Tamil Nadu: Good 10!

I was born and lived in Tamil Nadu for 20 years. Today, I have become more Bangalorean than a Tamilian. However, the connection with Tamil Nadu is still there and I have been following the current affairs in Tamil Nadu as well even after leaving the state after my graduation. If you claim that your place is the best in the world nobody would take it seriously unless the following two conditions are true - 1. You should have seen the world, i.e. places other than yours, to compare yours with them, 2. You should be mature enough to look at things in an objective - unbiased manner. I have not seen the world nor am I going to claim that mine is the best place in the world. I have traveled to many places within India and I have spent a good amount of quality time outside Tamil Nadu. Unlike some of my friends, I have not restricted myself to people who speak the same language as mine only. I have a lot of friends from other places and cultures as well. So, all I am planning to do is to write about the goods and bads of my native state from my perspective - as objectively as possible. There is no hidden agenda. I am not trying to prove anything here so please be open when you are reading this whole series.

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.

2. History:
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?

3. Simplicity: 
I know there are people in Tamil Nadu who would donate one rupee more than the previous highest - just to have their name on top of the list even while starving to death without enough money in hand for the basic needs. However, when it comes to simplicity, I see a clear pattern among Tamils when I compare them with others. Either they are very fond of being simple or at least pretend to be simple. Generally, showing-off works better everywhere. Keep ten successful people in a particular field seated in a row on a stage; I will identify the Tamilian in the group if there is one. He would generally look shabby with the worst possible look, costumes and a cheap - torn slipper but wouldn't care a damn about it. That's how most people are brought up in that part of the country. Most of the times it's an embarrassment. I don't feel proud when an educated youth comes in slippers to office where there is a strict dress code to wear formal shoes. But, there is something to celebrate. The reliance on content more than format needs to be appreciated. But, that phenomenon is losing its ground these days. The format is equally or more important than the content now. If you don't want to lose out in the race, you have to change. Most of the freshers I meet these days admit that it's a problem with 'our' people and they want to be more cautious about it. I don't think all scientists would be like Abdul Kalam. I know that the amount allocated for make-up in our monthly budgets is increasing now. But, compared to the women from other parts of the country our women are still better on this aspect. Some people even look down upon our women for that. Painting the face white and lips red is yet to become trendy here. Most of our men also don't like women with over-makeup. I know that our men are considered narrow-minded for having such reservations. But, if you look at it purely from simplicity perspective, it's a 'plus'. Even our world-class corrupt buggers are respected as great leaders because of this one simple reason - their simplicity (or at least their ability to pretend to be simple).

4. Omnipresence:
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!

6. Social Justice: 
As long as I was in Tamil Nadu, I used to hate our people for all the nonsense they would do with caste. I used to go mad on observing certain behaviors. Some people are so narrow-minded that they would mingle only with people from their caste, their friends would all be from the same community, they would decide all their business dealings based on caste, they would justify everything that is done by personalities of their own caste, they would exaggerate the smallest achievements of their community leaders as if he is the best leader the country has ever produced, they would shamelessly try to prove that the actor from their caste is the best in Kollywood and they would shamelessly ask about someone's caste in the first or second interaction itself. I used to hate all these. But, the day I landed in Chennai, I understood, urbanization is the best solution to put a full stop to this non-stop nonsense. Even there I have seen a few narrow-minded buggers but they would have changed by now. Otherwise, their kids would make fun of them. When I came out of Tamil Nadu and started interacting with others, all these equations changed completely. For some of my friends from other parts of the country, it's such a big issue. They keep talking about it. They want to keep reminding us that they are from so-and-so community by making some out-of-context comments every now and then. They are so interested about knowing their friends' caste as well. I have never seen so much casteism with the educated lot in Tamil Nadu - at least so openly. After seeing all that, I have realized that the madness is comparatively much lesser in Tamil Nadu than in other places - though it is not zero. At least it is confined to the uneducated country brutes in Tamil Nadu whereas others speak as if their only purpose of coming to Bangalore is just to prove that they are from a particular community.

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.

7. Hard Work As Way of Life: 
Tamils are not as good as Gujaratis or Marvaris in terms of entrepreneurship. But, they are into all businesses and professions. They generally don't aspire to own a company but they are ambitious in terms of professional growth. I personally am not a fan of over-ambitiousness. But, it's good in a way. That is the reason people are so hard working and they give so much importance for hard work. Most people are ready to work like donkey to get to the place where they want to be (Please forget the notorious Tamil office-politicians that you have come across at this moment. As promised, I will talk about them in the next post!). In any organization or team, ask who the most hard working guy in the group is. The fingers would generally point at a Tamil guy. At least in the second or third place there would be one. Most people don't understand that hard work is the shortest route to success. Most of our mediocre talents manage the show only by hard work. It's a different story that once they taste success - once they get confidence and courage, they would get all the talent that they lacked and start getting involved in all the unwanted politics in office. Let's keep them aside for sometime (until next post!). There is another group of people who just work like mad without being worried about anything - anything means... winning, losing, conquering the world, getting lost untraceable, anything! They are the ones who just work for the sake of it - like eating, sleeping, speaking and breathing everyday - from dawn to dusk. According to them, working on something is the only purpose why human beings were created. Their only expectation is just the satisfaction they get after completing every small task. It's because of people like them the world is still livable. I personally haven't seen so much of such people from any other part of this country than mine. They are the ones who truly live by Bhagavat Gita. They just do their duty and don't expect the results.

