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”


“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”


“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”


“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.)