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Namma Kamala

| Updated on September 18, 2020 Published on September 18, 2020

City beat: Does Chennai naively expect special attention from Kamala’s position of power?   -  REUTERS/ JONATHAN ERNST

A Chennaiite is bemused by the city’s vicarious pride in America’s vice-presidential candidate

* Kamala Harris uttered the word chitthis to refer to her aunts in her nomination acceptance speech

* I understand that she took long walks on the Marina Beach, asked her aunt to break coconuts for her at the Besant Nagar pillayar kovil and still eats idlis for breakfast

* I am dreading the day she visits the city. I wouldn’t put it past some mama or mami to ask one of the most powerful politicians on the planet why she isn’t wearing a pottu and how she could eat pork chops

Dear Editor,

Have you heard that Ms Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s VP candidate in the upcoming US presidential elections, has family ties in Chennai? I was being cheeky there. You couldn’t have missed that piece of trivia if you wanted to. For a while there, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp were full of nothing but posts about namma Kamala.

I understand that she took long walks on the Marina Beach, asked her aunt to break coconuts for her at the Besant Nagar pillayar kovil and still eats idlis for breakfast. I pointed out that I have done all of these things, probably more frequently than Ms Kamala, and received terse messages urging me to please keep quiet if I had nothing useful to add.

And then the golden moment came to pass — Kamala uttered the word chitthis to refer to her aunts in her nomination acceptance speech and everyone lost it. I believe they’re all excited that they have one of their own up there, speaking their own language on a global forum. There’s a joke here somewhere about the Tamil protests against the imposition of Hindi on an unwilling public, if you get what I mean.

Dear Editor, do you feel as baffled as I do about this vicarious sense of pride? Every time someone proudly brings up the subject of Kamala Harris and Chennai, I feel the overwhelming urge to heartily congratulate them on their achievement of being born in the same geographical area. Chennai hasn’t contributed much to her career — she didn’t grow up here, study here or work here. This gleeful usurping of her glory makes me feel so many things.

For one thing, it’s utterly misplaced. From what I’ve read, she seems to identify more with her African-American heritage. And here we are, with our garish political posters loudly declaring her “victorious”.

For another thing, it’s genuinely baffling. Does Chennai naively expect special attention from Kamala’s position of power? This excitement is also somewhat saddening — I suspect most people don’t pay this kind of attention to local city affairs, which have an impact on our quality of life. We tut over our misfortune that Chennai’s been ranked the third dirtiest city in India, as per the latest Swachh Survekshan survey, and proceed to dump unsegregated rubbish on the street corners while chatting about namma Kamala.

Most of all, it makes me feel like a grinch. The last straw was when one uncle sniffed at a line from Kamala’s autobiography, where she specified that her name was pronounced “comma-la, like the punctuation mark.” He peered at the words and said, “It’s Kamala, like the orange, no? She’s mistaken, poor thing.” Now the woman doesn’t even have the agency over how her name is pronounced? That also belongs to her Chennai heritage, or what?

I am dreading the day she visits the city. It’s sure to be a cringe fest and I wouldn’t put it past some mama or mami to ask one of the most powerful politicians on the planet why she isn’t wearing a pottu and how she could eat pork chops.

I’m not sure if the prospect makes me laugh or cry.

Yours sincerely,

No pottu ponnu

(Yours Sincerely is a weekly record of grudges and grumblings from an anonymous reader)

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Published on September 18, 2020
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