8. Our Plurality: 
As I had told once earlier, Dr. Amartya Sen says, an important attribute of any society to prosper is its openness to coexist peacefully - unity in diversity. It's the maturity to work together despite all the differences. It has been there for a long time in Tamil Nadu. What do I mean? It's the land that has the highest number of temples in the country; at the same time, it is the land that has the highest number of atheists in the country. Even in the believers there are no so many subgroups anywhere else. No other place has witnessed the amount of Shivite-Vaishnavite fight as much as Tamil Nadu has in its history. Tamil Nadu is second only to Kerala in terms of the number of religious conversion. It was those people in then Madras who allowed the British inside India, acted as loyal servants to them for the cheap salaries they paid and helped them anchor their presence as our rulers. It is Tamil Nadu that had the highest number of freedom fighters in the South. It was strategically an important place for both Gandhi and Bose. No other state has so much outsiders that speak different languages (I am talking about the Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam speaking early migrants). Even today, in the rural areas, Hindus and Muslims are living together calling each other Machan and Mama (brother-in-law and uncle) with no religious conflicts. Religious politics has not worked in Tamil Nadu as it has in other states. Not to deny that it has started gaining some momentum of late. It has just started here whereas it has already reached the boiling point in other places. It's second only to Maharashtra in terms of urbanization but it has been producing the highest number of engineers from the rural background. Politics is all the more dividing. Despite all these, it is still one of the peaceful states. There has been no major riot or law-and-order problem so far (touch wood!).

9. Their Courage: 
A friend of mine in the Army says, Tamils are the most respected in Indian Army after Punjabis. For any difficult job, they would say, "call a few thambis; it would be done!". It's not just a testimony for hard work but I think is also for courage. Likewise, a Bangalorean friend of mine told me once, when there was Hindu-Muslim riot in Shivaji Nagar area, it was only people from Tamil Nadu that were on both the sides. It's not something to feel proud of. It contradicts with what I said in the previous point. It actually says how barbaric these people are. However, I think, it also tells us how courageous they are. I have heard that there is huge number of rowdies from Tirunelveli in Mumbai. Varadarajan Mudaliar is the first underworld don in Bombay, right?! Again, this is something to feature in the next post as a negative point as it actually humiliates Tamils. Still, it also tells how courageous these people are. More than all these, one thing called 'Jallikattu' (a bull taming sport played in Tamil Nadu) is enough to prove how far from the humanity we are. We are still animals when it comes to courage. The drunk youth who tame the ferocious drunk bulls are certainly more courageous than those bulls and those who can't do it with bulls.

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.

10. Hospitality
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!

It's not over yet. As promised, there is another series of posts on the "bads" of Tamil Nadu. Rest assured that would be larger and more interesting than this. I will talk about the top ten things for which I am ashamed of being a Tamilian! That's the place where I would vent out all my frustrations. Let's discuss about them shortly.

Click here to read that - TBD.


  1. so we will not let U get away easily with this blogpost ... so here we go

    "Today, I have become more Bangalorean than a Tamilian." I bet U can be both a Tamilian in B'lore ... so what U have a become is a Bangalorean Tamilian from a being a mere Tamilian.

    More to come ...

    1. Shambanna,

      Thanks for reading through the long post and posting your comments.

      Hmm... I knew what kind of trouble I was getting into when I wrote this itself. That's the reason I hadn't posted this for so long even though I had written it long time back. :)

      Yes. One can be both a Tamilian and Bangalorean in Bangalore. But, what I meant when I made that comment was, as an individual, I have become more Bangalorean than even some of my other Bangalore Tamil friends, thanks to people like you. Hope it is clear now! :)

  2. about History, we need to study or we study history because it's essential to understand the past in order to understand the present. We learn (we need to learn) from our past for better future.

    It goes downhill when we exaggerate History at the cost of other's History.

    1. Yes. This is another perspective that could be added to what I had said. I am with you on the second statement as well. I think, I have talked about it in my first paragraph under that topic.

  3. about Omnipresence .... I guess its the trait few of our fellow Indians have in abundance ... we can't consider the Tamil omnipresence in isolation. If we have our Tamil brothers every where so are Punjabi's and Gujarati's.

    I guess we were good traders, so we traveled every where around the world.

    1. Yes. You can add our Malayali cousins as well to the list. The earliest migration was through trade and invasion. Later, we were taken as cheap laborers by British all across the world. Then, the Sri Lankan issue forced huge number of people from our previous generation to go around the world! Finally, it's the techies of our times who are doing their bit.

      Anyways, let me reiterate, this is again not to undermine the achievements of others. All I am trying to highlight here is the openness of our people to go out of comfort zones in pursuit of their goals (some times out of sheer lack of opportunities back home). You may read it as a joint achievement along with all other groups that you mentioned - not an exclusive one!


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