I hope things are going well for you in the North. That trip to Kanyakumari and all the places you mentioned to your friend on the phone the other day must have been gruelling. Your friend on the phone, I think his name was also Amit, must have been a little hard of hearing considering the fact that you were yelling out your entire itinerary to him as we waited in that line to get on the boat to the Vivekananda memorial.
Let me tell you that most times, I am a singularly incurious person, especially when it comes to people. I usually pay scant attention to the unknown around me unless that unknown happens to be a pretty lass. After all, I just claim to be incurious and not asexual. But for you I had to make an exception. You were simultaneously fascinating and repulsive. Whatever adjectives that you describe yourself with, I think we can all agree that you were hard to ignore.
My friend, being a South Indian growing up among a multitude of our fellow Indians from the north, I feel I am perfectly placed to point out a few home truths to you which I hope to do without any prejudice or bias.
First of all, you must be wondering why I am addressing you as Amit. I’ll let you in on a little secret. You know how many people from the North think that all of south India is comprised of a single group of people called “Madraasis” and that they speak on common unintelligible language called “undoo-gundoo”? I would not presume to cast any aspersions on your knowledge of India or its inhabitants but I heard you mention this (in your sonorous voice) to your good wife Pinky Bhabhi. If I remember it clearly, and forgive my memory, you said “Yeh Madraasi sab kya undoo-gundoo karte hain sab yeh hi jaante hain saale”. Loosely translated, it would mean “What these Madraasis say in their Undoo-Gundoo, only they would understand brothers in law”. Loosely translated.
This was of course in response to a kindly looking bespectacled gentleman who asked you in chaste Tamil to refrain from holding up the line for five minutes as you waited for your lovely kids to give the perfect pose with the new goggles that you had just purchased for them (10 Rs. each! You do strike an impressive bargain sir!).
Coming back to that secret, I have learnt from reliably placed sources that the jovial people of south India, who sometimes take great umbrage to such generalizations, have been very forgiving in this instance. What they have done in their good humour is come up with a nick-name of their own for the denizens of the north. There is an abiding feeling in the south that everyone who hails from the north of the Vindhyas is named Amit. And there you go, Amit.
Back to you though. I noticed that when a couple of ill-mannered youths sneaked into the line ahead of you, you told them off in no uncertain terms. Bravo to you Amit. Line cutting is of course a perennial problem among the good people of our land and something obviously needs to be done. But it would have been a better gesture if a few minutes earlier, you had not instructed your youngest child to sneak into line behind me when that same bespectacled gentleman was busy haggling over the price of a coconut.
When touts approached you to try to get you on a private boat to the Rock Memorial, I admired the way you firmly refused them and told them to get away from you. Less admirable was your loud comment that the south is filled with these bloody touts who always try to fool you and that “back home” everyone is honest. I assure you my friend, for the intrepid southie who ventures into the north of this great country, there is no shortage of the same type of people who try to sell him those little bottles which supposedly contain water from the Ganga but are in fact filled with the barely treated corporation water.
I went to the restaurant and I saw you sitting at the table next to mine. I saw you observing a group of hardy “Madraasis” at another table and eating their meal (Limited meals for 50 Rs. only!). I saw that disgusted face you made when you saw them tucking into their curd rice with customary gusto. For some reason you seemed to find the fact that they ate rice with the palms of their hands a bit repulsive and you said so in mellifluous Hindi to your wife.
Again, let me explain. You see, the south Indian diet is predominantly rice based. This rice is supplemented with various liquids such as Sambhar, Rasam and Curd to impart flavour and make the meal more wholesome. Spoons are not the instrument of choice in the south, which is the case in those places which you are more familiar with. Hence, hands are used and since liquids are more easily lifted with the palm, the sight which so disgusted you is a common one and eating with one’s palm is encouraged.
Please grant me this opportunity to apologize for writing, what must seem, a presumptuous letter. Let me assure you that I am very much a neutral here and if I ever have the opportunity of observing a south Indian in the north, I shall make a rigorous attempt to dispel any personal biases or misconceptions that he or she might have through another letter addressed to “My Dear Madraasi”. Much like the inadequate attempt I have made here.
Yours sincerely, Rohit