Thursday, February 15, 2007

45. 10- PERIYAR & THE CASTE SYSTEM

PERIYAR & THE CASTE SYSTEM

In my childhood days in Kasiapuram I used to find one odd thing. It was the visit of some poor people in the late hours of evenings with their bowls to every house in the village. They were the dhobis and barbers of the village. They would come by the back door and very humbly announce themselves. Ladies of the houses would give them a chunk of old maize-choru or kazhi as it was known. For this they used to make this kazhi once a week. There were so many questions in my mind then. Why not they could be given freshly prepared kazhi and why always week-old kazhi? Why should they come so humbly and ask for alms? Why were these people treated differently from our other relatives? Even as a child I was tutored to call or talk to them with least respect. Even aged people were called by even children in such language? So many questions. But I never dared to ask anyone about it since it was part of that village life. Whether I liked it or not, I too called them in the usual disrespectful way as everyone. This habit came to an end only when I was around 9 – 10 years old. By that time I hade moved to Madurai.

We had a hair-cutting salon near my house and that is where my appa used to take me for my monthly hair cut – those days I had really thick hair on my present bald head! The owner’s name was Thangam and his salon was entirely of a different type unlike other salons of those days. Salons of those days used to have an array of mirrors and lot of pictures of pin-up girls. I still don’t understand the psychology of those decorated salons of yester years. Was it because it was out and out a male domain and they had the privilege of drooling over such sexy pictures? I still don’t know. Nevertheless Thangam’s salon was not of that type. His shop was quite above the road level without any proper steps; just some stone blocks served as the steps. Whenever I went there I had to be hauled up by Thangam into the shop from the ‘steps’ which were so low. He had just two large mirrors opposite two salon-chairs. There were no pictures; no blaring radio; no unnecessary crowd discussing national and international politics. In any such a salon you could find every minute somebody dropping in to give ’final touches’ to their hairdo, using the comb and mirror of the salon for free. I never knew whether they were all regular customers or regular intruders. Walls of the salon would be very clean. But there used to be only one picture occupying a prominent place in the salon. At that time I did know whose photograph was that. I thought it could be somebody related to Thangam. I used to go there for the regular cutting only with my appa and here too I found appa talking to Thangam in the same parlance as they did in village to those who used to come for the kazhi late in the evenings.

Probably I was doing fourth or fifth standard when for the first time appa sent me to salon alone. He gave instructions as to how my hair dressing should be done and asked me to pass those instructions to Thangam. When I got into the chair in the salon I started reeling out the instructions given by appa. I addressed him using the same disrespectful language. Thangam listened to my instructions. Then very calmly in a soothing tone he asked me which class I was doing. I told him. The next question was very pointed. Did your teacher teach you like this to address elders in this disrespectful language? I was stunned. The question whacked me right on my face. Mr. Thangam appeared to me growing into a colossal figure right in front of my eyes. I mumbled my apology. From that minute I always addressed my elders with respect irrespective of any other factor.

Latter I came to know the photograph that adorned the walls of Mr. Thangam’s salon was the portrait of E.V.R. Periyar !


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6 comments:

cinna said...

Sir, I was reminded of my boyhood days in Karimedu. The hairdresser
always had his way and gave a uniform summer crop to most children and boys. Concepts like human equality are still to penetrate into our consciousness.

தருமி said...

mm...m..karimedu. மதுரைக்காரரா?

independence given to the wards by the parents can easily be gauged by finding when parents allow their children to go alone for a haircut! i heard about a colleague who used to go with his son to give instructions even when the poor guy was doing his final year medic. !

தங்கவேல் said...

Dharumi Sir,

Have you noticed most of the yester year saloon shops would have Periyar or Anna or Karunanidhi. (The shops I visited had). I was told by someone that MK belongs to their caste. That's why his photo adorned those shops and I did believe that.

//Salons of those days used to have an array of mirrors and lot of pictures of pin-up girls. //

Still in rural or semi urban saloon shops have these pictures.

Nice post. I would one day post my experience on similar issue in my blog. Thanks

தருமி said...

thangavel
that is the thing i wanted to tell thru this post. the suppressed people got some solace and also the guts to raise their heads and straighten their spines becasue of DK and DMK, hence the leaders got into their psyche, and their pictures at their homes, shops and also they started having dravidian / tamil names. in sixties it should have been either Periyar or Anna. if KK was there it would be as one of the 5 top leaders of DMK. i am definite that KK was not there 'coz of his caste; rather 'coz he was from the party which brought initially the awareness among people about the casteism.

awaiting to read your post on this line.

Gopalan Ramasubbu said...

Good post Sir.

You might be interested in this article about Periyar..

http://www.themronline.com/200108m19.html

excerpts:

After 50 years of tireless striving, hard struggle and massive educational efforts through speeches, writings and demonstrations, he left behind him a society vastly different from the one he inherited - more alert, more questioning, less gullible, better educated, more modern and in general closer to the take of point for a state of living that would be richer in all respects.

Krishnan said...

Thanks Tharumi. It too have had similar experiences in my native place near TIRUNELVELI.