A tale of two cities

CHIEF MINISTER Jayalalithaa's promise to help the Kolar Gold Fields Tamil migrants in Karnataka, who are going through hard times after the virtual closure of the mines, came just a week or so after I had first heard them referred to as almost a separate community - the Kaygee-ef (KGF) Tamils with their own particular brand of the language. The reference was made by one of Bangalore's first fulltime woman journalists, Gita Aravumudhan, whose roots are in Tamil Nadu. A leading freelancer today, she contributes to all the leading national dailies and journals. But it was not as investigative reporter or as a gender activist that she was in Madras recently; she was here to reflect on her roots, which, as in the case of thousands of others, also reflect the constant interaction between the two cities. But it was a wider canvas than the urban one that she spoke about during that recent visit.

Looking at Bangalore as a salad bowl and Madras as a well-blended sambhar, Aravumudhan pointed out that Tamil communities in Karnataka, Bangalore, if you will, still retain strong linguistic identities, whereas Kannadigas in Madras had become part of the Tamil-speaking ethos of the city. She made a special reference to the Tamil Smartha Brahmins from Srirangam and the Cauvery delta area and the Sanketi Brahmins from the Shencottah area, but the two groups most identified with Tamil roots in Bangalore were those who were brought in by the British after they established Bangalore Cantonment in 1807.

First brought to Bangalore by the British to serve the Cantonment in a variety of service jobs were the Cantonment Tamils, they were added to when the Arcot Mudaliars followed to establish businesses and shops to serve not only the earlier Cantonment Tamils but also the military establishment and the officialdom of the Raj. In time, the Mudaliars became not only the biggest landowners in the Cantonment but also "more British than the British" - and, thus, high society. Between them they helped build the Vidhana Soudha.

On the other hand, the people of Tamil origin probably the worst off today are the Kaygee-ef Tamils who migrated to Kolar from the time the gold mines were opened in the late 1870s. Despite the killing work, they had settled to a routine of existence, in what in effect was a company town that cocooned them, and became an isolated but deep-rooted community. The near-closure of the mines has them struggling not only in Kolar but wherever they migrate to in Karnataka - like Whitefield in Greater Bangalore - even more so because of the closely protected conditions they had lived in for generations.

Karnataka's contribution to Madras, on the other hand, Aravamudhan reminded her listeners at the Sunday morning heritage meeting at TAG Centre, included the Kannadiga curdseller - now an almost extinct institution in Madras - thriving Udipi cuisine and Bangalore Iyengar bakeries. Not to mention the contribution to Madras filmdom of such stars as Rajnikanth, Bangalore Saroja Devi, Vyjayanthimala, Prabhudeva and Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister herself. But the most interesting transmigration, she thought, was Veerappan with Tamil roots and Karnataka domicile, and Rajkumar with Karnataka roots and early Tamil Nadu domicile. With such connections, how is it we can't solve the Cauvery dispute?