The conventional wisdom says, the positives have to be discussed first and only then the negatives should follow. That's what my experience in the corporate world also has taught. That's what we do in appraisals, right?! I know that there are lots of stereotypes. Even some of my close friends who like me as a person have talked to me with that prejudice. In my opinion, some of them are valid and some are not. In the online world as well, a lot of things have happened of late. It has become so much easier to spread hatred these days. All I can assure you now is that I will try my best not to exaggerate things and irritate you if you are one such person who is so irritable to such discussions. I would just look at things objectively based on my experiences with people from Tamil Nadu as well as others. Even if you conclude that I am biased after reading this, I have only one request for you. Please wait till I complete the next series on the negatives, which I am sure would be bigger and more interesting to you than this.
And, I generally hate generalizations. Most of the times, I consider those who make generalized statements either funny or immature. So, whatever I am saying here are not applicable to every Tamilian. In this age of modernization where most of us travel across borders, I don't think there is any common trait that 'everyone' in a particular group possesses. However, there are patterns. We shall talk only about them. Needless to day, that also means, there are exceptions to everything that we talk about. Sometimes the exceptions could be more than the examples we have. So beware! And, I don't believe in irritating people by attributing individual weaknesses to groups. However, it's better to be aware of these patterns that I am talking about. It's good for those in question to be aware of their strength and weakness because the awareness of strengths would help them get energized at times of difficulties and the weaknesses would help them in correcting some of their problems easily. For others who interact/work with them, awareness of the other party's strengths would help in setting expectations and the weaknesses would help in being prepared for the worst while interacting/working with them. :)
Here we go. These are the ten things that make me proud of being a Tamilian (Let me remind you again - Those of you who are irritated with this bragging (those who don't like Tamilians being proud about 'anything'!), please be patient for a few weeks. You would surely hear everything that you like to hear in the next series! :)
1. The Language:
Experts say that the number of languages alive will slowly go down as we get more and more global. A well-known Tamil poet once said eventually there would be just sixty languages in the world and Tamil would be one of them. All other languages would have a natural death. Not just Tamil, I would say around 15 Indian languages would be among that sixty. But, Tamil would be one of the last few to die in those 15. Why? The people who speak the language are so fond of it and its literature. This interest has always been there from time immemorial. The scholars back home are cribbing that the current generation is losing interest in the language. But, after seeing the current generations from other places, I think Tamil is dying slower than others. Its antiquity, simplicity, rigid grammar, resourceful literature, readers market (it's all markets now, you see!), the relentless efforts by our people in translating every new word... all these are keeping that interest alive. Even the movie dialogues could be added to the above list. Though the habit of reading (especially in regional languages) is dying down all over the country now, it's comparatively better in Tamil Nadu. The sales of newspapers, weekly magazines and other journals are comparatively better here. The habit of writing poems is prevalent across the state - though they are all love poetry mostly and most of them are crap. I was astonished by the number of people that came for a poetry competition when I was in college. Even today, the amount of Tamil content on web is incomparably huge. No other Indian language has so much content online. Though most of the credit goes to the Sri Lankan Tamils for that, I am sure that is a clear indication that the language is not going to die so soon.
I am yet to be fully convinced that a particular ethnic group needs to have a special history of its own. Because, the day someone says I have a history of my own, it becomes a problem for the equality. It means either others have to admit that they are inferior or they would be forced to cook up their own hi-stories. But, many a times, having a respectable history does help in many ways. That itself wouldn't allow you to compromise on certain basic values. So, my stand on that is, if it could serve as the foundation for your value system, history is good. Recently I was reading a book of Mr. M S Udayamurthy. He explains why reminding of one's own history is so important even if it is exaggerated bragging. It helps people to regain their lost confidence. It makes those who do not believe in themselves to start believing in their abilities - by talking about their forefathers who did great things with the same or more limitations and constraints. But, we also see a lot of people who just boast of their background and use it to just cover up their misdeeds.
Maybe because we were just next to the sea and at the end of the peninsula's land area, every invader who succeeded everywhere else was finally defeated here or stopped from entering our land. There was no other go for our rulers. They had to be aggressive. You should either fight back or jump into the Indian Ocean. It was literally between the devil and the deep blue sea for them whenever there was an invasion. Even the invaders who conquered our land could only disintegrate our beliefs and the language to some extent but nobody could destroy them completely. They are still alive in some form. If you look at the picture below, you could see till where the Chola Empire had its presence. I don't believe in proving one's superiority by invading someone else's land. But, that was not the age of human rights. The mankind was not that mature. I feel so disturbed when I think of what all they would have done to prove their superiority by invading like that. But, that was the way of life then. When it becomes a matter of survival - either you or me not both, killing is always better than getting killed, right?
I think, it all started during the Chola dynasty. It's happening even today. As I said earlier, I don't believe in conquering someone else's land for that madness is what has made this world so unsafe today. It's that madness that has given birth to so many terrorist groups. That's what is the reason behind most of the wars waged on this planet. But, as we discussed earlier, it was the way of life at some point in time. Killing was better than getting killed. Animal instinct! There are many stories around how our people conquered faraway lands at that time itself. There is one group of such people who entered the Lankan island when Rajaraja Cholan invaded them (Please note that there are also native Lankan Tamils in today's Sri Lanka!). It doesn't mean that they have to be treated as second class citizens or all of them have to be sent back to their mother land now. They wouldn't even know which originally is their place in today's Tamil Nadu if they come back. Even those who invaded India after that period have been accepted as Indian citizens. That's what should have happened there. It didn't happen. They didn't even accept the native Tamils as sons of the soil just because they were less in number. That helped the Tamil race to spread all across the world. Today, they are in far-away places which even Rajaraja Cholan didn't conquer. Unfortunately, they had to go with the tag of refugees this time.
