This is a real photograph from circa 1948 of a Tamil Brahmin student studying at home. Tamil Brahmins are popularly called Tambrams.

tambram student

Though I belong to the Tambram community, I do not dress like that, nor did I ever study like that. But I am likely to be more of an exception. My cousins, one of who stayed with us to study for his Master’s Degree in English Literature, used to study intensely during all their free time and I have therefore first hand knowledge of this kind of work. In this particular photo, the man’s tuft is tied to a nail on the wall and will jerk him awake if he falls asleep while studying. The lamp on the table was a wick lamp using kerosene, a duplicate of which I distinctly remember being used in our village home. The broken chair, the ink well and pen sticking out of it, and the condition of the wall speaks volumes of the poverty under which these types studied. Their parents sacrificed a great deal to see their children be given the benefit of education.

And no, the tuft went out of style many decades ago and only the priests sport them now a days.

Education was a way out of rural lives and poverty and that particular generation was the one that gave birth to the first lot of emigrants to the USA and the UK. Those studious Tambrams who remained behind, secured employment in the then available public sector enterprises or the government and their children in turn were more or less bullied into studying to enter into the IITs and other premier educational institutions to secure not only their own futures but as a spin off effect as an insurance policy for the parents to retire in comfort.

The Brahmins were and still are subject to reverse discrimination and find it extremely difficult to secure admission into institutions of higher learning and have to perforce study to enter the Central Institutions were while quotas operate merit is far more important.

I salute those pioneers who studied like this and made it possible for the community to become quite prosperous despite being denied opportunities owing to the accident of their birth.

27 thoughts on “Education.”

    1. I suppose he needed help with that to adjust the height and I am sure that one of the family would have very gladly obliged. You are right that education was for the boys and it was a rare family that would send its girls to study beyond elementary or secondary school.

  1. Bookish people were looked down upon where I was raised, and my folks tried to talk me out of it. They lightened up some when I got a scholarship to Stanford.

    Here in the US it’s the Asian Americans who have to fight quotas. They come from a culture that values hard work and learning and they do too well. They may also be smarter, of course!
    cheerful monk recently posted..On Our Way!

    1. That phenomenon exists here too and particularly in some communities, the girls have done exactly what you did and find it difficult to get grooms of like education and it is becoming a big sociological problem for such communities.

  2. I love this post, especially the first photograph and everything it stands for. I think what you’ve said would hold true for most Indian communities of the time. 1948 my father would have been 18 years old and in medical college. I remember him describing how he studied by candlelight all night through, because the house they lived in had no electricity. (He went on to get his FRCS degree from Edinburgh and work in the UK). It was the generation that eagerly embraced education as a way to better their lives, and was the first also to venture abroad for education and work, despite not having the advantages of modern living. Admirable.

    1. I have come across many such stories from all parts of our country Anita. They were of a different cut. Let me share a small true story. I have a friend whose name is Sthalekar. He acquired the name because when his father came to Pune to study, he found it difficult to find paying guest accommodation as his name was Shirali and the Pune Brahmins thought that to be a Muslim name! Their Guru changed the family name so that he could study in Pune!

      1. There’s a story for you! But I’ve known others like that…one of my closest Muslim friends told me that when his father first came to Bombay after the partition, he changed his surname from Rehman to Merchant to escape persecution.

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