How Tamil are You?


The Tamil Test

How Tamil are you? Were you born in a country where your Tamil ancestors lived? Do you know how to speak, read, and write the language? Do you follow cultural Tamil traditions? Do you wear a saree or vetti to every function you attend? Do you eat with your hands? Do you watch Tamil movies, know the lyrics of Tamil songs and read Tamil books, magazines, and newspapers? Or were you simply born to parents who fit these criteria?

If you answered YES to all the questions above, CONGRATULATIONS! You are as Tamil as one can possibly be! But for every question you answer NO to, you slowly slide down this scale that measures your authenticity. Where does this scale come from? It is subconsciously constructed in the minds of certain individuals of the Tamil Diaspora who follow a set of ideals that they feel define a “real” Tamil.

Will the “Real” Tamils Please Stand Up?

The “real” Tamil comes from a group of people in the Tamil Diaspora who have managed to retain traditional Tamil ideals. Although not everybody in this group share this person’s view, the “real” Tamil feels superior to their counterparts who did not retain these same ideals. If you dress a certain way, then it’s not the Tamil thing to do. If you speak with a certain slang or accent, then you’re trying too hard to be “Black”. You’re trying too hard to be “White”. You’re trying too hard to be anything but Tamil. What is being Tamil anyways?

Something considered to be a Tamil ideal fifty years ago may not be applicable to Tamil culture today. For example, puberty ceremonies were held in the past to signify a woman’s readiness for marriage. Is that still the case now? (See Coming of Age) Culture is dynamic. It evolves over time. The only way culture can remain static is if it is not influenced by any external factors. For that to happen, there should be no interaction, trade or communication with other groups. Nothing! Picture that. As a result of migration, we now have hybrid cultures like Canadian Tamil, British Tamil, American Tamil, etc. These cultures are fusions of multiple subcultures. Is it really fair to judge someone and question their identity as a Tamil because they have adapted certain Western norms and customs?

Did I Pass the Test?

I was born in Germany. I know how to speak, read, and write Tamil through the teachings of my mom at home. I’m not the most fluent, but leave me stranded in a Tamil-speaking country, and trust me I’ll find my way around. I pick and choose the cultural traditions I want to follow. When I’m home, I go commando in a saram. Oh man, it’s so comfortable, don’t even get me started. I eat with my hands most of the time when it comes to Tamil food. But sometimes I don’t. When I feel like it, I watch Tamil movies, listen to Tamil songs, and read Tamil writings. And lastly, my parents were born in Jaffna. Did I pass the test? Did I? I have my fingers crossed!

I’m someone who falls just about smack dab in the middle of this imaginary scale. I try to maintain as much traditional Tamil ideals as I possibly could by living outside of my homeland. But I’ve also adapted to the Torontonian lifestyle and have adopted certain values that reflect it. Nonetheless, I’m damn proud of being Tamil. Aren’t you?

Live Tamil. Love Tamil.

Tamils come in many forms, shapes, and sizes. We don’t all look the same. We don’t all share the same viewpoints. We don’t all practice the same traditional ideals. Accept it. Deal with it. Most importantly, embrace it. Let’s stop fussing over issues like how one dresses, talks, or behaves. Let’s stop creating internal divisions in our community. And let’s break down these walls between us. Although I believe that every Tamil should make an attempt at learning about our ancestral roots and culture, practicing our language, and helping our community, one’s efforts or lack of it does not make them more or less Tamil than another. We are all equally Tamil regardless. Let’s learn to love each other for who we simply are. A Tamil. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Nandri. Vanakkam.

– Anu

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect TamilCulture’s editorial policy.

For an alternative perspective, check out: “How ‘Ingilish’ are You?”

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@Anu_Ksomething is a loner who finds joy in sitting behind a computer monitor and venting about random stuff. He writes articles in hopes of finding others who are just as "normal" as him. Now, it's your turn...

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6 thoughts on “How Tamil are You?

  1. I believe that being Tamil is something that comes from the very bottom of your heart and knowing your sense of identity and pride. Therefore, this so-called ‘Tamil Test’ is extremely biased and very narrow-minded. As a Tamil Hindu, I am moderate and open-minded in my beliefs, but I can speak, read and write Tamil quite fluently. I grew up in a family that did not watch Tamil movies or listened to Tamil songs much. Instead, I learned Karnatic classical music with complicated Tamil words and Bharatnatyam dance. Every Tamil person has a way of expressing themselves and should not have to be subjected to this ridiculous ‘Tamil test’.

