Every other Sunday afternoon or so I’ve taken to having lunch with my cousin at Komala Vilas, which is pretty much the epitome of South Indian pyoor vegetarian food in these parts. The place has a personality that isn’t just attributable to the food; the people who run it are… unique.
My cousin’s made friends, after a fashion, with one of the older men who runs the place. His speciality seems to be acting like a crotchety but ultimately nice old guy. My cousin seems to think he’s mostly harmless.
He wandered over to our table last weekend and cracked jokes with my cousin about the amount of food he was polishing off. Then he turned to me. “You seem like a really nice, pretty girl. Why don’t you wear a pottu*, like a nice Tamil girl?” I laughed, because I’m pretty sure every girl in my generation’s heard that before, usually while at a location that’s not traditionally a touchstone of South Indian religion.
“And one other thing, except I’m afraid you’ll hit me with the hand you’re eating with.”
“No, go ahead, let’s hear it,” I said, because I mostly found this amusing.
“You should also wear a bangle! It doesn’t have to be gold, you know? It’s our tradition, isn’t it?”
I laughed a little more, because he sounded exactly like my mother, only male. “You think I’m joking, but I’m not,” he said severely, waggling his finger at me. “I’ll remember the next time you’re here.”
Then he asked us very seriously if we wanted more ghee or pickle and told us to enjoy our food.
I’d normally take this sort of thing as a joke. I’m not overly fond of people telling me how South Indian/Brahmin/female I should be. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw it as a challenge.
Today, before I left, I dug out an old pottu packet out and used one, and then found a random wrist cuff and put that on. Then I wore the latest kurti I’d brought back home, and sailed out to show Crotchety Uncle that I could be as Indian as any of ’em.
Komala Vilas was packed to the gills with tired parents and loud children and penurious students and a scary old lady who has been known to beat people about the head.
But Crotchety Uncle was nowhere to be seen.
* “The dot” that signifies you being female and Hindu. Unfortunately I don’t know what exactly it signifies or what its history is.