Or An Insight into the Kannadiga Brahmin World.
There has been some outcry in the past week about how Kannadigas don’t have a stereotype. I read the article and thought to myself that clearly our Professor has not met any Kannadiga Brahmin.
By this, since the Brahmin community is very particular, I include all the sub-castes who live in the state irrespective of what their native tongue is, and consider themselves superior Kannadigas on account of being vegetarian and Brahmin.
Now that, that is sorted, I can tell you how it is in the Kannadiga Brahmin world.
In family circles, I am considered a bit of a dim wit. When family visits, they see me sitting on my table, in a short little frock that barely covers my knees, most often with a flannel house coat, hair anywhichway, no make-up, and working ceaselessly on my computer. It doesn’t help that I am not very fluent in Kannada unless I get into fight-with-automan mode.
With my relatives in particular, I am just unable to string basic sentences together before abandoning the project completely and taking recourse to English. Of course, that could be because I would rather not speak to them at all, given a choice. But I have been brought up well. We treat all manners of guests with courtesy and hence I heartily welcome guests in my Kannada sprinkled liberally and loudly with English. “Hello, hello, banni banni. How are you? Hegidera? Lunch? Oota ay… sit maadi.” And so on.
They cannot form a favourable opinion with all this as you can tell.
Normally, in Kannadiga Brahmin households even if children don’t make favourable impressions, their parents compensate by bragging about them so much that you end up feeling you visited a prodigy or at least a mini king/queen.
“My daughter, journalist, alva, she is working, pa, in the newspapers. Takes photos also. Have you read?” When all the daughter will be doing is acting as an intern as part of a course.
“My son, ilva, is in the US.”
The US of A is to Kannadiga Brahmins what Mecca is to Muslims.
“Ohoho. I see. Howda? My son is in Europe. Most beautiful place, he says. I am making my passport. I will go there soon. He says, I can teach those people there so many things as I am a very knowledgeable person, alva.”
“Europe aa? Europe is nothing, ri. US thara there is nothing. Nothing like the US, you know? I have been there, so I know. So many Americans smiled at me everywhere, you know. They know I am very famous in Rajajinagar, alva. That is why.”
My parents have never bragged about my achievements or lack thereof.
My father would perhaps like to sometimes because he gets annoyed by all the nonsense bragging my mom’s family does about their kids and houses and what not, but he has been forbidden from speaking about my life to anyone, especially the maternal family.
I have never met anyone from my paternal side. And they are Shettys. So it’s supposedly a different race. Shettys add a little local alcohol to ferment their idlis I am told. It’s easy enough to know which side I favour.
My mother’s family, naturally enough, mutter amongst themselves and say, “Poor Mangala, she has known no happiness. First, marrying out of the community. Tsk tsk. And now look, even her daughter is a dim wit. Otherwise wouldn’t she have told us about her achievements? Paapa, what achievements can that dim wit have! If she were clever, why would she work so long on her computer? Clever people, like my children, finish work in half an hour, ya, yes. They are always taking me shopping and spending so much money on me, you know? They even look after their own babies, and you know how much jewellery they have! They take me so comfortably in their office cars, you know? They tell off their cab guy to come and pick me up and then they take me shopping. Their managers don’t mind. They are so happy that my daughter works in their company; they will do anything to keep her. Car is nothing.”
I definitely do not make the cut. I hate shopping. My silver jewellery is unimpressive. People from our community only wear silver on our feet, they scoff. My company would not give me a car much less one for my parents. When I have to go to the Electronics City office, I book my own Meru cab. I don’t even get reimbursed. Clearly, I work for the wrong company. But c’est la vie. And, of course, being 32 and not having a husband or child or even at least a divorce to show for it, is just what seals my fate. Nothing equals dimwit like Bhumika does.
For Kannadiga Brahmins, as the cleverer of you would have figured out by now, it is all about being bigger, brighter, better. It doesn’t matter if you are not. You just have to talk like you are.
