Sunday, December 28, 2008

#0 B.C.: Bengali Christmas Parties

Christmas is no longer an exclusively Christian affair, particularly in the United States. Many Indians celebrate the holiday as they break from school, work or the job search after J.P. Morgan let them go. Some return home to open presents beneath a plastic tree with their parents, while others join their Jewish friends for dinner at Chinese restaurants. A small portion of Indians choose to celebrate together, adding a distinctly Indian spin to the Yuletide season, forgoing ham for onion kulcha and egg nog for Johnny Walker Black.

The Bengali Christmas Party in the United States has almost become a tradition unto itself. Every December 24th, Bengali Americans and those Indians in the US from orphaned South Asian states such as Orissa and Assam gather at a single home to celebrate the holiday. Festivities begin as fleets of Toyota camries and Lexus SUVs (woops, that's the Punjabi Christmas Party) pull up to the driveway and begin jocking for spots. He or she behind the wheel must put their engineering phD to good use as they evaluate the trade off between proximity to the front door and the likelihood of being parked in.

From there aunties tip toe up the ice in snow boots clutching plastic bags containing their party flats in their hands. Once inside guests remove their shoes and toss them into the massive pile of footwear accumulating at the base of the stairs. Coats and scarves are given to the youngest child of the host family to hang in closets and toss into guest rooms. Adults greet each other and talk about the route they took to get there, while kids smile, namaste and nod at uncles and aunties they pretend to know.

Soon the young ones gather with each other around a gaming console while aunties steak their claim on couches, asking their husbands to refresh their chardonnays since moving means losing a seat. Husbands fetch refills and deviled eggs as the women silently judge each other's saris against their own. Naturally, hers whose looks most expensive wins, with extra points going toward a color-coordinated bindi.

When dinner is served children are encouraged to line up first. During Bengali Christmas Parties, the term "children" defines anyone in attendance with their parents, even if they're 32 with a mortgage in their name. Traditional Bengali Christmas fare includes rice, dhal, cabbage, fish, fish balls, fish heads and mutton. Soda is served luke warm and seating goes quickly. Those unfortunate enough to populate the back of the line eventually must eat standing up, balancing their beverage in the crook of their arm, and using only a plastic fork to pick the chicken from its bone.

Afterward its time for Indian sweets and improvised games of gift exchange. Children will half-heartedly trade presents their parents bought, shrugging when asked which wrapped package is theirs. In the end, distinction doesn't matter since everyone, including the young ladies, will have received some sort of cologne, aftershave or grooming kit parents have decided to regift from the year before.

Rahul: Yay, a Drakkar Noir economy pack. Thanks, Ishan, I think we gave this to your dad last year.

Unfortunately, due to the overabundance of cheap Indians someone who took the gift exchange seriously and gave another guest a selection of foreign beers and Belgian chocolates will receive only a pair of Isotoner gloves in return. Sorry about that.

Meanwhile, the adults participate in an elaborate gift exchange game that increases in complexity each year. What began as a simple Secret Santa ten years ago now includes a round of Antakshri, which for Bengalis means the recitation of poems instead of singing. New developments also include "Chinese Auction," which offensively describes a game during which guests steal gifts from each other. Because Indians cheat at everything, many aunties and uncles will hide gifts around the house so no one can choose their present at "auction." This not only undermines the point of the game but also perfectly captures the Bengali Christmas spirit.

As the party winds down the time comes to leave. Long goodbyes begin near the back of the house before 35 minutes later making their way to the front door. Once coats and scarves are found, the long process of digging out your shoes and matching each to its pair begins. Due to the popularity of brown Dockers shoes among Indian uncles, shoes are often mistakenly traded. Even more often, someone doesn't notice.

Afterward it's a game of automative Mahjong as cars must be strategically moved to let some out while others stay. As the GPS cues up the directions back home, the kids fall asleep in the backseat as mom sits shotgun and complains about the presents she received. It was a happy Bengali Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

#207: Talking About Interracial Relationships

If there's one thing Indians like more than interracial relationships it's talking about interracial relationships.  From Telegu Convention Youth Forums to South Asian Lit discussion sections, Indians love opening up about the role dating white men and black men play in the Indian American community.  We write short stories about it; we make movies about it; we article about it; we build entire identities around it.

Karina: I think Raghav likes you; you guys should go out.
Karishma: As if.  I don't date Indian dudes.  Their finger nails are always yellow from the subji they eat with their hands.  I'm going to marry a Jonas Brother and have hot mixed babies like Halle Berry.  Wait, is Chris Brown single?

