Tambram’s (Short for Tamil Brahmins) are a small minority in T Nadu. I guess less than 5%. A section of the Tamil Brahmins migrated to Kerala many centuries back and established themselves with the Kerala Kings in the Palghat region. This community called Palghat Iyers (PI’s) is a nice blend of Tamil & Kerala traditions. By sheer hard work and brainpower they grew in fame & prosperity and became large landowners. In the late 50’s with land reforms the landowners in Kerala lost their land. With no livelihood the PI’s started migrating en masse to Mumbai, Calcutta & Delhi. Matunga & Chembur in Mumbai, RK Puram in Delhi and S Calcutta became their hubs. Temples sprouted and so did traditional S Indian restaurants. The secretarial jobs, accounting jobs , IAS , Administrative and then the managerial jobs slowly were taken over as Idly & Dosa spread its wings to the breakfast table of every Indian. Rich tradition of music & dance also spread across the country and the globe. From Rekha to Vidya Balan , T.N Seshan to Bala Murali Krishnan they made their impact globally.
But this is not a blog about the successful TAMBRAM’s and Palghat Iyers who have become successful all over the world. That requires separate treatment.
I belong to this community. My grandfather was born in 1900. Let us call him Generation 1. He was happily married and had 8 sons & 3 daughters. You can’t blame him – with no Internet, Facebook, movies there was really no entertainment. There was also a sense of healthy competition as most brothers and sisters were racing towards double-digit children count. And as the adage goes – you do in Palghat as the others do. They were very talented and entrepreneurial but were primarily farmers and landowners.
Lets move on to the enterprising Gen 2 – all of who had moved out from the villages to Mumbai & Calcutta after completing their education. In the 50’s moving from a small village in Kerala to W Bengal was probable;y tougher than going to the US in the 80’s. One enterprising uncle even took off to S.Arabia – the first to go abroad and was very successful. Generation 2 was mainly graduates with the odd one being an Engineer or a MSc Soon there were 11 happily married couples. All married within the community – even the odd love marriage was painstakingly positioned as an arranged marriage. The average age gap between the couple was 7 years. Between them they had 35 kids (averaging slightly over 3/ couple). Look at the progress in one generation – 11 to 3.
But this is not a blog about how India’s population is coming down because of higher education and migration from villages to cities.
Generation 3 was born between 1955 – 1985. Well educated (the 1st IIM & IIT Grads), jet setting, good jobs, many have settled abroad – US, UK, NZ, Singapore, Dubai. A significant change in lifestyle. They still love their curd rice but have graduated very easily to pasta & pizza and some even to meat !!
We belong to Generation – 3. All the 35 (barring two cousins) are married. The eldest cousin is 60+ and the youngest barely 30 – so there is a wide gap between cousins. Only 1 was courageous enough to marry outside the community and earned the ire of many. The rest married within the community – but by now arranged marriage was coming down – less than 75 %. Amongst the younger cousins even lesser. The average age gap between the spouses had come down to 3 – 4 years. They have fallen into a pattern and all have 2 – 1 kids apiece. Finally the population explosion has been stopped.
Generation 4 is now getting married. This is where the interesting trend starts. Of the 7 marriages that have happened or are on the anvil of happening only 2 have married within the community. The rest 5 have found companions in Marathi’s, Malayalees and Punjabi’s. The age gap has shrunk – they are almost the same age. This is not a trend in our family but across many South Indian TAMBRAM families. There was a time when a Iyer marrying an Iyengar was a No No. Even a Palghat Iyer marrying an Iyer from TN was rare. But all that has changed in the last 10 years.
What is driving this change? Marrying out of the community is a big jump in culture , tradition , eating habits – How is this change being accepted with hardly any resistance. It talks highly of the community and its broad minded approach.
Lets take a look at Iyer Girls. They are smart , beautiful , highly educated, super talented. They can cook a great meal of Avial & Sambar and also Pasta and Pizza. They can sing melodious Carnatic music and dance Bharatnatyam – while they are equally comfortable with hip hop music and a drink at a late night party. They look beautiful in a traditional kanjeepuram saree and are equally at ease in a 2 piece bikini. They can be a great housewife and a successful professional. They are an asset – they are ambitious , adventurous and deserve the best. And now they are stepping out to get the best. All this because Tamil Iyers are one of the few communities in the country where girls are treated at par with boys. And unlike the Parsi’s if the girls marry outside the community they are not excommunicated.