“O, the idlis I make are the best”, says one beloved Brahmin lady to a world-famous catering company in Basavanagudi that she is hiring for her daughter’s wedding. “See, I specifically made them for you today so you would know how we are connoisseurs of good food. This is nothing; my entire family is famous for the way they cook. And my daughter’s to-be in-laws—you know them surely, they live in Malleshwaram, no? They have an Innova, you know—why they could have opened their own restaurant, even a catering business but they didn’t want to get into the hassle you know.”
The poor representative force feeds himself on hard, brownish-looking idlis with a disinteresting chutney, and tries to digest these boasts in vain. He has indeed met the said in-laws. They had made him a watery, bitter filter coffee and nothing else, he remembers. He had been hungry that day.
“O and my sambhar is out of this world.”
“Yes, ammavare, I can see it is not in this world”, he mutters and quickly agrees to cook just such idlis for the daughter’s wedding.
Maternally, I come from a household full of priests and astrologers who nevertheless refuse, even for entertainment purposes, to make any predictions about my life. It was not always so. I was variously told that I would marry when I was 22, 25, 27, and finally at 29, definitely, I would marry. And how I would travel the world. When I went to the US, no one was gladder than my astrologers who finally felt vindicated. The only thing my astrologer uncles had warned me about was starting a business. Ayyo, full loss, if you do. You will lose name, fame, money everything. Just do job, they dictated. So I never mention BWW to them. Naturally, one doesn’t want to cause anyone any distress if it can be avoided. I would lack nothing, they repeatedly reassured me. Health, wealth, everything would be mine for the taking, they averred. Now that my immunity is creating such a scandal, they have nothing to predict. One Brahmin mama I went to recently told me how it was a passing phase. Just an alignment problem. He spoke convincingly. He told me how he had cured a lady who was dying of cancer. Guru, Shani, listen to me, you know, he said. I was a bit terrified by his powers and never saw him again.
Normally, we believe that people who serve God must be blessed people indeed. Growing up on diets of puranic stories and mythological tales you imagine priests to be messengers of God who have conquered envy, anger, fear, and what not. Of course, you are sensible so you know it cannot be true. Also, if you flip through Kannada channels even for a few seconds, you have a fairly informed impression about priests.
I recently went with my maternal uncles to Sakleshpura in Hassan to attend a special pooja of the family Goddess (supposedly) of my maternal grandfather.
On special days, around three to four priests get together to decorate the sanctum in any temple. They come to blows as they do so. Indeed. I do not exaggerate. They will chant mantras. “Something something samarpayami, ei baddi magane, halu ellideyo?” Ei whoreson, where is the milk? And so on. In the temple. While apparently praying.
Of course, this is what happens when the priests are all from the same family. Now bring in a mix. It happens sometimes on very special days in temples. Priests from different families come together to conduct the poojas.
“Aai, who the hell are you? What are you doing with that garland?”
“Dai, neen yaavono kelakke? Who the hell are you to ask me all these questions?”
“Who am I? I am the one who bought this Goddess that shiny, gold-plated crown for 750 rupees. That is who I am, you asshole.”
“You son of a whore, what do you know, I bought flowers worth 1,000 rupees all the way from Bangalore. How dare you talk to me like that. Son of a whore.”
And the other priests will try in vain to get these squabbling sons of God to quieten. Loud bells will be rung to distract. The devotees in queue waiting to see the Goddess will piously fold their hands at the sound, and make fervent wishes of marriage, wealth, children, and other such prosperity. The bells will clang louder to drown the voices of the quarrelling priests. The devotees will go home in a trance and claim it was a pooja like never before. How holy everything was! There is something about that Goddess.
In the same temple, part of the devotee crowd that thronged, I overheard—it couldn’t be avoided, they were very loud—this interesting exchange.
Mom-in-law: Dearest son-in-law, did you lock your iPhone when we came all the way from Bangalore in your Innova?