The topic of dating interracially is usually brought up by a particular Indian girl who considers herself "unique."  She likes "rock" music, not "r&b."  She majors in "anthropology," not "biology."  She does TFA, not MBA.  She doesn't do Bollywood and she most definitely does not date Indian boys.  

"Indians are so cliquey," she says, "I just don't identify with them."  In response there are the Indians who date Indians who look down on her; the Indians who date white men who look down on other Indians, and the Indians who date black men who look down on everybody.  

The arguments for and against interracial relationships in the Indian community travel the spectrum.  There are those who think Indian girls who date outside their race are self-conscious and ashamed; there are those who think Indians who exclusively date each other are afraid and close-minded; there are those who think it's subconscious and those who do it with purpose.  Any way you churn the chutney, one thing is for sure, when it comes to interracial dating Indians have no shortage of opinions.  

Just don't date a muslim; that will get you disowned.    

Friday, December 12, 2008

#12/25: XXX-Mas the Jingle Jam

SILDC FLIMS Presents a Kama Sutra Christmas by MC Slight Speech Impediment and Mulatto Matt on the Mic. Who said Hindus didn't know how to celebrate Christmas? Probably the same dunny who said Hindus couldn't rap. Come with us as we put the Brahmin in R&B.

XXX-Mas: The Jingle Jam

Thursday, December 11, 2008

#$500,000: Bribing Gov. Rod Blagojevich

Corruption is a well-documented problem in India. However, with the growing number of Indians in the United States corruption has become a part of the Indian diaspora as well.

A recent FBI criminal complaint against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich details the many ways the governor has sought to personally gain from his tenure in public office. The charges include accepting monetary quid pro quo deals for state highway contracts; helping the Tribune company with the sale of Wrigley Field in exchange for a makeover of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board, and of course money for President Elect Obama's former Senate seat.

See, while publications like India Abroad would like us to believe that an Indian girl named Lakshmi from Baton Rouge winning a 7th grade science fair, or a medical student named Rajesh running a half marathon in Seattle, are really important news for our community, in reality they ain't no thing. So when India Abroad does a massive story in a recent issue about the "KEY INDIAN FIGURES WHO FACTORED IN THE OBAMA VICTORY," it's good to know that Indians are all over Democratic politics in Illinois like white on...on...what's that analogy...right, the inside of a coconut. As much as Indians like doing yoga to increase their flexibility so they can pat themselves on the back for getting in early on that Obama gravy train, they also like bringing that Gujurat Gangsta Lean from Ahmdebad and bribing Rod Blagojevich.

According to the Chicago Tribune's fancy interactive Timeline of Corruption, Gov. Blagojevich's wife, Patricia, a real estate broker, received more than $113,000 in real estate commissions through a woman who had a no-bid state contract with Illinois and whose husband was a major Blagojevich fundraiser. That woman and her husband's name? Anita and Amrish Mahajan. Their crime? Anita billed the state of Illinois for more than $2 million in services her drug-screening firm never performed. Amrish, of course, was the driving force behind the company and helped raise more than $500,000 for Blagojevich in 2001.

A month later, the Tribune reported a close friend of Amrish, Amrit Patel, hosted a fundraiser for Blagojevich and was involved in a real estate deal with Blagojevich's wife while he was seeking to expand his Dunkin' Donuts franchise into the state's highway oases.

There was a joke about Blagojevich when I was in school in Chicago. At an India Day rally on Devon Ave he apparently stood before a crowd and said, "To all the Indians in Illinois, I say welcome to America!" Thanks, G-Rod. We came; we saw; we corrupted.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

#262 Friends: Bad Ass Ethnic Social Networking Names


Sexymunda 916





#11/28: Black Friday

You'd think it was the name of an outlet store the way Indians bandy it about.

"Hey, Guarav. Thanks for letting me borrow your CD binder full of data CDs. I was meaning to ask you, where'd you get that new laptop?"

"Black Friday."

"And that Logitech mouse?"

"Black Friday."

"That remote control model Maserati?"

"Sukhriya Electronics. Sale. Black Friday."

In addition to the biological burden of excessive body hair, Indians have also evolved with an acute sense of how to seek out a deal. There is online shopping with purchases shipped to friend's houses to avoid sales tax. There is disregard for warranties to lower the final cost. There are price comparison print outs. There are pay pal transactions for unlocked cell phones, and of course there is Black Friday.

Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving, the official start of the holiday shopping season. Retailers offer their largest discounts on things Indians cannot live without: Bose speakers, HP Pavillion laptops, digital cameras and blue tooth ear pieces.

