freshwater fish, saltwater sea

On our many identities: geographical, cultural, and linguistic


This is a collaborative piece
Text: Sahana Srinivasan
Art: Manasvini Suresh

 

“sahana”, my mother says, as a six-year old me valiantly held on the overstuffed arm of a very slippery velvet couch in the house of our new neighbours. “She’s named after a carnatic ragam”.
karnatak? acha so aap south ke ho...”, asks the bejewelled aunty-apparition on the other side of the conversation.

tamil, she stands corrected, and repeats, but she says “ta-mil” with a “t” as in traitor.

which is what I feel like when “sakhiye” from alaipayuthey blares on a sunday morning in my little european kitchenette [*], but I find myself singing “saathiya” instead.

but that’s alright, i rationalize to myself, because after every meal of stoverij met frietjes and a pintje, I’ll come home to the covert comforts of curd rice, always.

***

prem and I walk down a leafy alley in t. nagar.

“i don’t ever particularly feel aggressively tamilian, you know, unless someone is being aggressively anything else, and then i just have to...”

we simultaneously make fighter hands under the streetlights, circling each other, belligerently yelling DEI! … but the euphoria dissipates rapidly when a 47D rides past, but i can’t tell if it’ll take me home because the neon stops are flashed in my language that, at 27, i still cannot read.

***

“so, where are you from?”

[ages 18-25]

“well, i grew up in the east...”

grub club pork momos instead of studying thermodynamics. nyaka and paaka and aantel. now, mum and i wait for rainy afternoons, we use it as an excuse to eat khichuri with begun bhaja. every year when summer fades to a nip in the october air, i think, “ah, must almost be mahalaya!”

“… but i’m from the south.”

my south of my grandfather’s house, guarded by a rusted metal gate whose latch never worked. my south, thick brick walls of urgency for morkozhambu, strangely strongly fiercely held opinions on the superiority of kumbakonam degree coffee, camphor at 6pm. sunday morning sketch comedy show, that 25m stretch on valluvarkottam that smells like newly ground sambar podi

[now]

“chennai. i’m tamilian.”

***

So when you say “tamil”, i’ll correct you, it’s not the “t” as in tarn-taran, but softer – more like “th” as in the “thuis”, that warm dutch word that means a house of my own.

 

Glossary:

Alaipayuthey: the 2000 film starring Madhavan, that later was adapted into Hindi with Vivek Oberoi as 'Saathiya’

Morkozhambu: A Tamil spiced stew, with a yogurt base

Sambar podi: The ground spice combination that makes sambaar

Stoverij met frietjes: Belgian hand cut fries topped off with a meat-based gravy 

Pintje: A little pint of beer

Nyaka: Somewhat untranslatable Bengali descriptor for ‘fussy’

Paaka: Slightly less untranslatable Bengali word for precocious

Aantel: Another stunningly useful Bengali word best used to describe a pseudo-intellectual. 

Khichuri and begun bhaja: Khichdi (rice, lentils and veggies steamed to gooey perfection) served with batter-fried eggplants

Mahalaya: the first of the 10 day Durga Puja season. 



 

Manasvini Suresh is a visual artist from Mumbai currently based in Manhattan. She enjoys exploring the female form and mind through various artistic mediums such as music, traditional art and animation. 

Sahana Srinivasan used to live in Calcutta, and then she used to live in Chennai. Now she lives in Ghent, and is halfway through her PhD.

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