Is amma’s constant advice to both me and my Little Sister (Not so little is what she would like me to believe, I am not really convinced naturally.)
I am the middle of three siblings. I never could be the first-born that all parents are proud of or the youngest child whom everyone feels indulgent and infinitely forgiving towards. Families with three children are not so common-place these days. I always felt peculiar all through my school and college when I met boys and girls who mostly came from two siblings (celebrated happy family stereotype) or only child homes.
Three of you aa, many people would ask me with a certain incredulity. I mean three children was so 1960’s.
However, barring the occasional resentment, I was happy with the status. After all two siblings versus one make for far more engaging battles than just one against the other.
Of course, three people from the same family in a house can lead to large-scale divide and rule policy that amma and appa would do to manage all of us better. From marks, to height, to body fat, to how soon one eats the meals, to who first bows down to parental pressure, to who will follow tradition the most, to who will not sulk when amma wants to make a kovil visit, to who will wake up the earliest, to who will sleep the earliest, to who will be more Tamizh - everything was a contest.
Amma, appa, the clan members, the neighborhood, everyone and their uncles were evaluating you on all or some of those.
I realized as a young child, the perils of being in the middle, because “you in the middle”, are the most easy to ignore. The focus was always on the extremities.
Very early on, it was established that T Anna would certainly have superior mathematics skill. I used to love the subject. Even today I am usually in awe of anybody who even as much mentions the M word. All through my growing years, the magical three words were never. I Love You. Oh no, not that. How post-modernist, as thata would say (not that I had any clue what he meant, but one never questioned him). It was always, Centum in Maths. And even though T Anna took it upon his shoulder to tutor me on Boolean Algebra, I just refused to understand the connection between truth and binary numbers. And while between T Anna’s obsession and my school-teachers desire that their flawless reputation not be tarnished, I did okay. But it was a struggle. In all, mathematics made me feel - inadequate and less Tamizh.
The Little Sister S, is the artistic sorts. Amma thinks that her Thanjavur gene has paid off through S. She sings, dances, paints, and can create all kind of things with lots of flair and artistry. She also has a natural effervescence, lovely hair and shiny brown skin that draw everybody to her. I sense that she will be a heart-breaker someday. Except that, she won’t actually break any hearts.
I am proud of my siblings. And I love them. Though, we never say such things. You know, things like, I love my family. Love is implied in all the things that we do and don’t, it is never professed loudly.
Of course, I can’t and didn’t wish to compete with the siblings. And also I knew that, should I choose to compete, I will fail. Miserably too.
So I decided that I will be the pleaser child, the one who will quickly agree with everything that the parental desire seeks. I also tried to be more Tamizh than my siblings.
So I learnt the script, read Sujatha, watched Gemini and Sivaji paddams, learnt to sing a number of Subramanya Bharathi songs and stuck pottu on my forehead like my life depended on it.
Pottu, the small dot/line/star/anything else that catches your fancy or imagination, helped to establish my Tamizhness.
Nalla ponnu, neighborhood maamis would tell amma approvingly whenever they saw me.
When I was younger, a small round one did the trick. All trips to Pondy Bazaar involved picking up a few packets. Some black, some red and some in multiple bright and harsh colours. But I loved them. Of course, I had no clue about it representing the mystical third eye or Shakti. All I knew was that, it was a Hindu woman/ married woman thing.
But to me, it represented asserting my Tamizhness.
As the years go by, the pottu has been shrinking in size. But at least, I have not yet lost it.