Walk into any Indian restaurant and the first thing that overwhelms you beside the spice odours and Tamil cinema songs is the impassioned discussions going on all around you.
The fervent hand gesticulating, loud expressions of advice, sales pitch, political statements, childhood reminiscence and self exhortations in colourful Tamil and Tamilenglish, are regular conversation features here.
It’s a common notion among Malaysians that Indians have the gift of the gab which is believed to be clearly illustrated by the large Indian lawyer population in the country’s Judiciary.
The discussions of the bigger groups of regulars at any given restaurant, mostly retired grey haired men above 60, is always centered around news items carried in local Tamil newspapers.
These retirees have the privilege of starting the day meeting up with friends at nearby restaurants, reading the day’s Tamil dailies there and indulging in energetic banter.
The newspapers are bought daily as a social service by the restaurant operators, for their customers.
This service is also offered at Indian barber shops that are yet another venue for friendly Tamil banter.
Politics and cinema news are the predominant topics of the animated discussions of these silver haired retirees based on the newspapers articles (a sort of news analysis).
The restaurant owners or long time workers there usually interject these discussions. To share their informed views derived from the benefit of observing the banter of a wide variety of conversationalists at their shops.
So where did this habit of bantering originate from?
Gathering for public discourse of reading materials is an age old tradition termed ‘upadesam’ (seeking knowledge at the feet of great sages).
In fact every ancient Indian scripture including the Mahabharata and Ramayana are actually aural compilations of question and answer sessions at such august gatherings.
The epics were aurally passed down the generations and daily discussions of these monumental literatures continues unabated all over India and elsewhere.
A semblance of this is what we see at our Indian restaurants.