Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tamil Ponnu (A Good Girl)

Sometimes, there’s just no winning. Sometimes, it’s just a hopeless cause. When people talk about things like glaciers melting and impending global doom, I get it. I feel the same way about dish-washing.

I've been on my own for a long time. But the ‘Tamil ponnu’ training that my mother instilled in me is as sure and true as generations of brain washing have striven to make it. No bloody mother-in-law is going to question my mother’s valarpu, I tell you. When I walk away, things behind me shine. I’d like to say that with their glow as a backdrop, I have an aura around me that only accentuates the beauty of my sari-clad womanly form. I cannot. I am sweating from my scalp so that my hair is plastered to my skull, my bindi is on my left cheek (please drag your eyes back to my face), and my practical tank top and three-fourth shorts look like somebody dangled me horizontally onto a soapy lake, leaving me half wet. It’s not a pretty picture. I don’t mind. I’m single. But what I do mind is when things undo themselves in record time. It’s like a slap in my sweaty face.

Personally, vessels punch me in the gut a lot. The funny thing is that I never knew I had a problem with them when I was undergoing training, a.k.a, my childhood. Now, I wash them with vigor, admire their sheen, place them upside down, turn around and whoosh, they’re back in the sink, unapologetically dirty. Some go so far as to have crusty bottoms that require muscle. It’s disgusting. To add insult to injury, you can’t even ignore the damn things. It backfires. Sure, you can slink around the house, avoiding the corner where the sink is, getting desperately inventive when the utensils you need just aren't there- from stories my bachelor colleagues have told me, people have eaten off Tupperware lids, used knives as spoons (don't try it at home, kids!) and even fashioned a bowl out of foil. But a couple of days in, you start worrying, shooting furtive glances at the pile. What if something is growing in there? What kind of horror movie are you spawning? For me, the very first night (no, not that kind) is when the guilt begins- an overwhelming presence that hijacks the underside of your eyelids and flashes scenes of your mother’s horrified face, your mother’s pristine kitchen, your mother. “Tamil ponnaa nee?!”, Vijaykanth demands in your dreams, his eyes bloodshot. You toss and turn, and the next morning you just give up. The wheels keep turning. Such is life.

Domestic Goddess mode aside,  a Tamil ponnu has a formidable checklist tucked away in her blouse. Granted, times have changed, and we’re feminists now. But the xerox copy of that checklist is still floating around. I have felt it breathing down my neck at times. It’s a difficult yoke to break free from. The last time I was tested was when I went home to Salem during Christmas break. A flight, a taxi, a train ride and the scariest of all- an auto ride later, I’m home and I’m greeted by my mother who takes me aside and whispers that my dear dad has arranged a visit from a potential ‘groom’ and his family. In a situation like this, the mother is always terrified, caught as she is between her orthodox husband and her not at all dutiful daughter.  One look at her sad, beseeching face and that’s when the Tamil ponnu kicks you in. So you pacify her, glare at your father, and go get ready. A few minor skirmishes later, I sit there in a chudhidar (skirmish no.1), not wearing gold (skirmish no.2), wearing house chappals (skirmish no.3) and stare at this guy and his family, the former looking everywhere but at me, the latter looking only at me. The comedy, as we say in Tamil, is that these guys invariably send word later on that- yes, we can get married. Whoop!

As if the attempted brainwashing sessions at home weren't enough, movies actively encouraged the image of this paragon pathni (wife). In this context I must say his name. The Superstar. The One and only. The Rajini. This is a man, if you’d grown up around, you’d relegated to a god-like status for at least a few years. His punch dialogues, as we call them, were more like prophecies and in the 80’s and 90’s, many were the times that I was tempted to devoutly fold my hands when one of his homilies hit the screen. Unfortunately, a recurring theme he delved into was the ideal of womanhood. Lordy, he had many things to say about that. To make sure he had ample opportunity to educate the masses, most women in his movies were played by fire-breathing dragons constructed out of pure unadulterated ego. They eventually all learnt to keep their voices low, their heads lower and their tempers and ambitions in check. Or they died. No two ways about it.

                                                              This one didn't make it.
So finally, after all that, you become aware, you question, you break free and you stand tall. All woman, baby. My choice. Hear me roar. Put a ring on it. Um, maybe not the last one. But the ghost of that checklist? Still there. Lurking. I don't know if it'll ever disappear completely. I'll update my Facebook status if it does. Until then, one thing is clear. Sometimes, there’s just no winning. Sometimes, it’s just a hopeless cause. I have dishes to wash.

1 comment:

  1. but you are a Tamil Ponnu and that makes all the difference