Join Indians around the world this Friday and celebrate the day of discounts. Crowd the entrance to a Best Buy and bump shoulders like you're fighting for a pair of tickets to Rock On on a Saturday in Mumbai. It's Black Friday and that Samsung Juke could be yours. No sales tax.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

#8 Arms: Durga Puja

Durga is a Hindu goddess celebrated in many different ways across India and the Hindu world. For Gujaratis it may be a garba dance on the last day of Navaratri; for Bengalis a four day long festival during which people finally stop talking about "literature.". No matter from where in India you hail, however, one thing is for sure for Indians in the United States. Different communities celebrate Durga in different ways but everyone who's held observance in her name has had that familiar experience of temple life outside India.

Our younger readers may not realize that there was a time in the U.S. when there were very few Hindu temples outside of New Jersey, LA or Chicago. Small Indian communities around the country usually rented out Church basements on Friday or Sunday nights to host their religious festivals. This made for awkward moments like performing Puja on a stage with busts of Ganesh crowded next to crucifixes of Jesus. Or community members strolling casually into their local Church to find a group of Indian kids playing freeze tag in the gym.

One thing that's surely carried over from yesteryear to today, however, is the cultural show portion of any temple function. No matter if you're gathered with family and friends to commemorate the legacy of Durga or your buddy Chirantan's Brahmin Sweet 16 at some point the stage will transform from dais to dance floor. Neepa and Soma will rhythmically reenact the battle between Ram and Ravana; Ricky's mom will perform a solo folk routine to remind everyone there is culture in India beyond Bhangra and Baratnatyam; and Sanmay's parents will force him to take the stage to awkwardly stumble through a rendition of the Star Wars theme on a Cassio keyboard. Yeah man, maybe you should have used the beat bank.

There is also temple parking lot football and the kid whom you only see once a year who tries to stop the game so that everyone can go inside to watch his dance. There are, as always, buffet lines and the mean uncle who manages to blame everything that goes wrong on the eldest leader of the kids whom he may or may not single out for being Muslim. There are Styrofoam cups of lukewarm soda and paper plates of veg-only meals. There are long folding tables, metal chairs and endless games of paper football. Oh yeah, I guess there's some religious shtuff too.

After the rasmalai and coffee it's finally time to go home. It's well past 11:30 and everyone wades through the piles of Floorsheims and Reeboks in the "shoe room". It's good-bye to your Indian friends for another few months as you head back to your life of being "the only Indian kid" in your neighborhood. We know that's not true but you keep on pretending like it is. It's Durga Puja and though we all celebrate in our own ways there are still some things that are undeniably Indian; and you know that's some stuff you like.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

#21+:Desi Parties!

Judging by the flannel shirts on sale at Abercrombie, we think it's safe to surmise that Fall is here. The change of season means new semesters at the nation's colleges, and nothing welcomes you back to campus like a big party. No, not the one with all the other students. We're talking about the real party. The one with a lot of Sean Paul; the one with 3 bottles of Grey Goose; the one with colored contacts and caramel highlights. We're talking about the Desi Party.

The desi party usually goes down at an off campus apartment or a downtown club. The party is hyped weeks in advance through E-mail blasts, laminated party promos that use the likeness of someone who doesn't look Indian, and good ol' word of mouth.

Ajul: Yo, you going to the party at Sinibar this weekend?
Rick: What party?
Ajul: The desi party. I'm heading to Club Monaco in a bit if you want to come along and get a top.
Rick: You mean a shirt?
Ajul: Nope.

Yes, the desi party is a tops exclusive affair. Gents in their collared button downs, ladies in their French Connection party blouses. The vibe is grown and sweaty as Pre-Meds and Co-eds "pre-game" in Akshat's fancy 1 BR with a balcony before hopping into taxis or drunk-driving their Nisans to the big event. For younger classmen there are the school buses that will leave from North and South campus, chartered by Mattson and Viral, the enterprising party promoters from the University of Illinois Chicago.

At the desi party there is a line out the door. 19-year-old girls in skirts and shirts not appropriate for the weather huddle together trying to finalize the details of their "pass back" scheme. Meanwhile, desi dudes stand stoically in either black pants or heavily, heavily, too too heavily faded Diesel jeans, concerned about the gel in their hair hardening in the cool night air. They thumb their shell necklaces anxiously trying to memorize the false information on their fake IDs. They text their "boys" for updates:

Ajay: hey r u in yet
Nikholas: no
Ajay: where r u
Nikholas: behind you in line

Once the bouncer has been effectively lied to, you're in the club and it's time to head toward the bar to take advantage of the 1 hour "Open Bar" that closed while you were stuck outside. On the way you greet friends with bellicose cheers, open arms and high-five-one-armed-hug-pats. After Priya asks you to hold her cell phone in your pocket you wait for the bartender's attention. 25 minutes later your desi party is officially under way with jaeger shots and kamikazes. "Damaged" by Dannity Kane or "Hollaback Girl" start playing and all the desi girls storm the dance floor to do the exact same dance with their hips and one arm up.

