Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In Celebration of Mediocrity

After several years, we celebrated Deepavali in a big way this year.

Nobody had died over the last one year. No deaths of random relatives, whom one only had a vague recollection of, but whose death needed to be mourned. Sure, people had died. But none of them were folks from Bharadwaja Gothram, so it was time to celebrate.

This year was T Anna’s thalai Deepavali, so there was a need to have an extra celebratory air anyway. The fact that he is away in a far away country, where he needed to drive to some place that was two hours away from his house to see fireworks meant that, we needed to make up for him and infuse more cheer.

Delhi Atthai and the cousin A’s presence meant more quantity of sweets that made one sick needed to be prepared.

Why are we not putting up lights, A wished to know. We do that in Delhi, she insisted. Ram (not Rama) returns to Ayoydhya, she said. The little sister S, a bit tired of A’s general snootiness informed her in no uncertain terms that we celebrate the slaying of the demon Naragasura.

After their discussion got a little heated, I was forced to mediate. After all, S needs a high JEE Rank and A, was not just any cousin, but an atthai’s daughter. I needed both of them to feel happy.

We celebrate mediocrity, I told the two of them.

Not the answer that they wanted to hear and they chose to resolve it their way.

Nobody takes elder sisters seriously, do they?

Ever since the time I turned ten, a ritual got established at home. It was one that was followed religiously for over three years. Every Saturday morning, Appa would write down twenty mathematics problems that he sourced from several books and give it to me. After that, he would take amma and paati out, either to visit some relatives or for some shopping. When he returned, he would correct my filled sheets and give me marks. If I got all of them right, I would get ten rupees. I used to wait with a mix of anticipation and dread for the moment.

I think over a period of about three years, which must have included over 150 Saturdays -- I had a very mediocre record. In all, I made 870 Rupees.

I think it broke amma’s heart each time I didn’t earn the ten rupees.

The eight-hundred odd rupees that I managed to save up, in many ways, only heightened and served as a proof of my mediocrity.

However, all was not lost, for there was one person who benefited because of this – T Anna. I did spend a fair sum of the money in buying him stuff that he would need, and often not need. T Anna never made any money. His mathematics skills were never mediocre enough to be rewarded. At age ten however, I only felt rich and looked forward to those Saturdays.

It was one such Saturday – 4th August 1996. I was thirteen years old. We used to live at Bazlullah Road, in thatha’s somewhat dilapidated but completely lovely house. It shall go down as one of the most important days of my life - the day we got a television into our homes.

It was the year that T Anna had made it into IIT. And to all the elders of the family, the many years of deprivation had got the desired result, so it was time to open up the world of make-believe and let our household also experience the bloodbath of sentimentality and high drama. I was too excited to bother myself with computing the GCD of polynomials. This especially, when I could watch highlights of Leander Paes win a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics. While we were (and continue to be) an average Tamizh family, with no great love for sports (unless it involved mathematics), even we were excited and felt most happy that we won something. We attributed the Leander Paes win to two things:
1. We had got a TV on THAT day and were therefore responsible for the medal
2. He was trained in Madras and therefore, we the Tamizh people owned him and it was a Tamizh medal

Seventeen (assorted clan folks, who were secretly feeling superior for having been early adopter of this technology, unlike us) of us sat in the hall and watched the closing ceremony of the games with much awe and excitement. We had different reasons for the same:

… Amma was excited as this was one of her first glimpse into the world that she knew her son will eventually go away to. Nope, not sporting glory but the promised land.

… Thatha because he was the only one in the room who had heard of Rosakutty Chacko and Beenamol Matthew, athletes from the 400 metres relay race who didn’t qualify. Hearing those multiple news bulletins on radio had helped. We were all mildly envious of thatha.

… Me and S were most excited when we saw Leander Paes lead the Indian contingent, Tamizh pride filling our hearts.

