Ramblings on my recent visit to a Tamil Association Event

By Thathachari (thaths@netscape.com)


Having opted for a no-thesis option I was left research-less on a cold saturday afternoon. As the local Tamil Students Association(TSA) was organizing an event in celebration of Pongal (in the widely accepted, unwritten style of Indian associations, it was held 2 weeks after pongal!!) I decided to "grace the occasion with my presence."; As I was walking down the corridor towards the venue I was partly guided by not-so-young men (obviously professionals who are probably working for Texas Instruments or some such corporate megalith) in trousers and chest hugging tee-shirts and women in shining Kancheepuram silks and crisp cotton salwars. Young ABCD brats were running about in front of the door. They were probably brought along by their anxious parents to get a "taste of their tradition." I went there to get a taste of their 'pOngal'.

I was greeted by a row of tables with tons of forms, tickets and other paraphernalia with men who were obviously office bearers behind them. I tried to locate my name in the Student Members list and save a few hard earned money. No luck. Was disappointed to find that my name was missing. Thought to myself that the membership for which I had paid the year before had probably expired. Doled out eight dollars towards my annual membership and, more importantly, the food. Made sure that they jotted down my name in the membership list (I'd be spared a few dollars during the next event.)

Then had to fill out a couple of forms which were probably intended to gauge the interests of the Tamil community. As an incentive they had announced a prize for a winner who was picked randomly from the people who had turned-in completed forms. I judiciously marked a 'Yes' for the question "Would the attendance of events be more if dinner was to be served during all events?" and a 'No' for the following "Would you pay a few dollars for the food?" After I picked up the coupon with a strange number on it (would I be the lucky one?) I felt strangely like having just received an envelope from the 'Publishers Clearinghouse' with 'You have just qualified for a million dollars' across it.

The crowd was generally split up into two groups - the professionals discussing their mutual funds (men) and school districts (women) on one side and the PIGS (Poor Indian Graduate Students) on the other discussing professors, funding, research and graduation. Interaction between the groups was minimal. The places where these groups met was when a PIG knew a family related to him through some weird extension of his family tree which would have made the Adayar 'Aalamaram' envious.

Not wishing to get caught red handed in a Desi function I swiftly made my getaway to grab a quick half-smoke (I'm trying to quit folks). Families were unloading food from their Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas. Noticed with satisfaction that there were more cans of Coke than Pepsi to accompany the food. Also noticed some Ph.D candidates (poor souls!!) and young professionals (barely out of school) with their F-1 wives in tow. They gave me a strange look as they went in. Greeted a couple of my comrades with "I'm here for the food" lest they started forming impressions about why I was there.

The event for that evening was light music by Raaga - a music troupe from Houston. Eventually entered the auditorium when I was sure that there were enough people inside not make me stand out. An OHP was projecting a Welcome message on a screen. In a fit of patriotic fervour wondered why they don't have a Vanakkam accompanied by some appropriate picture like palms folded in welcome (Have you ever wondered why these palms are always feminine and slender? Definitely not the limbs of a person who cooks at home. I can barely cook and even more barely eat what I cook. But my palms provide stiff competition to the Grand canyon - the result of hundreds of hours spent chopping onions, potatoes and to good measure, my fingers.)

Wondered, for I was in a philosophical mood having spent the major part of the day pondering on the question of my future and always arriving at unpleasant answers, about the young brats wearing kurtas and the like while their fathers were strutting around in Levi's Tight fits (505's?)