Not only that, our history and literature say, we had business connection with Greece and Rome in the Chola period itself. One guy even said Cleopatra was born to a Tamil mother because she is black and in the period she was born there was a lot of cultural exchange between them and the Chola nation. It may be an exaggerated lie but what is true is the strong presence of our people in those lands during those early days of human civilization.
Another info - You may know that Columbus discovered America. You may know the statistics around how much of Indian population is there in the USA today. Do you know who was the first Indian to go to the USA? His name was Madras Man. He went from the then Madras (Chennai) to the USA by ship and landed in Massachusetts in 1790. That's why he is called Madras Man. His original name might be a Ramaswamy or Subramanian. That's how we have always been - travelling all across the world and exploring unknown areas. Maybe because that's how our land has always been - dry and useless. Today, it looks like there is no country that doesn't have Tamils.
5. Our Movies:
I don't disagree with you on the point that Kodambakkam (the place where all studios are/were there in Chennai) dumps as much garbage on every Friday as Chennai Corporation lorries do every day. But every now and then it is bringing out the best talents that arrive from different corners of the country (please note that there are people from all over the country in the industry - not just one particular ethnic group or locals). The industry has matured so much that such talented people keep trying something new and innovative though they keep cribbing about not getting their due recognition and money by being so. The only problem I have with them is... our politics would have been little more decent if those who come to the industry restrict themselves to just acting and writing. They go beyond their limits, cheat our foolish people, make politics also as dramatic as their movies and make histories. Only that increases our blood pressure. Otherwise, nobody can deny the contribution the industry has done to this form of art by bringing out the best talents like Sivaji Ganesan, A R Rahman and Mani Ratnam. Ilayaraja and Bharathiraja could also be added to the list but I just saw a program in TV yesterday in which they were both acting like immature nut cases. I am yet to come out of the irritation so I can't add them in the list for now. How much ever big genius you are, if you can't maintain some basic manners in public - if you don't know how to speak decently on stage - if you are overly arrogant and egoistic, this is how all your achievements would be undermined by people (We shall talk about this part of our problem in the next series, which is reserved with larger space for this!). Even those who don't like Tamil like the movies that are made in Tamil. And, our movies have played a great role in preserving our culture and language in the last few decades. Undoubtedly this is the best contemporary art form we have today. In a way, it could be called one of the forms of literature, too!
Then, the most surprising thing that I found after coming to Bangalore is that even the Keralites who are supposed to be much more broad-minded than Tamils on this aspect give so much importance for the caste system. They also talk about upper caste, lower caste and all the unwanted things around it. I was surprised because we used to be told right from childhood that the they were the most advanced in terms of breaking the caste barriers in India. Maybe, my sample has a wrong mix. As far as I have seen, the educated people from Tamil Nadu don't give so much importance for caste - especially in public (ignore exceptions!). Another thing is the distribution of success among all communities in Tamil Nadu. If you take a group of ten successful people from each state in Bangalore, Tamils would have the best mix of all communities in their group. In all other states, the success has not reached all. It's stuck with only few communities in most cases. They only decide most of the things. When I say 'best mix', it's in comparison with others and not to say that it's all perfect in Tamil Nadu. Even here the upper caste is more affluent than others in most places. But, the involvement from others in mainstream businesses and professions is 'comparatively' more - than in other places.
The Tamils in Tamil Nadu and the Tamils in Sri Lanka have become two different sides of the same coin. We are same yet so different. We didn't help them when they needed our help the most but we could still take some credit from them (which is what we are better at!). Leave alone all the politics around it. Running an alternate military and government against the government of majorities for almost three decades is not a joke (In fact, it became a fight against many governments at some point in time!). Nowhere else in the world has there been such a movement like that of Ealam. That would remain the best testimony to the 'Tamil courage' for centuries.
There is a slogan in Tamil - "Vandhaarai vaazha vaikkum Tamil Nadu", which means, "Tamil Nadu is a land that gives life to everyone that comes there!". Generally, there is a lot of question on the Tamil hospitality. Others think that it is the most unfriendly state in India for outsiders. If you just look at their inability to speak Hindi, you are right. But, there is more to hospitality than just speaking a language. Auto drivers are horrible but it is not just a problem for the outsiders. Even when I went to Chennai for the first time I had to face all that. They are rude with all. What I mean by hospitality here is, their openness to accommodate others in business, cinema, politics, etc. We are proud that we have our people in almost all countries. We can equally be proud about letting others succeed in our land. In every city, town and small town, you could see an unbelievably sizable Malayali population. There is a good percentage of Telugus that came here centuries back, settled and became almost Tamils (I am not talking about the Telugu population in Chennai, but the ones in remote villages of South Tamil Nadu). They both are enough to prove our hospitality. No other Indian state (I mean, the entire state - not just a city or town) has so much multi-culturalism. In my region, there is a huge Kannadiga population, too. These are things that were never discussed in any English forums. There are a lot of outsiders who have succeeded in our arts and politics. Tamil Nadu has been ruled by more outsiders than its own sons of the soil. I don't think that has been the case anywhere else in India. Some people even call it foolishness.
Anti-Hindi agitations was a major political movement in Tamil Nadu in the last generation. But, what people outside were not told was, they never attacked even a single individual in north Indian areas though they tarred Hindi letters in all streets. Believe me, even if Rajapakse contests in Tamil Nadu he could win. There are people who would even work for his victory day and night. The only condition is - he should give at least thousand rupees per vote. Have you heard of this Tamil slogan that is written on the walls of United Nations' head quarters - "Yaadhum oore yaavarum kelir!"? It means, "All places are one and all people are our kin!". Both your place and mine; for both me and you!