The Avuncular Armchair Adventures, #1

There are many kinds of mamas (Tamil for “Avuncular Authority”) in this world, and I plan to chronicle their adventures, or the lack of them, as they sit on their armchairs and hold forth on various issues troubling our world. 

This one is titled: 

Sigappu Marx mama (originally introduced here)

Cast: aforementioned mama, nephew indulging in various soul-selling activities, crossword-solving, Tai-chi practicing maami.

In a world that he claims is black and white, his thoughts were usually tinged red. Sitting shirtless on an easy chair, using Noam Chomsky’s “Government in the future” as a makeshift visiri (hand-held Almonard), the conspicuous absence of the sacred thread made for stark contrast in a household where every one wore their faith on their sleeve. Actually, on their foreheads, to be precise. In his youth, his friends used to call him “Metaphor Mani”, and he had just retired after 25 years of service in the University of Madras library.

“What is sacred about that thread, I say? All it does is soak in your sweat and grow sickly yellow with age. It is all part of the bourgeosie identity, and I will have nothing to do with that. What makes it even worse nowadays is its unmistakable decline into the capitalism of mobile-phone toting, handheld-homam-fan wielding, mamo-paartha spouting vaadhiars who have turned what was already a superstitious belief into the religious equivalent of an item song”

Not only was he just politically red, he was generally well read. He could misquote Shakespeare with more aplomb than anybody else in the family. He saw himself as Lear, as a noble man saddled with useless children, and his one regret in life is his inability to supply an X-chromosome. With 2 sons, both investment bankers in New York, his dream of dreaming of being Lear was nipped in the bud. He had wanted to name his second son Regan Venkatesh, but his father had overruled him. 

“Dei. Do you know what aidheeham means?”, he asked, peering out of his Hindu crossword and startling his nephew, who was working hard at forgetting all the engineering he had been taught and learn instead to manipulate spreadsheets as an MBA graduate.” 

“No, mama”, and he went back to solving his carefully timed mock test. 

“Come on. You are studying to become yet another capitalist stooge, so at least do a honest job of it. You must understand what aidheeham is”

With a silent prayer wishing that mama be born as Allan Greenspan in his next birth, he closed shut his mock test, and looked up with the expression of a tired man looking at the bartender and saying “hit me”. 

“It’s a temple’s marketing meme. Just like Sprite has this whole cool-chill-out-it’s-just-about-the-drink background story, a temple’s marketing message it its aidheeham. I could cook one up just now, and I could convince maami to break 2 coconuts a week and sport an iron ring for 2 months because this temple’s aidheeham involves Lord Ayyappan forging a One ring in the Treta Yugam so that he could break coconuts without asking for help, and that the whole coconut breaking business was symbolic of the deity’s ability to metaphorically crack life’s problems. And maami will believe it, as long as I sounded earnest enough. And wore a sacred thread. At the end of the day, a temple is nothing more than a corporate entity whose rationale for existence is to maximize profits for its trustees. They define various service offerings such as homams, archanas and advertise them using some more standard marketing principles such as segmentation….”.

“So?”, the nephew interrupted. He had heard this line of argument before. 

“Don’t you get it? All these religious practices are cunning devices crafted by a few powerful men to prevent us all from realizing our full potentials, from exploring the world with all our freedom, as nature intended us to. TV wants your attention. Companies want your money. Godmen want your belief. Temples want all of the above.”

“I don’t get it.”

“You must be watching too much television. You should read more. Television is a trap I say. All those scantily clad women are disrobing for one reason – to use those very cloths to cover your eyes from the truth. Take this Nayanthara, for instance. She is a disgrace to women, I say. Did the suffragettes struggle just so she can follow in the footsteps of Zeenat Ammanam? I have just one advice for her – “A stitch in time will save Nayan”

“Oh really? But if she is an independent woman, as you say she is, then why shouldn’t she dress the way she wants to?”

“That’s because she is not really free. She is under the patriarchal control of the sexist Kollywood elite who exploit her and other actresses”

“Aah”

“All that apart, do you know what the real problem is?”

“You mean, apart from mamas who are actively engaged in preventing nephews from becoming capitalistic stooges?”

(This piece of obvious sarcasm completely skirts around mama’s ears. In fact, most auditory input tended to skirt around mama’s ears, especially when he was in the process of producing auditory outputs himself)

“Let me tell you. Ei Karpagam, coffee varuma? Or are the beans still being picked in Coorg?”

(Voice from kitchen politely requests mama to join aforementioned bean-picking teams in Coorg in order to expedite the current coffee making process)

“Let me get started anyway. The biggest problem with Indian society is inheritance”

“Inheritance.”

