The strange Tamizh fascination with caste...
  • My wife had a rather disconcerting episode recently. There is a Tamil family
    here who have recently returned from the US. They have a daughter who is in
    class 6 and who has been thrown into the deep end, learning Kannada. My
    wife, who grew up in Mysore, is fluent in Kannada and offered to teach the
    kid. The mother agreed. The daughter also attended a couple of lessons. Then
    the mother came and told my wife that since the Kannada teacher in school
    was bad, she was going to shift her to a Sanskrit class. So far so good.
    Yesterday, our maid, who works in their house to said that the lady's father
    had raised strong objections to the child being taught by a Brahmin and that
    was the reason for stopping the tuition. We were aghast when we heard that.
    This of course was not the first such incident here. Another Tamil lady,
    stopped talking to my wife once she came to know that we were Brahmins. If
    educated people still have prejudices about caste, how the devil are we ever
    going to get rid of caste?

    Pretty depressed by the whole thing.

    (And this in Bangalore!! I wonder what the feeling is like in Tamizh Nadu).
  • Hi Arun, that is really very unusual in Bangalore..which part of the city do you live? Is it a predominantly tamil area? (Just fyi to you the majority bangalore tamils are not brahmins altho i have rarely heard of them harboring any resentment). Also have not heard much of anti brahmin feelings in Bangalore, even having lived there 25+ years - anti tamil feelings became somewhat common after raise of regionalism in the late 90s but this appears to be different..very unusual indeed..

    If you have time please check out the local Tamil Sangam for friends, used to be near ulsoor lake.

  • Actually, the place we stay (Yelahanka) are very few tamils. In the
    apartment complex we stay in, there are maybe 4 tamil families (out of over
    350). this is why it was strange. These aren't Bangalore Tamilians, so I am
    assuming anti-Brahmin feelings in TN still run deep.
    This was quite incredible for me. And the fact that this happened twice,
    with two different families just reinforced to me that it wasn't an isolated

    Again, the fact that there are so few responses to this on the forum
    probably implies that feelings still run deep or that this is still a
    "touchy" topic to discuss.
  • this is still a
    > "touchy" topic to discuss.

    Yes Arun
    our previous experiences with caste related topics have been heated and caused a lot of ill will.

    writer vikraman yesterday described to us how in malaysia during a writer meet somebody got up and used a offensive caste based term for 3 women writers sivasankari, anuradha ramanan and (somebody else i forget.)
    he also explained how he handled it.


    > Regards,
    > Arun
  • Venketesh,
    The reason I emailed to this group is because I felt that if we can't
    discuss this in this group of educated and enlightened souls, then we really
    have no chance getting rid of "caste" in general. This sort of visceral
    hatred for another group of people is amazing in this day and age.

    One thing I have realized, things might have been pretty bad back then when
    the whole anti-Brahmin thing was started. But I personally am not going to
    feel guilty about anything. At some point or the other, every group of
    people has behaved badly. I mean, is it right to expect all Indian Muslims
    to feel bad about what Ghazni did or the depredations of the Mughals? Or all
    Christians to feel bad about the Inquisitions? Sure people were treated
    badly in the past and the reservation policy has been in effect to make up
    for that (which was very necessary in my opinion). But carrying grudges for
    ages is quite mind-numbing after a while. I personally feel neither proud
    nor apologetic for my lineage. I am what I am and it has nothing to do with
    what "group" I am identified with.

    Anyway, just hoping for some general enlightenment in the population. Maybe
    we should all become communists for a while. As I have mentioned here
    before, Bengal is the least caste-conscious place I have seen. How wonderful
    if our Tamizh Nadu could be the same. Else, all we would have is the same
    talk about our Tamizh "kalacharam", whatever that might be!
  • Very well said Arun. Actually caste and race issues will always be touchy, there is no easy way around that. My experience has been like this - ideally i would not like association with any group for good or bad and try to see others in same way. But when you are with others who strongly identify with their 'groups' be it race or caste it is very difficult for you to be neutral since it becomes a gang war of sorts and every human has a natural need to defend ourselves when that happens.

    I was surprised to hear Bengal is least caste conscious? Well perhaps I have seen lot of very stuck up Bengalis to be honest. Some time ago we had a discussion on Keralite culture, Bengali culture is very similar to that, a superiority/pride that often turns others off.

    Just some random thoughts, take care, hope you dont have furthe experiences like this in Bangalore!! It pains me sometimes to see how much the culture of the city has changed in the name of progress starting from environmental to cultural degradation, Bangalore is a PhD's delight for a study on degradation now.

  • I agree that Bengalis tend to be very proud of their culture (somewhat like
    us Tamils isn't it?). That air of cultural superiority might be irritating,
    but it is definitely not caste based.
  • is one bigotry better than another?
    language, caste, race, colour, religion dont we have a bigots in all


    That air of cultural superiority might be irritating,
    > but it is definitely not caste based.
    > Regards,
  • I don't think you can call it bigotry exactly Venketesh. Bigotry deals with
    hatred for something. The Bengali or Tamil love for their culture or
    language is smugness rather than bigotry. I would use the word bigotry with
    great care. Quite a few things are branded as bigotry without actually being
  • My experience after a few years in Calcutta is that the Bengali pride is very different from ours and more similar to Keralites. Of course i am 100% aware of the fact that we are generalizing here. Tamils do not have a 'superiorty feeling' (or atleast we are very poor at showing it!!) we only have pride and affinity perhaps. Keralites and Bengalis actually harbor a sense of superiority and dislike being compared to others. I have rarely met a Bengali who does not believe their contribution to indian culture is superior and more than other states - Bengalis don't even like to be called 'northern indians', they are extremely intelligent and well educated generally but will never compliment any other state or sub culture openly. For them Bengal is India and vice versa.

    Another classic perhaps very positive evidence of this pride - there are no movie fan clubs anywhere in Kerala or Bengal. Nobody is elevated to higher level by populist strategies and it is only ego/intelligence that scores. And dont' get into an argument on this with any Bengali you are more than likely to back off if you see the reaction!!
  • Agree with this and possibly, they have had significant contributions
    through the 19th and 20th centuries (at least first half of the 10th
    century). One thing I admire is the lack of a feudal attitude at least among
    the educated. Unlike our habit of "thalaivar and thondan) there is, like you
    said, more emphasis on intellectual ability.
    Example, if you look at a political rally in Kolkata, you will find people
    from all walks of life, lawyers, scientists, engineers, bankers etc etc..
    Not like our rent-a-lorry-crowd with more of the thalaivar-thondan types.
  • Exactly and that is an admirable quality, the lack of hierarchy, it is same way in Kerala too excpet Kerala is more divided on religious lines than Bengal.
  • I was fascinated with my last trip to Kolkatta.
    It was a pleasant surprise for me to see school kids in their later teens visiting the Tagore museum observing and taking notes on various poems etc
    The place itself was very serene. Well maintained and clean kept. The people who visited it seem to understand the importance of the place.
    I was impressed.

    We have monuments too, but I am yet to find kids interested in reading about them.

    Kolkatta has produced some of the finest scholars in time, whereas we from the quotes of 'Nagareshu Kaanchi' have gone down to 'rent a lorry'. It it aint so pathetic, it would be counted as sad.

    - R
  • Dear Friends Malathi & Arun,
    What does 'Thalaivar & Thondan' mean?
  • Kathie, 'thalaivar' is a leader/head, 'thondan' - follower/disciple.


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