The program started off with the EmmCee making all his announcements in English going to such extreme extents to not roll his r's that the effort was plainly obvious. The singing as a whole was mediocre. Considering the fact that those on stage were probably juggling their prowess along with a full time job it was not bad. All songs were accompanied by a person on the drums and another on the keyboards (they call it the Synth nowadays. Don't they?) Seemed to me that the group was well aware of the latest developments (as manifest in the songs blaring out of any Tea 'kadai' worth its name.) in the Indian music scene. Rahman song followed Rahman song with a few itsy bitsy pieces of Raja and Viswanathan songs. The crowd was sombre, clapping at the end of each song. Wondered if they thought that they were in an opera. Surprisingly, the crowd started clapping along with a song from the days of yore. A couple of students lamented the passing away of the "old days when songs had meanings and were not so suggestive." Judging from their visa status (F-1) they were probably not even born when the songs were written. The crowning glory of the whole event was when a 50-ish year old couple enacted a dance around the tress sort of movie dance to the strains of an old Tamil song.

The Srilankan/Eelam Tamils of the net need not feel left out. The most popular song of the whole evening was a Sinhala pop number from the 70-80's which went 'Aiyo maami avalai onnum sollathE'. They even videotaped me clapping vigorously to encourage my dancing chums. As the evening progressed into the night the language barriers came down. Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi songs were belted out by the troupe.

An ABCD girl (who sang the rhetorical 'cHoli kE peechE kYa hai?' last year) was the cynosure (heard that this word is even used to name 'All India Level Student Paper Contests' by certain departments in certain colleges in India, obviously, lacking in imagination) of all eyes for obvious reasons.

The auditorium was filled with families (and their allies) occupying separate regions. The musicians on the stage were accompanied by the audience's becks and calls to their friends across the hall. The brats by now had made the aisle their playground. A few of my friends (those who would most probably get married in the near future) even enjoyed playing with these children (like mock shooting a pudgy kid with fore and middle fingers, extending ones hand in invitation to a handshake to a plump girl in twin bairds.)

Then entered ROM-Key, the self professed "Carnatic Music Fanatic" to add his share of "hours put in at Tamil Sangam functions" accompanied by two videshi women. I wondered what fundas about "India's ancient and precious culture" this guy had given these unsuspecting souls. My heart pondered on the question of why this geek of a guy was popular among the crowd. From the 20 minutes I have spoken to him I could not divine even an ounce of "worth for adoration" in this guy. As usual I assumed that my evaluation of the guy had been wrong.

I joined the queue for the food. charkarai pOngal, a poor lonely vadai (which was most probably pining for a companion), veNN pOngal and gOsth were piled onto my plate. Made a swift exit to the corridor to eat. I added my share to the quota of "I can make better pOngal than this *^^&$" complaints. When trying to sneak in for seconds I saw the pOngal critics grinning sheepishly at me as they were in for seconds too. Not wanting to be told that there were no seconds we all hung around the serving area in the vain hope that someone else would be the first one to ask for seconds.

Once the dinner was over I beat a hasty retreat to my house briefly stopping to buy a bottle of cheap liquor to drown my sorrows about my adviser.

[Most of the events described above actually happened. They have just been slightly twisted around for the sake of humour. The juiciest parts are the ones that actually happened. While writing this I asked myself "Should I be concerned about the Tamil Association Office bearers while writing this?" Then I realised that the only time these people venture into this newsgroup is to swiftly post a 'Pongal celebration in UT, Austin' and beat a hasty retreat. They most probably would not notice this posting]


Footnote
A few hours after I posted this article in Soc.culture.tamil I received a mail from Vidya_Kaushik-R13629Q@email.sps.mot.com:

-----Begin Reproducing Mail----------
>While writing this I asked myself "Should I be
>concerned about the Tamil Association Office bearers while writing   
>this?"
>Then I realised that the only time these people venture into this 
>newsgroup
>is to swiftly post a 'Pongal celebration in UT, Austin' and beat a hasty
>retreat.  They most probably would not notice this posting]

You're wrong, man.  Some of us do read articles in this newsgroup, even 
'ramblings' like yours (:-)!  Anyway, thanks for your opinion.

Vidhya Kaushik
Austin Tamil Sangam
----End Reproducing Mail-------------
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Last Updated Sat Nov 25 16:04:50 PST 2000