“So where did we come from?” I asked. And my grandmother gave me the old Iyer lady’s equivalent of a finger, proceeding to slurp her rasam with sudden gusto. Appa looked pointedly away at a spot on the wall, concentrating suddenly on it. For a family obsessed with its Iyer ness this was definitely off-beat. No one would admit how and when it happened, but it did. And its repercussions were felt even today in the later generations.
Like most protagonists of a certain age I had delved deeply into my family’s history and discovered certain truths, which no one was willing to explain. My parents are very liberal and open minded with regard to love marriages, as long as it is not me who is doing the loving. Somehow my grandmother and mother seem to harbor the notion that I am a stud-muffin of gargantuan proportions and that some harlot will seduce me into marrying her and swapping bodily fluids with her (probably just one point where mother-in-law and daughter-in-law agree, but I digress). So when I led a long and mostly inconclusive argument about our origins and trying to figure out if anyone had transgressed the noble traditions of arranged marriage within my family I stumbled upon it. The more I thought the more evidence I got. People, places, names, phrases, why even the Gods that adorned our pooja-room.
We have Telugu blood in our family I concluded. So did anyone in last century elope? I asked my grandmother and she shuddered. Did we have arranged marriage with other linguistic groups. I asked in chaste Marathi and Appa admonished me likewise, in unchaste Marathi. Mind your language Appa, but pray tell me how did this happen? No one, all arranged marriage only and grandma closed the topic with her air of finality.
As I staggered with my new found knowledge I looked for support. Evidence apparently didn’t count for enough. Our ancestral village was Anantapur AP, within its’ very heart. Far away from the Kaveri or any other water body associated with Tamizhness. Our clan-deity, Tirupati. All the ancestral property we would have had but for evil zamindars (this is often used to reiterate the supposed greatness of our lineage) was in what is present day Chitoor. But the one thing that clinches it: eat my grandmother’s thakkali thokku without steam emanating from your ears or sweat drenching your face. So I went from family member to family member in vain hopes of getting a past legitimate “love-marriage” so that I could now pursue my Assamese love with zeal and woo her.
“Telugu-Tamil all are same pa no difference” Ramudu mama said, licking avakka pickle off his fingers.
“In days of yore, everywhere south was Madras presidency; you don’t know anything about that” Shanta maami screamed taking a break from watching Gemini TV.
“Didn’t you learn Carnatic music, you numbskull, similar culture. All arranged” Subudu periapppa reiterated all the while tracking constituency boundaries across Telengana.
“No we aren’t Telugu, don’t get ideas in your head” Savitri chitti said, going off to fight with her borthers over a paddy field in Guntur.
“Lite teesko da” said my cousin smirking at my futile attempts.
I have decided. I shall woo my girl in Assamese style. I shall sing Bengali love songs from Charulata to her. I shall quench her thirst with tall glasses of lassi, feed her undhiyu and dance the lavni with her. We will ring in vishu and she shall pray for my long lasting life keeping vraths on karva chauth.
Offence takers: Don’t take offence. No slights to Telugus (I am partly one). Or anyone else for that matter.