Tell your favourite dosa, I’ll tell your caste

V Mathimaran

Chennai: In Tamilnadu, people use several ways to find the caste of a person. There was a time when one would ask “where are you from?,” to know one’s caste. Later, it was found by the surname or middle name.

Sometimes, it was also identified by the ancestral deity they worship. But, is there really a way to trace someone’s roots by the diet they follow? A few rationalists in town say ‘yes’.

Recently, addressing an event, Dravidian speaker V Mathimaran said, “People from the aristocratic class of society, especially those with Brahminical roots or other oppressing classes, make paper-thin dosas. The oppressed class knows to make only thick dosas.”

Even as it, apparently, became a troll-content for meme creators and right-wing netizens, there was another interview video of Mathimaran. This time it was about idli. He says, “Oppressed classes, since they are mostly workers and labourers, consume thick and big idlis to get high nutrition. But, the elite class consume only soft and light idlis as they are supervisors and are in authority.”

When these two videos were trending, there was also another video of Mathimaran addressing a college gathering where he said, “The entire Hindu-Muslim conflict was because Brahmins consume coffee and Muslims consume tea. That was where all those contradictions took shape.”

These videos went viral garnering opposition and support. When ‘News Today” checked with some of the supporters, a few facts that could substantiate Mathimaran’s claims were brought out.

“Yeah, dosa has caste in it. I come from a tier-II town where casteism is rampant. There was a dosa batter selling shop in our town. Initially, they used to sell batter made out of one grinder. Since the flour was ground on a single machine, a major section of upper caste people was not ready to buy it from them. Later, the shop-owner bought one more grinder after compulsion, and now he is selling upper caste flour and lower caste flour in the same shop,” said Naveen, a netizen.

He said, “As this is the reality that I have seen, I do not have any doubts about what Mathimaran says.”’

However, Mathimaran’s video that went viral was only a portion of a longer audio-visual. In the full video, the Dravidian ideologue said, “It was because of this difference in the diet when an inter-caste marriage happens, a girl struggles to cook the way the boy’s family eats.”

Seemingly, only the dosa portion was trimmed from the main video and is trending.

Speaking about this, Muthuvalan, another Facebookite, said, “If you see the full video, you can get a clear picture. Mathimaran actually pointed out what the major issues a girl who marries a guy from a different caste faces after her wedding. Also, we must understand he was speaking about the situation many years ago and not about the present-day.”

While there were also some different perceptions in this context. “Yes, we can trace one’s roots by his food choice and habits. But it would be geographical roots, not communal,” said S Aravind, a historian from the city.

“People eat based on the native terrain they belong to. Say, the food habits of someone from a plain region like the Cauvery delta, will be totally rice-based. But, when you go down south, you can see multi-grain cuisine that includes corn, millet and ragi. Again it would be rice-dominated when you go deep south to the districts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari.” So, Aravind says, the type of dosa differs from rice to millet to ragi.

He also highlighted a present-day example. “We used to call north Indians ‘chappathi’, while they refer to us by idli or dosa. It is because wheat was consumed more once there, while paddy is our predominant food crop. But after globalisation and Indianisation chappathi and parotta have become a common food across India; so, when we listen to food-based demographic classification, it would surely be funny,” Aravind says.

Santhosh Mathevan