… When Stevie Wonder came and sang John Lenon’s – Imagine, Posh Chitappa not only claimed to have recognized the song but insisted on singing along. Posh Chitappa was a perfectly normal person who had a brief stint in Tanzania and acquired a special fondness for English music. Since, none of us understood non Tamizh music (unless it was Carnatic Classical), we took his word for it. When I was thirteen though, I just found him to be very annoying. Wait, he is still rather annoying.

Once we got the TV, mathematics was dumped. And my Saturday tryst also tapered.

The TV gave us a start. After that, we began to accumulate several other laziness inducing and mediocrity encouraging products. But, we were middle class folks. We thrived in wearing our middle class badges.

How can we afford that, amma would announce to anyone who would care to listen?

Deepavali came every year. The time to buy new clothes and eat murukku and marundu. But people kept dying, so we didn’t eat any of that or buy new clothes. But Vasanth & Co as well as Viveks insisted that we buy some hugely discounted durable item during Deepavali. Amma reasoned that, dead people will forgive any prudently made purchase, especially if it was some utility product. And so, each Deepavali we acquired several things:
1. Three-burner gas stove
2. Rice cooker
3. Wet grinder
4. Music system
5. So on

We had survived for thirteen years without them, but the TV gave us the start. And that is why we celebrate Deepavali – to tell ourselves, this was the day when mediocrity triumphed over ambition.


Anonymous said...

His mathematics skills were never mediocre enough to be rewarded.
Nice. I have told the big man with important initials about this one! :)

Anonymous said...

The problem with you ATP is that, you are altogether too clever. But, so endearing! :)

- Me who is not her

Laksh said...

I was nodding along in agreement reading your entire post. No Bharatwaja gothram here nor IIT but the whole piece caused a sense of deja vu for me. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

is this blog some kind of a joke?

La vida Loca said...

love your posts. very as a matter of fact.

Anonymous said...

ATP, your posts are wonderfully
and although I am not Tamiz, IIT,bhardwaj , I somehow can totally relate to the middle class
life and its charm.

very endearing writing, far from
mediocre !!

Please keep them coming !!

Raj said...

ATP, 870 rupees meant 'full marks' on 87 Saturdays out of 150. That's getting a total of 87 x 20= 1740 sums right. Not at all mediocre, let me tell you.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Raj. And his calculations don’t take into account the sixty-three Saturdays when you would have got a few at least right! :)

Bikerdude said...

Excellent blog, though Im still rolling with laughter at an anonymous poster's comment: "is this blog some kind of a joke?"

Keep em, guessing ATP!! Good going :)

Unknown said...

Anonymouse sounds very kovam.

He will be even more kovam when he knows that, YayTP was highly ranked in the National Maths Olympiad! ;)

Amma reasoned that, dead people will forgive any prudently made purchase, especially if it was some utility product.

Haha, enna arivu!

கரிகாலச் சோழன் said...

வாழ்க்கை மேலும் கீழும் முன்னும் பின்னும் நகரும் வல்லமை படைத்தது. ஐஐடி பரத்வாஜம் தாண்டியும் நீளும் திறன் வாய்ந்தது.

கடவுள் உங்களுக்கு எல்லா அருளும் தரட்டும்.

Anonymous said...

TV made all tamizh to slump in mathematics as it looks i wonder what would have been our tamizh Penn today but for the Tv coming on the fateful day A Penn Ramanujam???

A nice blog

Anonymous said...

Very interesting...

Anonymous said...

I must say
What is DeepaLovely without TV ?
Good to see u blogging after an absence

Anonymous said...

Poor S and A! ;)
Now that you have written two posts so quickly, one must not expect updates for another month no?
Still, most lovely.

Vijay Vaidyanathan said...

Nice post. :)

Typical happenings in a "tamizh middle class" households.

Mo said...

Yeah, is this blog some kind of a joke?

Louu it.

Anonymous said...

Do not trouble my girl!

Anonymous said...

