Part one of a multiple part post – there are so many aspects to it that I want to do justice to it.
Disclaimer (as usual): Everything here is my opinion alone. I am open to discussion and debate and remember, we can always agree to disagree.
As I watch viral videos on social media networks of a famous RJ from Chennai, sarcastically object to a high-court order and make completely invalid arguments, I get agitated, and then sad. Off-late, I have begun to notice the north-Indian hating brigade in the southern parts of the country go from strength to strength. I have watched a distastefully done stand-up comedy that is getting wildly popular in Chennai and the Tamil settlements around the world, base all its laughs on criticizing people living north of the Vindhyas, their film industry and rallying their audience to continue hating them even more. Having had the privilege of living in both very different parts of the country, I get defensive of the north, even though personally, I have no preference. India is one and wonderfully different, I have thought to myself all these years. But off-late the simmering hate is slowly rising to the surface due to the freedom of polarizing hate speech being afforded to us by the anonymity of social media.
In my opinion, language is central to this difference. The establishment of Hindi as a national language angers the native Tamil speakers and I see lots of commentary extolling the virtues of this ancient language and emphasizing its importance over Hindi. To me, this in itself is a sign of insecurity. No one can take away the beauty and history of an ancient language and both the southern region and language thrive in the area in the form of books, periodicals, dramas, movies, dialects, scholars and all the instruments indicative of a very active language. Why then, openly hate and criticize a newer language spoken much more widely just because it is different? Tamil sounds very different from a farsi-Persian originated Hindi because its roots are so distinct. I am no language expert but commenting on why one language is more important than the other and basing all your hate on it is a sign of weakness. One must introspect at what exactly Hindi language is threatening ? Doesn’t learning another language open portals to a whole new world? The hate of “Hindi” is something I find extremely absurd and irritating. I am a fluent Hindi speaker and I am a self-taught Tamil speaker and I relish the joys of being able to explore two wholly distinct cultures and their literature. Although I must add, the formal register (news) of the Tamil language is alien to me, but sounds so rich! I hope that someday, I can understand what they say without resorting to pictures and/or English translations!
Cuisine is central to this vast difference in opinion. Here, the situation is a bit more complex. ‘Chapatis’ or ‘Rotis’ are now very popular as healthy alternatives to low-starch diets in Chennai. Cooks in Chennai with limited culinary skills, who are more a necessity in homes with older family members or busy couples, are also now adept at making them. My mom recalls periods of time where people ate them as delicacies in Chennai. But that is no longer the case. While people are embracing the idea to add a wheat-based item in their culinary palette, they are so sensitive to being told about the inclusion of coconut in everything. The comedy troupe I mentioned earlier in the post, they were wild about the ‘Lungi-dance’ song that pointed out how south Indians add coconut to their lassi. And pray, why get riled by that? Coconut grows in abundance in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and is delicious and nutritious and by default is added to most dishes. Why suddenly point out how North Indians eat “Chapati” all the time? That is because wheat typically grows there. I have begun to notice south-Indians avoid food/snacks labeled as ‘Punjabi’ or ‘Marathi’ despite their deliciousness since they are from the “North”. This, despite them being highly educated, with multicultural education and travelling the world on a daily basis. The subtle signs of dislike and hate, slowly creep into the generations to follow despite the connectivity, communication and accessibility to one another. It really is a shame, that we are trying so desperately to shut ourselves off from each other, when science and the social media are actually meant to connect all of us together and bridge our differences.
PS: I am not being specific to the people that immediately surround me when I mention my observations. Superficially, you might dismiss these arguments and observations as stemming from an unfortunate mix of society I live in, but underneath that shiny exterior, these old feelings of dislike and the tendency to isolate and cocoon ourselves from anyone different, continue to thrive. If you comment that my comments are from the point of view of south-Indians alone, I tend to write other viewpoints in the future installments.