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