Guest Column

Tambrahms – strong wings, weak roots?

(This is a Guest column written by Prof G Mohan who is also an avid quizzer and blogger. The views expressed by the author are his own. His Twitter handle is @go_mohan)

By G Mohan

The portfolios of Home, Defence, Finance and External Affairs Ministers are considered the most important in the Union cabinet. Perhaps never in the history of post independent India, two Tamils have occupied two of the four most important portfolios in the Union cabinet.

We have them now.

Nirmala Sitharaman is the Finance Minister and S Jaishankar is the External Affairs Minister.

Yet there would perhaps be no celebrations in Tamil Nadu. Because they have not been elected from Tamil Nadu. I don’t think they can ever win a Lok Sabha election in Tamil Nadu. Tamilians will not identify with them and perhaps, they also would find it difficult to identify with an average Tamilian.

That is the tragedy of many a Tamil Brahmins (Tambrahms).

Both Nirmala and Jaishankar are Tamil Brahmins, whose roots can be traced to Tiruchirappalli or Trichy. Nirmala had a little longer stay in Tamil Nadu, having studied her BA in Trichy and then later studying at JNU, working in London and settling down in Hyderabad, having married a Telugu.

Jaishankar’s link to Trichy is further removed. His father the well-known strategic analyst K Subrahmanyam was born and brought up in Tamil Nadu. Subrahmanyam worked in Delhi as a civil servant and so Jaishankar grew up in Delhi, went to Air Force school, St Stephens college, JNU and then joined the IFS. He is married to a Japanese lady, Kyoko. His work took him all over the globe including Ambassador assignments in US & China. His bio says he can speak Russian, Tamil, Hindi, Mandarin, Japanese and Hungarian. Tamil is just one of the many languages he knows.

Nirmala and Jaishankar are to my mind fine examples of how lives of many a Tamil Brahmin have shaped in post-independence India.

Most Tambrahms have taken the professional route to build a career. They have not restricted themselves in seeking opportunities in any part of the globe. They have also not been very rigid about marrying within their community. They have learnt local languages wherever they went to get on with their work, but hardly integrated with the local people. I cannot imagine Nirmala winning an election in Hyderabad or Jaishankar in Delhi.

In their eagerness to pursue their career and notch up achievements in their profession, they have spread their wings far, but along the way they have little or very tenuous connection with their roots. I would not be surprised if Nirmala and Jaishankar’s only Tamil connections are starting the day with filter coffee and ending every meal with curd rice.

2 replies »

  1. Why play up their castes (which is of no relevance anyways)? Why not look at them as just individuals ?


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