They call it “Maanam”

Written By:  Keerthana Raveendran

TamilsSpotless, glistening house? Check. Freshly prepared, delicious meal? Check. Overdressed house folk bearing charming grins and perfect posture? Check and check.

Alright, then. Bring on the guests.

Perhaps you’ve been in this position before. Perhaps this scenario is even far too familiar to you. If your family is anything like mine, preparing for visitors is very much like getting ready for an open house: you always, always put your best foot forward.

It’s surprising the lengths Tamil people will go in order to impress family and friends, and while I’ve often pondered a derisive, ‘Why?’ as I lit incense to mask the strong aroma of the twelve different curries my mom and I spent five hours before guest arrival preparing, I think I’ve managed to boil it all down to one word, friends—and that word is: maanam.

Maanam, loosely translated to dignity, is a key aspect of Tamil culture, and every detail of one’s life, from appearance and possessions to personality and career goals, is scrutinized by peers to determine one’s self-worth—or at least, that’s how it worked with our parents back home.

Now, that’s pressure.

After all, this increased emphasis on the importance of dignity in daily life means that we are constantly acting to present ourselves as images of perfection. Because if we pretend to be perfect around everyone we know, that must mean that we’re well-respected in society, right?

What we often forget in situations like these is that we are indeed human. We are not perfect. Our houses don’t always look like Ikea showrooms. We don’t eat twelve different curries with idiyappam, puddu, and idli for dinner every night. And we definitely don’t always sit with perfect, rigid postures for long periods of time when we watch TV or carry small talk.

It’s okay to be flawed and to embrace our misgivings. Maybe it’s even okay to redefine the idea of maanam as we know it. Because here’s a thought: if we stop feigning flawlessness in company, perhaps we’ll find that we’re more alike than we thought.

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