Archive for December, 2012

Why am I a Madraasi?

Bangalore seemed like a pretty strange place to me when I was a kid, the first 10 years of my life.  Some things stared out at me as very different from my “hometown”, New Delhi, where I grew up.  Bangalore people were much nicer and friendlier and knew about 5 languages. In Delhi too people knew about 4 languages – Hindi, Punjabi, Angrezi and Bad Language, the one punctuated with abuses or “gaalis”.  In Bangalore everybody asked everybody “coffee aitha” or “oota aitha” and “yenu adige” which I thought was weird, because in Delhi they asked no such thing and just said “Ram Ram”.  There were no ceiling fans then in Bangalore, well, in most houses.  It was an air-conditioned city.  Small “Cinni” table fans were there on stools and table.  There were mosquito nets everywhere.  And no one drank tea, it was kapi and coffee everywhere. Food was different, fruits were different.  I loved the “halasina thole” and “gini moothi mavinakai”.  I could not find lichis anywhere which I loved in Delhi.  I saw liquor and booze flowing freely and most kids had beer like Coke in the evening, which was disconcerting till I too started drinking and looked forward to my Bangalore visits.  In contrast even adults in Delhi had to line up in front of a state sponsored ration shop to buy liquor.

It took three days to get to Bangalore from Delhi every summer holiday and I used to look forward to the train ride on  Grand Trunk Express.  We used to get a half day halt at “Madras”.  I would love the Marina beach trip my parents took me to after locking up the train compartment.  We would return to Madras station in the night and reach Bangalore in the morning.  During my first few years we used to take the “Yattina Gaadi” to Chamarajapet 5th Main Road and reach my grandfather’s house.

Back in Delhi we were called “Madraasis” and were a sort of outcasts.  For all Delhites and Punjabis, everyone south of Mumbai was a Madraasi.  We Madraasis spoke good English.  Our tribe made good neighborhood English and Maths teachers for Punjabi kids.  In the eyes of Delhites the Madraasis drank strong funny “filter” coffee but still were puny fellows and could be easily frightened by a strong Punjabi glare or a simple “gaali”.  They knew we Madraasis were only fit for teaching their kids English and doing sarkari jobs, while they set up businesses and made money.  Poor guys they would never learn to speak English well like us Madraasis.  “Running is business is risky you know”, we Madraasis said to each other.  You could lose all your money.  After all what good is running after money, anyway, we Madraasis thought.

I finally became a great fence sitter.  I loved Delhi and loved Bangalore, did not know which I liked more.  I loved the touch-me-not plants in Bangalore and spent hours touching them and waiting for the leaves to spread out again.  There were none in Delhi.  To impress my Biology teacher in Delhi, I potted a “Muttidare Muni” plant and took it to Delhi all the way in the train.  The whole class of Madraasi Delhites were”maha” thrilled and I was a celebrity.

My Dad used to tune in daily to Vividh Bharati at 4:15 pm sharp.  There was 15 minutes of Bhaavageethe in 4 Madraasi languages, “Kannad”- as Delhites would call it, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.  And there was 15 minutes of film songs in the same 4 languages.  Every third day “Nityotsava” was played.  Every third day “Uttara Dhruva Din Dakshina Dhruva Ku” was played.  I never understood the songs then.  How significant I find the meaning of these songs now.  I was drawn by the “chumbaka ghali” the magnetic wind of the North to the South and loved it at both places.  These 30 minutes were all the Kannada we heard in daily life.

And then there was Kannada Bharati in Delhi, just like our NEKK.  Movies were screened every 2 months at least.  I remember visits by celebrities too – by LV Prasad, Dr. Rajkumar and many more.  BV Karanth, MS Sathyu and Girish Karnad were frequent visitors.  I was entranced by the beautiful Jayaprada and Raajkumar in “Huliya Haalina Mevu”.  So after every Bangalore visit I would ask my Mom, why can’t we stay in Bangalore?  Why are we living like Madraasis here?  Why are we called Madraasis?  “Gottilla – sumne iru” she said and promised one day we would live there.

Then I moved to Bengaluru in 1985.  It was a new freedom for me.  I could shout at people on the road while driving and get away with it.  In Delhi I would be at the bad end of a lathi and get hurt.  My grand mom sent me to a “moole angadi” Lavanya store to get some “bele”.  I went adventurously and came back empty handed. Why didn’t you tell me the board would only be in Kannada, I asked her?  I can’t read Kannada.  I grew up a Madraasi for God’s sake!

Then I met my neighbor in Bangalore, a nice girl called Jyothi.  Our parents thought we’d make a good match. We did the “usual get to know each other” discussion at Pavitra Hotel in Jayanagar.  She asked me why my Kannada was no good?  Did I know how to read and write Kannada?  I said no, I grew up in Delhi, how could I?  I said, do you know how to read and write Hindi?  She said yes, which kind of made me look like a fool.  I said, hey, I can read and write Tamil and I went to a Tamil school in Delhi, I proudly declared.  She said uh-huh really?  We both decided to get married on the condition that I learn the Kannada script.  Now it is since 21 years she has been trying to make me learn the Kannada script and I have not yet started.

Growing up in multiple cultures is fun.  I was in all places in India – Delhi, Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Mumbai and met great Kannadigas everywhere.  Wish they were not shy to speak Kannada, though.  I found Gujarati shopkeepers in Mumbai, Chennai talking more comfortably to me in Kannada, than several Mumbai hoteliers who were originally from Karnataka.

Why are Kannadigas so shy of calling themselves Kannadigas I really wonder?  Even in Bangalore.  Even now when I visit Bengaluru, I try speaking in Kannada.  “Yenri, namaskara?”, I say to the Immigration guy.  The immigration guys usually will say “Good morning Sir, what is the purpose of your visit, Sir?”  “Sumne bandidini swamy, Kannada kelokke” I would like to say!  It is tough to get Kannadigas to talk in Kannada.

My sister in Bangalore has an Oriya cook.  I tried some Oriya with him 2 months ago.  He replies, “Yenu Saar, Kannada baralva, forgotten Kannada in US?”  I loved that and ate his Bisi Bele Baath with gusto.

One thing I really wait for in Kannada is my friend and the tabla maestro, Rajesh Pai’s Kannada jokes in the NEKK (New England Kannada Koota) Facebook page.  I plead with my wife to read them out to me.  She obliges thankfully and reminds me for the millionth time to learn the Kannada script in accordance with our marriage vows.  I tell her I can read Madraasi, dear!  You will forever be a Madraasi, she says, till you learn Kannada.  Maybe I will, someday.  Kalithini, Kalithini…alli tanaka solpa adjust maadi.


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