“Yes. You see. I believe inheritance is at the root of our class divisions. You are studying to be a free market slave because you were born in a Tambram family. You inherit your father’s caste, and his money, and that pays for your Vidya Mandir education, Engineering college fees and now, MBA preparatory classes. I am also part of that attractive package, because without me, you wouldn’t know the difference between beautiful and beauteous. You, young man, are sitting on top of a pile of privileged inheritance that goes back thousands of years.”

“And, your point is?”

“For our society to be truly liberated, we must ban inheritance”

“Eh?.”

“Yes. Ban it. Expunge it. Obliterate it. Deep-six it.Imagine a society where parents could pass on nothing more than their genes to their children, and all of education was funded by a trust that collected money from everyone and doled it out equally. If rich people want good education for their children, they just need to contribute more to this common fund so that everyone benefits”

“Interesting, but don’t you think this institution you create will end up becoming a huge source of corruption, as is always the case with monolithic socialist institutions?”

“Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. It must be tried I say. Anyway, let me not disturb you in your negotiations to sell your soul. Let me get back to my crossword. One encountered confused hot chick (4). Wonder what that can be?

“Item”, announced maami as she sauntered in with a tray holding 2 stainless steel tumblers filled with coffee. 

“Adey. Look. Your maami is not bad at crosswords”

(Maami’s resulting expression had subtitles that could fill an entire screen. In brief, it hinted at mama’s fairly frequent consultations on crossword clues in the past, and also suggested a mighty battle against a hard-to-resist temptation to spill the beans to an already annoyed nephew)

“So what do you think about the bailout?”

(The nephew was, just for a moment, considering a surreptitious attempt to continue his unfortunate mock test, but he quickly realized that mock tests were no match for mamas who had perfected the art of interruption to sistine chapel levels.)

“Um. Guess they had to do it as part of rescue operations after Hurricane Subprima?”

“You are missing the point again. You need to think deeply. Especially since you are planning to sell your soul. The Free Market applies only for you, me, and people at the bottom. It does not apply to the folks at the top. When you and me go bankrupt, they will say “Tough luck. Market forces”, but when banks go rupt, the Ayn Rand books go back to being put to use for what they were originally designed for – as muscle development fitness tools, and the Das Kapital is whipped out. It’s socialism for the rich, and free markets for the poor. It doesn’t work any other way.”

“I see”

“My philosophy is classic libertarian, you see”

(Maami’s voice can be heard from the kitchen, muttering something to the effect that, despite the high-falutin philosophy, mama’s profession was, at the end of the day, classic librarian)

“Are you following the US elections?”

“Um. yes. It’s hard not to. The internet seems to assume that every one is interested”

“What is your opinion of Sarah Palin?”

“She is a 3rd grade Joe Six pack’s hockey mom?”

“No. That is being disrespectful. When you are on the left, you do not indulge in smears. You indulge in subtle sarcasm. So I will say this – when I was in class 8, and the history exam asked me to list 5 factors that started the Franco-Prussian war, it was expected that my answer would at least refer to something remotely Prussian or French, preferably both, but this lady? She simply does not answer the question she is asked, pa. It is a disgrace, I say”

(Maami announces that in order for food to be prepared in the kitchen, ingredients are required, and in order to meet said requirement, people who waste their time sitting on armchairs and disturb MBA-preparing nephews must take a shopping list and, this is important, buy _only_ the items specified on that list. She added that his class 8 history exam cracking method might be useful to emulate, in terms of following instructions written on paper.)

57 Comments

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  1. hmm… as humour, this shines like all the other posts… but the hidden idealogical statements don’t..
    “It’s socialism for the rich, and free markets for the poor. ” –
    coz if the rich were to be left to the free will of the markets at this point of time, it would possibly affect the poor more than the rich… not to mention the IT services dependent developing nations like ours…
    anyways nice food for thought early in the morning…
    Ashok: No ideology and all pa. Mama is simply recycling one of Chomsky’s old interviews.

  2. By refusing to pass on his wealth isn’t mama unwittingly helping the “rich get richer poor get poorer” state of affairs. The poor children sure need everything their parents can give them.

  3. I like the way you take a dig at superstitious beliefs. It’s quite hilarious.
    If I may suggest, please read this book titled “Hidden Mysteries.” The author has thrown light on the less known facts of life. A definite eye-opener.

  4. You do convey a lot thro humor.I see your blog is popular.I do hope that those who enjoy the humor also get the message right.What ever be it, continue your blogging as it definitely is interesting

  5. Superb prose! I wish I could write like you.
    “A stitch in time will save Nayan”. Absolutely lovely.
    If you strain a bit harder, you can hear me still laughing out my heart here.

  6. Thalaiva, as usual, a great post! while reading, it is easy to picture the entire cast …. you really have a flair for writing and all in all, great! keep it up, i say!

