Burra na mano, aaj Holi hai

(Written on Holi of 2011)

By T S Sudhir

I just finished reading Chetan Bhagat’s 2009 book `2 States’. He begins with a disclaimer that he loves south Indians. I too start off with the disclaimer that I love north Indians. As a Tam Brahm (Palghat Iyer to be more precise) who grew up in Delhi in the 80s, I could relate to most parts of the novel. Those were the days when anyone south of the Vindhyas was a Madrasi, irrespective of whether he hailed from Kottayam, Guntur, Bellary or Madurai. It may have been a hangover of the Madras state before Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were carved out.

But no, you cannot tell any south Indian that, with your meek ways, you were unable to impress north Indians about your distinct cultural and language identity. Most south Indians I know, would be more inclined to blame it on the `ignorance’ of North Indians, that they don’t know India’s geography beyond Mumbai.

Kamal Haasan’s `Ek Duje ke liye’ in the early 80s taught them “Nee romba azhaga irukkai”(you are very beautiful, Kamal says to Rati Agnihotri). It became an anthem for most guys to tease the Miss Ramakrishnans and Miss Raos living in cities in the north. Once their taste buds were introduced to masala dosa and idli-sambar, `Madras’ became more identifiable and palatable. But stereotypes fed no doubt by matching real-life experiences, continue to flourish.

It is Holi today and I am reminded of the paranoia with which many traditional south Indian families would regard the festival and the happenings around it. Most Tam Brahms saw it as a rowdy festival, when the next door Nagpal uncle, Malhotra Aunty, Babloo, Shipra et al, loaded with high decibel levels of `Holi hai’ would almost `molest’ the south Indian, who would recoil from the boisterousness.

A story I have heard from my mother is during her visit to Lucknow in 1966, as a young girl, not yet married. Her brother Raman was posted there. Holi arrived and an overcautious Ram mama made elaborate preparations to lock the house from the outside to convey to the neighbourhood that the family wasn’t home. But their friends knew better.

“Raman saab ghar ke andar hi hai, humko bewakoof banane ka yeh prayaas hai.” As the friends, obviously enjoying the chance to rag the Ramans, banged the door, Murali, their son, then some six years old, was ordered to duck under the table and make no noise. Finally, the crowd found its way through the back door and what followed was nothing the family ever wished should have happened to them. Virtually every colour found space on their faces and the rest of the home too.

Holi was also an opportunity for young Romeos to get fresh with girls they wanted to romance. Like this Tam Brahm boy in our neighbourhood who was in 7th heaven because on Holi, he managed to `symbolically’ put red gulaal on another Iyer girl’s forehead. Not that the one-sided romance got any more colourful post-Holi.

I write this sitting at my sister’s home in Navi Mumbai where in the neighbourhood, a swimming pool has been converted into ground zero of Holi revelry. I hear `Munni’, `Sheila’ and the evergreen Big B classic `rang barse’ providing the opium to all those who want to shake a wet leg and wet body.

My nephew and daughter, and half the family in fact, has rushed out with great gusto to celebrate the festival of colours. The madrasi of the 21st century has embraced Holi and I no longer feel a victim when they splash gulaal on me, and shout `Burra na mano, aaj Holi hai’.

 (Tejaswini, my daughter with her uncle)