In contrast the Iyer Boys are still simpletons. They have a intellectual inclination bordering on being nerdy. Hard working , they rarely break the rule and are risk averse. They are Mr Predictable , they are Mr Nice. They are thin or puny or jiggly wiggly fat. Not the lean mean machine with a 6 pack Gym hitting the Gym every day. They experiment with food but are most comfortable with curd rice and would love to have a traditional housewife welcome them in a saree with jasmine flowers with a cup of steaming coffee at home when they come back from office. ( I hunted for a photo of a Traditional Tambram Nari serving coffee in google images – but none like this is available)
Most want a bride who is a replica of mom. I may be generalising here – but this is broadly what I see in the community , maybe 80 % +. And let me clarify this is purely my inference.
This is where the gap is. The adventurous girls don’t want to be trapped with Mr Nerd. And they step out to find their dream man on their own. And then we have male dominated N Indian communities where many a smart girl from N of the Narmada would be a lot more comfortable with Mr Nice from down south. And that works well for the PI guy who is on the edge – almost stranded without a mate.
The vast majority of Tambrams and PI’s are simple folks. The marriage is a 2 session, 3 sumptuous meals, and 3 sarees affair. Day 0 evening is the formal engagement and Day 1 morning is marriage – all is over by lunch on day 1 as the happy couple heads off for the honeymoon. There is no dowry and no demands for jewellery cash, house, car etc. The girls are highly educated and the families are at par.
Now compare this with a Delhi marriage – full of pomp & show. Spread over 3 days, lavish performances, gifts for all and the poor parents struggling for years to meet the trousseau & dowry demands. A PI groom is ideal for an N Indian family.
S Indian cooking is simple, quick and tasty. Not as elaborate and complex as a N Indian meal. Add to this it’s all veg. Easy for the new “bahu” to learn this quickly. Yes the taste buds need to adjust to the spicy tangy taste of sambar & rasam – but that happens quickly. Rice in the morning and Roti at night is the staple food across most PI households – so that looks a fair equitable mix for a N Indian. Not too many family get together where you need to cook a wide variety of complex dishes in quantity & quality.
PI families are perfectly fine with both husband & wife working and there is no pressure for the 1st born to be a boy! (Thats probably a reason why 60% + in the community are girls , nature does have a way of setting a balance) Rarely or never do you hear a case of mother in law tormenting daughter in law.
So a clear win for the N Indian lady. What’s in it for the guy. Clearly a change. Stronger genes and a bit of aggression & street smartness for the next generation. Maybe the subconscious desire of a PI man for a fair complexioned wife. ( Thats not me saying but my intelligent learned friend Mr Kapoor) A more elegant & classy front room and furniture (N.Indians are good in home decorations). Lesser investments in Gold. A good mix of CPU & I/O. (And I am not saying who contributes to what)
The beauty is that Gen 2 & Gen 3 seems to be completely at ease with this change. Yes even if many outside the community are Non Veg. Even if eggs have entered most kitchens Non Veg cooking across the community is almost always banned at home.
And I am sure not everything is rational – there is cupid playing his game and love is blind. With no barriers and challenges cupid’s job just became easier.
That’s Gen 4 – and may the tradition continue. I hope it soon expands to Bengalis & Kashmiris, Jains & Buddhists so that we can have better national integration. But let it not stop there. I would really love for the rest of Gen 4 & all of gen 5 to start thinking out of the country and be a truly global citizen. French, Dutch, Italians, Spaniards, Brits, Americans – Go guys go and make the world your playing field. Let the PI gene spread far & wide in the global melting pot. Yes we may cease to exist as a community 100 years from now – but I am sure we will make a wider impact globally.
One last point – today there is no dearth of entertainment so Gen 4 and Gen 5 bears the burden of trying to rectify Grand Dad’s population explosion program. Mother earth is heavily burdened with too many people – so play your part and help set right the errors of Generation – 1.