  7. hehee… rich get richer poor get poorer… why doesnt mama mention rajni in sivaji for the effect? or is he too much on the marxist side to bow down to anyone buut mgr (which every tamilian MUST)
    Ashok: That’s because mama is a closet rajini hater, but will not speak out openly. He deplores Rajini’s popular oversimplification of complex issues

  8. Regan Venkatesh born to a Red Maama? I think not. Perhaps a Red Gun Venkatesh.
    Ashok: But Goneril Venkatesh would have sounded ridiculous, no?

  9. Actually the thread has two very important uses.
    1. You can hang your house key on it.
    2. You can scratch any part of your back without third party assistance

    But the mama’s point is well taken.

    Goneril Venkatesh deserves a triple somersault and sashtaang namaskar, which I shall proceed to do forthwith.

    Whew! Not as young as I once was, what! All this contemporary barbarism is getting to me.

  10. I totally agree with Narendraji. I love my sacred thread for scratching my back. Just imagine a world without it, how would you scratch your back? We have to be glad that we are not those who are “I scratch your back you scratch mine”. We learn to be independent by wearing the thread and scratching ourselves. In a macro economical sense, we create the Thread Maker jobs and contribute to the Thread industry, that’s why we have that every year thread changing thingie.
    I am surprised you didn’t mention Joe Plumber instead of Joe Six pack. Wrote this before the last debate-a ?
    Joe Plumber became an overnight celebrity. I tweeted a few movie names with him – Hindi: Joe Jeetha Wohi Plumber, Telugu: Alludu Plumberu, Pokkiri Plumber, Plumberu Majakka, Tamil: ‘Kuzhai’ with Vijay as lead.

  11. one for the ages! really missed out on maamas like this..

    btw, the last part about subtle sarcasm: either its too soft or i didn’t get it, in which case i request someone enlighten me.
    Ashok: You mean mama’s point about being subtle when being a left-winger? That’s just part of the elitism that comes with being an intellectual leftie. They believe that swift-boat style smears are too in-your-face, and instead, resort to more subtle, nuanced criticism

  12. sooper o sooper KA,,,,, ROTFL on “Item” and coorg beans…..seemed almost like the exact answers my appa would get from my amma ….
    sssssss nostalgic it got me…..

  13. One great use for the pooNal is during morning loans (kaalai kadan-gal a.k.a restroom activities). You can pick up the bottom of the thread near your stomach (and take the shirt along with it), and hang the thread around your neck. This way, the shirt has no danger of getting s(p)oiled while impeding any liquid expulsions.

  14. A bit long post.. But good as well always….

    The way you integrate humor, ideology, superstition and social life into real life scenarios is awesome. Maybe you should consider doing a “fakesteve” and try to get your blogs published as a book!

  15. Krish saaru,

    Zimbly it is time to review my religious advisor Bill Maher’s latesht opus magnanimous: Religulous. The Movie.

    Zimbly so appropriate here

    Right up my street, Aslo right up your street, dah

  16. “You can pick up the bottom of the thread near your stomach (and take the shirt along with it), and hang the thread around your neck. This way, the shirt has no danger of getting s(p)oiled while impeding any liquid expulsions.”

    holy shit!

  17. Umm..first commenter. The events of past six weeks prove that there is no real libertarian in a financial crisis. Agree, we have to be practical now.

  18. I did wonder what Ayn Rand would have thought of the Hurricane Subprima and the bailout.
    This is brilliant stuff and am only sure about one thing. Even if the nephew clears the feline test, he is going to be really bad in the GDs and interviews. Mama could help in there…..
    Ashok: She would drown herself, and settle in Rapture

  19. How is it working out… being so witty and funny??
    Must be lonely 🙂

    great post
    Ashok: If this blog is any indication, the number of witty commenters I get keeps me completely un-lonely 🙂

  20. Great stuff.

    Love the way Nephew slowly gets entangled into Mama’s monologues and dialogs.

    Superb – How mama effortlessly jumps from sacred thread, adideeham, Nayanthara, suffragettes,Zeenat Ammanam (Hoo, did people get this one!), privileged inheritance, bailout, Sarah palin.

    Mami’s background punch to the whole scene.

    This post is mastery of screenplay, social knowledge, humor, word play, characterization and superb timing.

    I recommend reading this post twice. There are lots of hidden treasures.

    Thanks to Internet – there are interesting post to read other than US elections.
    Ashok: Ayyo too much praise saar. Now where will I find someone for drishti sutthification in Helsinki?

