Years ago, well-known Tamil actor and political satirist Mr Cho Ramaswamy had remarked tongue firmly in cheek – "Tamil Brahmins are people who fight with each other, degrade themselves and paint the entire community in shades of dark." If you look at the events (in literary and movie circles in Tamil Nadu and the political climate), you will realise that Mr Ramaswamy was absolutely right then, he is right even now.
We talk about Kashmiri Pandits becoming strangers in Jammu and Kashmir. The Tamil Brahmins find themselves alienated in their own land. With more than 75% of the younger generation of Tamil Brahmins having moved to foreign land in pursuit of job / education and others scattered across different parts of India, it is an easy guess that population of Tamil Brahmins in Tamil Nadu is steadily waning. The increasing trend of inter-caste marriages is a further threat.
Let us look at how some of the Tamil Brahmins have defiled themselves:
Well known Tamil actor Kamal Hasan leads the pack. At every opportunity, he has prided in calling himself an agnostic, but unfortunately the actor has never shied away from depicting Hindu Gods and Brahmins in poor light in his movies. See the irony of the situation..In the movie "Mahanadi", Kamalhasan is shown visiting the temple and a song plays in the background – "Sri Ranga Ranganathanin padam vandanam solladi" (Bow before the Lotus feet of Lord Ranganatha!)
In most Kamal Hasan movies, the lady with the 9-yard saree is a caricature, (Example, in one of his movies, an old lady in a 9-yard saree is shown stealing; in his movie Avvai Shanmughi (the Tamil version of "Chachi 420"), he has shown how the lady in the nine-yard saree unabashedly flaunts her assets and entices men to lust after her.)
No one has made mockery of the language used by Brahmins like Kamal Hasan has. His nieces Suhasini Manirathnam and Anu Haasan are not far behind. They consider themselves so progressive that Anu Hasan models for eggs, chicken masala, anything that is considered taboo in a Brahmin society.
In the name of exposing age-old traditions in Tamil Brahmin community that were regressive, well-known Tamil novelist Sivasankari ended up projecting Tamil Brahmins in poor light in some of her novels. She, along with another novelist called Indumathi, wrote a Tamil novel called "Irandu Per" (Two persons) where a bored Brahmin wife is sexually attracted to a photographer (shades of the Bengali movie Paroma perhaps ?).
K Balachander of course gets the credit as the director for showing Tamil Brahmins in poor light in the maximum number of Tamil movies and one Hindi movie (Ek Duje Ke Liye, which incidentally featured Kamal Haasan). Remember the hero's father in Ek Duje Ke Liye who carps endlessly ?
In "Arangetram" (1974), Balachander had the gall to compare a Tamil Brahmin girl's rape with the first dance recital of a Bharat Natyam student. "Arangetram" is the debut on-stage performance of a "Bharat Natyam" student.
When it was released, "Arangetram" raised the hackles in Tamil Nadu.The movie was a super hit. However, K balachander failed to recreate the magic in Hindi (the movie "Aaina" featuring Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz).
In "Arangetram", the protagonist is the eldest of eight siblings. (Kamal haasan is one of them). The protagonist questions her mother as to why she has not adopted methods of family planning and is privy to her mother secretly moving to the kitchen to satiate her husband's lust. Such a screen play was written by K Balachander in the name of realism. Worse, after her rape, the protagonist decides to become a prostitute to support her family. In the end, her siblings turn out to be ungrateful and the protagonist loses her sanity.
By the way, I am a great fan of Mr K Balachander but find some of his views discordant and more extremist than rational.
K Balachander's daughter married outside the community so may be Balachander was disillusioned with the Brahmin community as a whole and so he chose to depict such scenes on screen that portrayed Tamil Brahmins in poor light.
A movie called "Savithri" was released in the mid 80s and then banned. This movie shows a young Brahmin wife (in nine yards) who is forced to marry a man who is much older than her. The protagonist leads a platonic life with her husband, gets frustrated and in the bargain is seduced by an artist who visits the village. In the end, she commits suicide.
There was another movie called "Agraharathil kazhuthai" ("A donkey in Brahmin lane") by director John which I believe won a few awards.
The late writer Anuradha Ramanan wrote a story called "Chirai" (Prison) in which a Brahmin wife deserted by her husband after being raped by a Catholic man goes and lives with the Catholic man. When the latter dies, she removes her mangal sutra and leads the rest of her life as the latter's widow. Progressive thought yes, but why Anuradha chose to show the protagonist as a Brahmin inspite of the fact that so many other communities exist in Tamil Nadu is anyone's guess. Of course, Anuradha Ramanan was a hardcore Tamil Brahmin.
I believe Anuradha went one step ahead and portrayed the wife of a Tamil priest as succumbing to the lecherous glances of another person in her novel " Kootu puzhukkal" (Worms living in groups).
Then you had well known writer Sujatha (Rangarajan) who began writing a serial story in the Tamil Magazine "Kumudam" in the 80s. The story titled as "Black Red White" was centered on the 1857 revolution. Sujatha, in his inimitable style, peppered the story with liberal doses of sex; he made the colossal mistake of naming one of the characters in the novel after one of the non-Brahmin communities in Tamil Nadu.
Within two weeks, Sujatha (who lived in Bangalore at that time) received death threats and phone calls that his hands would be chopped off. Copies of the magazines were burnt by the said community with the threat that if publication of the serial continued, the editorial office would be burnt to ashes.
The serial was stopped abruptly. The magazine and the writer profusely apologised for hurting the sentiments of the community. Much later, Sujatha rewrote the novel as "Rattam Orey Niram" (Blood is of the same colour).
One more Tamil Brahmin who wrote under the pseudonym "Hema Anandatheerthan" wrote such vulgar novels which were pure pulp fiction. His protagonists were mostly Brahmin girls who lusted after men. Thus, three factors contributed to degradation of Tamil Brahmins in Tamil Nadu.
• Negative influence of movies • Negative influence of Tamil literature • The Dravidian rule in Tamil Nadu
Ask any like-minded Tamil Brahmin settled abroad or settled in other parts of India, whether he would like to relocate to Chennai. The answer would be a strict no. Chennai auto drivers are notorious but they are particularly harsh on Tamil Brahmins. Some of my cousins who studied in Chennai have shared anecdotes of how they were ragged for speaking the Brahmin language.
A Malayalee will always support a Malayalee, but a Tamil Brahmin, will always work against other Brahmins. The people whom I have mentioned in the above paragraphs are classic examples. The net result of all these is that Tamil Brahmins are slowly losing their identity in Tamil Nadu.
2010. A village in Tamil Nadu. A street that houses Brahmins called as "Agraharam". Unlike the past, where "Agraharam" was symbolic of "Brahmins", today the "Agraharm" is a mere prop. Not a single house in the "Agraharam" belongs to a Brahmin.
2050. A child born to Tamil Brahmin parents asks his mother, `Mother, what is an agraharam?". The distraught mother promises her child that she will rather take him to the exhibition/ museum, as she herself is unable to answer the question.