The Tamil can spot another of its own kind quite a distance away. Wherever it is – in a bus, in a shop, at the library – the Tamil can sense another Tamil almost extra-sensorily as it were.
Yet what is perhaps most interesting is the almost involuntary reaction to this stimuli. On perceiving its ethnic kin, the head of the Tamil rises almost instinctively (this phenomenon is also associated with sticking its nose up in the air). It begins to surprisingly babble in English (even if its knowledge is limited to a few rudimentary phrases), and always keeps a wary eye on the other.
Familiar with the Tamil creature? I’ve always thought it strange how we Tamils react when we chance upon each other in the outside world. I always get the impression that somehow we feel there is a competition between us to see who’s better by some incomprehensible scale. The image that jumps to mind is that of two tigers circling each other, sizing each other up before pouncing.
This attitude seems to have been passed on to our children too. Once, on a walk with my fiance’s little cousin, she all of a sudden grabbed my hand and whispered loudly, “Megha akka! There’s a Tamil person!” I had to bite my lips to prevent myself from laughing at the thought that this ten year old too had acquired the habit.
Generally, however, I find that the biggest perpetrators are middle aged men and young women – especially girls my own age (the young men are usually too busy trying to impress the girls to compete with them!)
If by chance we are forced to exchange a few words, they paste a fake smile and say something in English. Yet their eyes tell me, “I know you are Tamil. I know you know I’m Tamil. But neither of us will acknowledge this fact.” This is the unspoken rule.
After a few years in Canada, I too started to fall into this trap (in a sense, one can’t help it being bombarded from all sides.) Yet one day I thought to myself, “To heck with it! I detest being so fake and mean. I’m confident and comfortable with my Tamil side and I can accept and learn to like you as a Tamil.” So I decided to break tradition, pull down the walls, and do the unthinkable.
I smiled! The next time I saw a Tamil person, I smiled! That simple. That easy. They looked confused and turned around to see if I was smiling at someone behind them. No, I couldn’t be breaking the unspoken rule – that was unheard of!
However, the results were beautiful. After a bit of hesitation and confusion, they returned my smile with a real smile – a smile from the heart.
As we stood smiling at each other, something amazing took place. A bond of understanding and appreciation was being formed. We were Tamil – united by history, culture, language, strife and suffering; by a mutual love of each other and therefore of ourselves.
The next time you see a Tamil person, try smiling. You’ll be surprised.
- Megha Kovilan
Related: “Top 25 Signs You are Tamil”