Daaai..yaar ra ivan Commie. Naan vanTTukkiren. ATP, gavinicchiya, naan Delli Tamiy vuttaachu.

Aen-na naa ippa PTC bus driver velai saendhukeeren.

En Tamiy ellaam sema improve aayitkdhu.

Vandhen-da B(h)as-karan
Pallavan patthi solla poraen!

KD. K Bodhi said...

Yey tamil ponnu. I stumbled across your blog and I think I may have a teeny-weeny crush on you.

And I am sure you would be pleased to know

1. I am non-Bharadwaja. Correct me if I a wrong but arent we supposed to not marry within the same gothram right?

2. IIT alum and a whiz in math;). I am sure I can give your T anna a run for his money.

3. Have a Jibli mama, ravi perippa, chidambaram mama, Lalita, Radha, Lakshmi (infact 3) et. al. So you can find all the usual suspects in my house.

4. My moms side folks have great hair. And my dads side have none. So my bro and I keep fighting over who gets the mom gene. The basis is only one gets the good hair gene. So far, touch teak wood, we both have, I wont say plenty, hair;).

And I think I like your mom also. She is such a stereotypical tam mami.

Enna problem na you are one village girl, smirk smirk, Kumbhakonam;). I am city bred;). Er... if you can call Madras, one.


P.S. Chalo, have to sleep. Will read the rest of your blog when I am free. That would be Monday, after Real analysis exam;).

Anonymous said...

Po, I am strictly rejetted!

And I have changed from being the asal tamizh payan,
1. who stands all day drinking tea and 'malt' at teru monai tea kadai
2. sings tam songs like "Vaithulada kozhi onu kuvudu"
3. Makes lewd gestures and whistles when a female, not necessarily good looking, passes by
4. Has a cig. but have never smoked

to one total Kappor (we call northies this), who now

1. meets people only at Barista:(.
2. sees only Thalaivar's padam and Rehman music
3. pengalai deiyvama madikiravan
4. is terribly worried about passive smoking.


Anonymous said...

Where are you? How is the big man? Write soon.

Bikerdude said...

Vanko ma.

Naan ung blog read paanrthk daaily Banglore leno train pudchkin vandhitkirengo.

Athnaale, unglode Bangalore fans kosro appo-appo puds-pudsa yedhach eldhi thallneengna koncho happinessa irukkungo medom.


Anonymous said...

Hey ATP,

Got your Blog link from my mom (of all people). I waded through your archives and figured that you were my senior at both Sishya and Stella. You did hang out with Kadambari, Malvika, Alappat didn't you?

I love your Blog. Totally. And it gets better knowing that I might know you!!

- Jayanthi

Asal Tamil Penn said...

@Jayanthi: Terrible!!!

Lavanya said...

naanum bharadwaja gothram dhaan.
besh-besh, onga blog romba nalla irukku, amma filter kaapi maadhri.

Anonymous said...

ATP...where art thou? Tis been a long wait!

Anonymous said...

Where are you?
Come back NOW.

Spunky Monkey said...

It's time you wrote something, really.
A blurker I am, coming out and all.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog, make me wanna scream out my bharathwaja gothram iyerness from the rooftops :))

Anonymous said...

Delightful articles. Enjoyed very much. Thanks. - vp

kalpana said...

chanced on ur blog through chandru's. spent half a useless day at work reading. well, that makes it half a useful day:)

D said...

Happened to come across your blog. Very well written! Though not a 'Tamizh Penn', an understanding of Tamil helped me gather the sarcasm and humor in your piece. I shall keep visiting this address for more!


angelspinenvy said...

I loved the bit when Delhi cousin said Ram (not Rama). I hate it when non-Tamizh (non-South Indian, I suppose) people do that too.
By the way, you should write a book. Really. I would buy it!

Acroyali said...

don't you dare take away leander's medal from the land of bengal! he grew up here! it belongs to us :D!

LOVE your blog. reading through all your posts.