  21. Marx Mama.. 😀 .. what about a bhagavatham reading,narayaneeyum teaching ,good-carnatic singer,excellent vattakuzhambu cooking, hot looks mami,married to Marx Mama for the next point ?? 😛

    Btw..i have my reservations with the answer for the Crossword answer,

    One encountered confused hot chick (4).
    given it is the hindu,”Item” doesnt sound right

    Prolly lulu or Babe or some anagram of these words which might mean encountered(because “confused” is in the clue)

  22. ok the nerd in me is highly disturbed but the ban on inheritance! Imagine writing classes without the extends clause. But then inheritance is here to stay, lemme explain in javamatically and humanmatically.

    you extend a class but then it is upto your discretion to use the methods in the superclass. Similarly, you inherit a lot from the prev generation but then they only serve as an indicator.

    Some people blindly follow everything without questioning their validity, just liek the 60% pass candidates who still manage to get into infy, wipro and other sweatshop companies. They go and call every method jsut so that it adds more lines of code and hence more billing hours!

    I know it’s vague, but then you get my drift.
    PS: howz it in finland?
    Ashok: Note to self: Never make programming references when so many of my readers are code simians. And oh, Finland – cold and quiet

  23. It’s been lonely for me without the voice of a Mama in the blogworld.

    Avuncular Athmaraman Mama: well arrived!
    Ashok: Ah thang you. He might be a singular mama, but there’s a plurality of these singulars. The next one is Satchinmayasivananda mama, who is spiritually higher than industrial grade ethanol, and is completely convinced that ancient Indian sages discovered relativity and rocket science while chilling out in their himalayan caves

  24. gireesh: machaa, the crossword clue was absolutely fine.
    One = I, Encountered = met and confused implies anagram of I + met = Item = hot chick.
    Ashok:Yes. You got it right.

  25. ranga,
    unlike the times of india, where items are on the front page itself, the hindu crossword would never have “item” in the sense in which it was meant. thats what the other bugger was objecting to, i presume. in any case, i too object. But the spirit of the clue is appreciated. 😀

  26. @ranga:: I think pv said it right.In hindu crossword “item” will never be used as “item” 😉

    I had mentioned that in my prev comment itself..

    Quote ,”given it is the hindu,”Item” doesnt sound right”

    and yes you are right..TOI has items on all pages

    @pv.I am more of a debugger not a bugger,if you get that point 😛 .

  27. “Ashok: That’s because mama is a closet rajini hater, but will not speak out openly. He deplores Rajini’s popular oversimplification of complex issues”

    isn’t mama being just a tad bit hypocritical here??
    Ashok: Ofcourse he is. One cannot be a tambram mama if one is not hypo or critical or both. It comes with the package

  28. “Ayappan forging a One ring in the Treta Yugam”

    Just One Ring? I was expecting – Three rings for Brahmin-priests, seven for the Kshatriyas-lords and so on…

    When will we see a “Lard of the Reengs” starring Rajini?

  29. Hi Dude,

    Write an article about reservation in india.

    Just bcoz some “Y” caste guy of mine dominated the “X” class guy, i am suffering in college admissions and jobs. One of my classmate who had no clue about biology is a government hospital doctor. God save his patients coz he still doesnt seem to know anything.

    Do we really have to suffer in reservations for our ancestors domination or the other guys mistake in not opposing it? Reservation should be based on ur economic status if at all they want.

    Hope u chew this in ur own words 😉

    Waiting for ur post !!!!

    — GM

  30. love the tai-chi practising, sarcastic maami!! The coorg punch was brilliant!!

    Do post more often krish.
    Ashok: Used to average about 20 a month, but have settled down to 1 a week (usually Sunday nights)

    Keep going – your posts rock!

    P.S – i hope i dont sound presumptive – but if helsinki is lonely, i have some wonderful vethakozhambu cooking friends there – maybe you guys can catch up!!
    Ashok: Just got back from Helsinki. Unfortunately, our company folks kept taking us out to Indian restaurants, while I was looking forward to trying Finnish food. Their beer is really nice though

  31. I have an effing midterm tomorrow and I am browsing for blogs to read…..yours definitely held my interest. :-).
    the blog was awesome……gotta give credit when it is due… here I am, Iwear my sacred thread and go to the temple in NY atleast twice every week and read and reread ayn rand every now and then because I love her works…….. and when I say its awesome…..it probably counts twice as much. 🙂
    Ashok: Thank you 🙂 And best of luck on your midterms

  32. The trouble with a name like Goneril Venkatesh is that, sometime during your high school days, someone or the other is going to come up with the earth-shatteringly unimaginative nickname of Gonorrhea for you. At which point, Marx Mama RIP. Frankly, poor Venky could claim justifiable homicide and get away with it.

    I have a feeling that Mama would have enough of a sense of self-preservation to realize this, even if he doesn’t actually say it.

    ~r

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