By Anu Chitrapu
INDIA New England News Columnist
BELMONT, MA–To our American friends, all Indians may seem alike. When my kids were in elementary school one mom would confuse me with the only other Indian mom in the school. Till this day, I am not sure she knows there were two of us! The truth is that amongst us Indians, there are two very distinct groups – the North Indians and the South Indians.
For the North Indians, anyone living south of the Vindhyas is a Madrasi – not sure what Madrasi means because Madras is a very specific city in the state of Tamil Nadu. Similarly, to South Indians anyone north of the Vindhyas is a Bihari (yes, I have heard this from many South Indians) even if they lived in the eastern corner or western tip of the country!
North Indian food is significantly different from South Indian food. While rotis (bread) is the staple food in the North, rice has a pivotal place in the South. Funnily, it is the US that has created one version of Indian food! All Indian restaurants serve “curry” which is not even a dish by itself in India, chicken tikka masala and palak panneer – all of these dishes are from the North.
In fact, some dishes like Rogan Josh, I will admit, I had never even heard of growing up in the South. I was quite taken aback when an American friend of mine asked me to make Rogan Josh for him! Of course once I knew it was a lamb dish there was no way I would make it. A lot of South Indians are vegetarian (or at least the parents in India think so), so dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala are Indian dishes that a lot of South Indians discovered in America. Nothing like learning about Indian cuisine in the US!
As for accents, I blame the South Indian languages for missing certain letters in the alphabet, thereby making it very difficult for them to pronounce certain words. Like Mahatma Gandhi is referred to as Magatma Gandhi by some South Indians and don’t blame them, the problem is there is no “HA” in languages like pure Tamil so one is forced to spell Mahatma as Magatma! Similary some North Indians say “eessnake” for snake. And no the eess is not the hissing of the snake, just the fact that in their Indian language there is an “e” in front of words starting with the sound “sa”. But here in Boston we all speak a version of Boston-Indian-English.
Then there is the tickly subject of facial hair. Let me just say that for most Indians (and I mean the men. JEEZ!) Corporate America manages to make the ‘stash disappear in a flash!
Next we come to the controversial topic of dress. Not generalizing, but generally speaking South Indians don’t pay too much attention to dress. For them it is all about eating rasam and yogurt rice and doing well at academics. Most South Indians would want to get centum (love that word) in every Math exam they ever take. While they would win the Math contests, they would probably not be the first ones to come to mind when you think glamour.
The glamour market is captured by North Indians who don’t get distracted by quantum physics or calculus. Instead they focus on the lovely clothing and jewelry which gives Bollywood its name. South Indians mostly stick to traditional, muted silk that definitely spells elegant but is not considered to be the top choice on the glamour hierarchy. Again, once in the US, we all dress somewhat similarly. Here in Boston there are now several stores and vendors selling beautiful Indian clothes and North and South Indians alike come to parties dressed in the latest Bollywood fashions.
Isn’t it amazing that right here, in the melting pot called Boston, we have found a common cuisine and a common dress? In India, North may be North and South may be South but here the twain has met.