and each beautiful in its own way. J & K is not Himachal, Haryana is not Uttar Pradesh. All South Indian states are NOT Madrasi. I am almost as proud of being Tamizh as I am of being Indian. Almost.

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On Being Indian…

I was born Tamizh. Into a household that is strictly Tamizh. I did not grow up in Tamil Nadu, though. But that, perhaps, is my greatest strength. Like all other cultural communities that live geographically far from their roots, my community also carries “Tamizh” in its very soul. We have, quite successfully, held on to and fostered our cultural practices in trying to preserve them – to pass them on to successive generations. We have, like all such “non-resident” communities, preserved Tamizh language and culture a tad better than those who live in Tamil Nadu itself – since Tamizhs who live in the state do not resist change. They fear not losing their cultural identity.

As I have already mentioned, I grew up in a different part of the country. My parents spoke the local language better than the locals did. We adopted the local festivals and celebrated them in addition to our own. We lived dual lives. At home, in our community, we prided ourselves in preserving our traditions. At work, in school, among friends, we lived their lives – blending effortlessly – talking their talk, walking their walk, donning their clothes, reading their literature, singing their songs.

I married into yet another community from a different part of India. Another love affair – taking on new food habits, picking up that subtle lilt of the language, identifying with the yearnings in their music, liking their colors, learning their biases.

I lived for a few years in the capital of my country and traveled extensively through yet another state. Making friends, calling the land my “pind”, almost embracing yet another religion, learning to talk the tongue.

In this colorful hotchpotch of my life never have I once forgotten who I really am – an Indian. I have revered my constitution above all my religious texts; I have loved my country with as much intensity as any child would love its mother. I have taken pride in my identity as an Indian. To the courts of my country I accord a sanctity above everything else.

Do I live in the real world? With corruption taking the lead as the dirty ‘C’ word, not cancer? Do I read the news? Do I know that judges are bribed, lawyers are corrupt, and that people die before their age-old cases are resolved? Do I live in the very country where accusations and arrests have been doled out en masse and yet the person guilty of the rape and murder of a 14-year-old has not been brought to books? Do I know that the penultimate body for investigation in my country is not beyond failure or even suspicion?

I do.

I also see the need to start somewhere. If I start with doubt and distrust I cannot manage to live in my country, in any country. I see the need to repose my faith at least in certain offices, in certain processes. Else I shall not be able to survive – here. Anywhere.

So when the law enforcement agency of my country arrests 26 people for the brutal murder of a national leader, I believe they have evidence. When a special court sentences them to capital punishment, in full glare of the media and a population of 1.21 billion, I believe these evidences have been examined, witnesses called for, and guilt established beyond doubt.

I believe that the right to appeal is available to every individual, criminal or not, in my country. When an appeal is made with the Supreme Court against the sentence, I pride myself in the opportunities my law accords. When the capital punishment of 22 of the 26 is reduced to “varying terms of imprisonment” I believe that the ultimate judicial forum and highest court of appeal of my country has not whimsically chosen four random individuals to hang.

When the four appealed to the President of my country, I believe that my constitution allows for mercy, the most human of virtues. When the wife of the leader whose assassination is being deliberated endorses the appeal of one of them, in the interests of the child of an accused, I do not question her political motives but wait patiently for the President’s response. I believe that the President, or at least her good office, has gone through the due process of referring to the Home Minister. That the recommendations have been duly considered, debated, discussed – I do not know but I choose to believe.

When the mercy petitions of three are rejected I believe that the constitutional process has been upheld. I do not need to know which party the assassinated leader belongs to;  nor do my own political inclinations matter. I choose to honor my country and the leadership chosen by the billions of my countrymen.

When the date for the capital punishment draws close, I do not create confusion and promote rumors. I believe that my role as an Indian is larger than my feelings of communal brotherhood. I do not, with casual geniality, call for us to “Forget and Forgive”. I do not hold candle light marches and do not acquiesce in threats of secession. I do not play a round of vote-bank politics or call for Tamizhs across the globe to sympathize with the criminals. I just do not want to hang my head in shame. I AM and want to be only an Indian.