By Chirag Aidasani:
“Achcha aap Madrasi hai? (Oh, are you a Madrasi?)”
This is the reaction any Indian who happens to belong from any of the four southern states receives in any other part of the country, during introductions. And as a person with half his genes belonging to South India, this is something that greatly annoys me.
It has been a good 56 years since the States Reorganization Act which resulted in the states of India being organized on linguistic lines. This resulted in all of the mainstream South Indian diasporas, i.e., Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam having their own states. But sadly, even after the passage of these many years, the label of ‘Madrasi’ has not eluded us.
What is so offensive on being called ‘Madrasi’, one might ask. Well, the word itself isn’t offensive but what people correspond to this word is offensive and reeks of ignorance and stereotypes. It may have started as an ethnic slur to denote people from the erstwhile Madras presidency. But over the years, people have formed a definite image of South Indians which is ridiculously aggravating, to say the least.
Bollywood has a big part in exaggerating the stereotypes against South Indians. In tinsel-town, these are some common conceptions about The South Indian person.
1. The South Indian is always a Tamilian and that too a Brahmin.
2. The South Indian man always wears a lungi with a white horizontal tilak on the forehead. South Indian women only wear heavy Kanjivaram sarees with a gajra (flowers) on their head and of course, the white tilak is omnipresent on their forehead too.
3. The South Indian always speaks English and Hindi in a highly distinctive accent.
4. The South Indian is always vegetarian.
5. The South Indian is always intelligent and nerdy.
6. The South Indian utters words like ‘Amma’, ‘Appa’, ‘Ayyo’, ‘Murugana’, etc. at least once in a sentence.
7. The South Indian is an excellent Bharatanatyam dancer.
8. The South Indian only eats dosa, idli, vada, sambar and, as a holiday treat, rasam and rice.
9. The South Indian always has names along the lines of Subramanium, Venkateswara, Krishna Swamy, Iyer, Nagarjuna, Srinivasan, etc.
10. The South Indian always has a photo of Rajnikanth along with other deities in the in-house temple.
These are the general guidelines followed by Bollywood to portray South Indians and then people have the audacity to ask why we get annoyed by watching all this.
The first films, at least in my recent memory, that broke the Madrasi stereotype were “Chak De India” and “Housefull”. I was fortunate enough to watch “Chak De India” in Hyderabad, one of my home cities. And during the introduction of the hockey players, there came the dialogue of Nethra Reddy, a Telugu woman in the film, played by actor Sandia Furtado. The dialogue which was in response to the interviewer’s question as to what is the difference between Tamil and Telugu, was, “Utna hi, jitna ek Punjabi aur ek Bihari main hota hai. (Same as the difference between people from Punjab and Bihar.)” Watch from 1 minute in the video below.
Then the same SRK did a film like “Ra.One” with the same Madrasi stereotypes. He even went to the extent of eating noodles with curd and that too with his hands! (I mean SRK, really?)
And the film “Housefull” too was appreciated by me, not because of its humour which was rather ludicrous, but because it portrayed South Indians played in the film by Deepika Padukone and Arjun Rampal without any stereotypes.
The point is, we are tired of the Madrasi stereotype and it’s about time that our fellow Indians know that South Indian is just a generic term and all of us are not the same, just as all North Indians are not the same. We each have our own different languages and traditions no matter how similar they may seem and no we do not understand each other’s languages. Tamil sounds as alien to me just as Punjabi would. So I would request India to not label me, I am a South Indian, but I am not a Madrasi.