  2. This article completely speaks to me. It’s very true,
    especially in a world now bent upon globalization and even neo-colonialism for
    profit and the ever-changing demographics of nations all-over this planet, that
    one cannot retain the prehistoric ethnic identities of our ancestors. My
    father, at a young age, had the opportunity to travel the world by working on a
    ship for years and living in different countries throughout his twenties and
    thirties like Greece, Brazil, and in cities like New Orleans and then finally
    coming back to Sri Lanka to get married, but then hitched his way back because
    he just couldn’t stay away from all the adventure. A year later, he settled in
    Canada in 1988 in his own apartment in the heart of Toronto, proud to be the
    owner of a new microwave oven, television, VCR, and at the time a typewriter,
    as those things weren’t readily available in Sri Lanka. Simultaneously, my dad,
    having experienced so many different cultures and cuisines, is able to concoct
    some of the best Greek food I’ve ever tasted and he speaks a little Greek and
    even knows some Portuguese and German. Anyways, I digress, while he was in
    Canada he became accustomed to the music and culture of Canada. Today I’m
    living, breathing proof of how my dad’s exposure has led me to become something
    of a unique Tamilian among my cousins, aunts and uncles. My dad has a
    collection of old albums and records from the 80’s and 90’s and lots of Motown,
    like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson 5. Growing up, while my Tamil
    peers were listening to Carnatic and Tamil songs, I was listening to all these
    records and from an early age I could recognize RnB from soul and developed a
    fancy for old school hip hop. Of course I grew up listening to Tamil songs as well
    and watched some movies, though I did decline in this activity over the years,
    but now I’m back watching and delving for songs and movies. Even my mom was a
    trendsetter for all her brothers and sisters when she joined my dad in Canada
    in 1994. My mom wore shoulder pads and got bangs and wore stilettos and ruby
    red lipstick and basically she looked like a flapper minus the attitude and
    everybody adored how she was bold enough to just go with the “white”
    look instead of the baggy skirts and neck high sweaters that most Tamil women
    indulged in. Since a young age my brothers and I have definitely grew up in an
    environment where our parents were bold and adaptable and encouraged us to find
    a unique self among our contemporaries. We moved through all the major cities
    in Canada until we settled in Vancouver, while there, a huge Asian population
    is evident and we became accustomed to sushi, green tea, spring rolls, fine
    silk and the graceful arts of Kung Fu and calligraphy. Today I listen to
    “white” music a lot, from alternative rock, indie rock, acid jazz,
    alternative hip hop, rock music in all its forms – grunge, post-grunge, punk,
    metal, screamo and more. I owe that all to my parents for making me who I am. I
    am a Tamil girl who isn’t someone who watches Sun TV or listens to Tamil songs,
    or watches Surya films all the time. I am a Tamil girl who loves Broadway
    musicals (particularly “Wicked”), loves all forms of alternative
    music or “avant garde”, who indulges in world history, who loves
    Greek food and someday wishes to go to Greece, enlightens herself in politics
    of every country including the atrocities happening in Sri Lanka, who loves to
    go out with her friends to poetry slams and listens to Culture Club day in and
    day out, has piercings that I didn’t get behind my parents back because they
    agreed to them, and one day is going to get a tattoo as well. Maybe in a patriarchal
    society, where women who are free and dress “provocatively” are “sluts”, I am
    one. Not because I’m promiscuous, but because I enjoy culture and show it. I
    call myself a Tamil girl, even though I may not fluently speak Tamil or go to a
    temple every chance there is. Tamil is the very essence of me and I am one no
    matter what I like to do or my interests. There’s more to being Tamil than
    speaking the language in a most disgraceful way by mocking other people who don’t
    speak it while they’re right beside you. There’s more to being Tamil than being
    a catty and stuck up person who thinks I’m above everybody else just because of
    the sari I’m wearing that I spent my entire savings on or because I can speak
    my language, not respectfully in all its beauty, but be able to shout profanities
    with it. Even though she and everyone who has belittled me, put me down, and
    called my love of culture “white washed” or never once showed appreciation of
    other cultures beyond their tiny bubbles of Super Singer and Vijay won’t be
    able to identify me, this is dedicated to them, to all “real” Tamils who are intolerant
    and ignorant. I believe a Tamil is full of one thing and that is love, because
    truly that’s what we are, a loving people, but these ignoramuses are covering
    those that truly are representative of what being a Tamil is all about. Much
    love xoxoxo and very sorry about this long post :S

  3. Isn’t kind of absurd to be proud of something we have no control over? I should be proud if I accomplish something, not because I was born.

  4. Good article and I agree with the sentiments of the author. However, there is definitely a reluctance among young Tamils in the Western diaspora to speak Tamil.
    Most Westernized Tamils can’t speak Tamil and express no pride in learning or speaking it. This is because many Westernized diaspora Tamils implicitly associate Tamil with backwardness, poverty, misogyny, patriarchy etc.
    The regressive attitudes of some “true Tamils” doesn’t help. When “true Tamils” cling to and perpetuate outdated ideals, it alienates other Tamils further.
    So while it’s important for us to preserve our language, there must also be reform within Tamil culture for our people to develop an advanced progressive society. Otherwise, we will continue to see more and more Tamils abandoning their language and culture in favour of that of their colonial masters’.

  5. Why are you posting a picture with basically all white people in Desi ethnic clothing? Have you even heard of cultural appropriation! She is not doing herself, her community, and her culture any favors by being in a union with a white man and basically having no Desi people at her wedding. I don’t think this is what you should be promoting to young Tamil girls. She is mentally colonized and basically turned a beautiful Desi cultural event into a white supremacist colonial event where there only are a few token Indians or minorities. Think about it: you are being marginalized and are the minority at your own cultural event, this is pathetic and disgusting.

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