Son-in-law: Yes, beloved amma, I did. How did you know? You are so clever.
Daughter: Ohoho. How will she know? I came to know. I was trying to call you and it said your phone was locked.
Son-in-law (looking at her hungrily in front of mom-in-law): You wanted to call me?
Mom-in-law: Don’t lock your iPhone, son-in-law. It’s okay if you do it in your 60 by 40 two-storied house in Girinagar, but here you must not lock it. My daughter was mad out of her mind with worry. I know you don’t want her to feel that way. It was like the time you were in America, alva?
Son-in-law leering: Your daughter, beloved amma, has Salman Khan.
Daughter: Aha, don’t talk to me about Salman Khan. He is mine, okay? This is about your iPhone. Now show me your iPhone. I am getting bored. I want to see your iPhone. I want to do Facebook. Did you take Goddess picture? Then we can do Facebook Goddess picture.
Even the so-called “low caste villagers” in the queue snickered.
A Kannadiga Brahmin gentleman recently offered me a drive in his car. I was pleasantly surprised. Kannadiga Brahmins are not famous for spontaneous, uncalculated generosity like that. I should have known better. The drive was pleasant enough in the beginning. And then he started rhapsodising about his two-year old Maruti Alto. I still didn’t get it. I thought he was a man inordinately proud of his car. I smiled indulgently and looked out at the scenery. And then he said,
“Why don’t you buy my car?”
“What? Say what?”
“See, it’s a very good car. I feel bad that everyone in your family has a car and you don’t.”
I laughed. “You needn’t feel bad for me. I don’t mind not having a car.”
“But no, no, how can I let you be car-less when I can do something about it?”
“I see. So how much would you sell this car for?”
“See, it’s like this. The showroom guys are begging me to sell this car back to them. They are offering me three lakhs. You see, it’s a very good car. But I want to help you. So I will sell it to you for two lakhs eighty thousand only. You see, what is the point of living in this world if you don’t help someone in need? I am not at all calculative. What is money, after all? It comes and goes.”
“Uncle, you are such a fine man. I wish I had the money to pay you. But as you know, I am not very clever, so I have made no money. I would have given you four lakhs if I had it. Such a kind man, you are. You deserve so much. But as it stands, you are better off selling the car to the showroom. After all, I don’t want you to incur any loss, you see?”
He shook his head in regret. He was more convinced than ever that all the rumours about me in Kannadiga Brahmin circles were true. I was a dimwit to end all dimwits.
“As you wish, ma. I was only trying to help you. If you will not take my help, what can I do? Who else will make an offer like this? I will now have to sell this car to the showroom only and get three lakhs. But your two lakhs eighty thousand would have made me so happy. For me, it’s all about helping others. But what to do? Sometimes people don’t want to be helped. What to do? It’s all fate.”
Overwhelmed by such kindness, I cried.
8 steps to becoming a Kannadiga Brahmin
- Always start your sentences with, “Nevermind that. Listen to what I have to say.” Or, “That is nothing. Listen to what I have to say.”
- And say it. Make your story bigger, brighter, better than anyone else’s.
- Complain about all things in the world to show how great you are.
- Brag till kingdom come about minuscule or no achievements.
- Ensure you have your own, not rented ri, big house in the suburbs. Or better still in the heart of the city. Now, please walk with your head held high, your feet two feet above ground level.
- Gold. How much gold do you have? Ensure that it is plenty and tasteless. Now, please walk with your head held high, your feet four feet above ground level.
- A car. You must have a car. If you are a priest, you must have an SUV. It is just God’s desire.
- Have you married well or are engaged to be married well? Yes, very good. No, no, don’t cry about your husband’s roving eye or your wife’s family. Which family doesn’t have fights and what couple is ever truly happy? Look at the own house, wear all the gold, now sit and brag loudly in social gatherings.
Do you know how lucky you are?
You are now a Kannadiga Brahmin!