By 12:30 everything is in full effect as most of those in attendance are "faded," usually evidenced by use of the word "faded."

Pratul: Yo! How you doin' man!
Himal: I'm so faded! You seen my shoe?

And with reckless indiscretion comes the climax of any desi dominated debacle: the fight. Sometimes they happen on the dance floor; sometimes at the bar, but most often they occur outside on the street and they're almost always hilarious. Except when someone you never met named Bhavesh hits you in the ear because it's his birthday party and you didn't appreciate how difficult it was for him to book Russell Peters at the Ohio State student union theater for his festivities.

Finally, it's last call and your night is near its end. There's one last go-round on the dance floor as the DJ spins Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode," and Oni, the self-proclaimed "drunkorexic," throws up in a garbage can and flirts with a guy 3 years her junior.

Ah, the desi party. There's no better way to kick-off a new year. Welcome to the Fall.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

#225: Marrow

In most cultures, homes and countries when your plate is empty your dinner's done. Not so for the Indian who likes to wrap up his or her meal with a treat not often enjoyed by most. But what's left, you ask? The rice is gone. All that remains in its place is an oil slick of dhal, a bay leaf matted to the China and a heap of chicken bones picked clean. But the fun has only just begun for the Indian diner, for though Indians like their chicken, they like sucking the marrow of its bones much more.

The marrow portion of any Indian meal usually follows its completion. Before the chai and before the after dinner fennel seeds, a subtle sucking can be heard from Indians gnawing at chicken bones like wild wolves in the Ural mountains of Siberia. Aunties gnash their teeth against the cartilage with little regard for propriety as Uncles suck fervently and with focus from the hollow avian bones, their pants surreptitiously unbuttoned, their belches gurgling beneath their breath. Yes, it's disgusting. Yes, it's in poor form. But we're Indians and the only issue of concern when we're eating marrow is, "is there any more?"

Sunday, September 7, 2008

#223: Calling You Boss

Anyone who's ever ordered a sandwich from subway, tipped a cab driver or bought okra from an Indian grocer knows how much Indians like to call you boss.

- Can I get the foot-long honey oat toasted?
- You got it, boss.

- Right here at the corner's good. Here's $20. Can I get $5 back?
- Thanks, boss.

- This okra's pretty brown. Do you have anything fresher?
Bhindi itna bhoora nehi hai jitna tumhara bandur ka chehra. Boss.

Calling you boss is the Indian equivalent of calling you guy, dude, man or mang. It's the speech of racial solidarity. By calling you boss, Indians are saying, "I got you, brother."

After you leave is another story.

After you leave they call their Indian friends on their blue tooth ear piece and call you an ABCD who will marry a white person and neglect to pass your culture on to your children. They might be right, but who cares? Go rock that chain, pour that champagne, keep getting paid. Do whatchu like, Ricky Ross. You the boss.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

#112 The Remix: Singing R&B

We all know Indians like R&B, Arundhati Royt? We all know how they feel about 112 on the Bose speakers and Usher remixes for the pre-party. But yo, guess what? Indians like SANGING that shit, too.

Whether it be that dude from Penn Masala running vocal riffs during breaks from his Haaaaaaaaaaaaaarvard B-School admissions application or that Oriya kid you grew up with who kept stacking mix CDs he made for Sarika, Shabbana, and Shweta with the latest deep cut from Musiq's "Aijuswanaseing," Indians juswanacrooooooon.

Chalk it up to the North American desi's upbringing steeped in a cultural homage to Michael Jackson. Maybe it's because black culture was more amenable to Indian adoption. Or maybe it's like Kal Penn said in American Desi, the Dark Continent and the Sub-Continent once shared a single land mass and deep down inside we're all Kallu at heart.

Nowhere else has the Indian penchant for chromatic scales and cut time manifested itself more prominently than in the United Kingdom. For years, Desi dubs in the North End* have been channeling that Thoia Thoia Thoia Thoia Thoing into ragga infused Rhythm & Bhangra tracks from Jay Sean, Rishi Rich and he with the most recent fusion foray, Raghav.

Oh, y'all didn't heard? Raghav's back (did he ever even leave?) with a new single, a new haircut, a new video, and a new Redman seal of approval. Yeah, we know, the Indian / Redman / Native American / Indian reference game is running our brains in meta circles too. The song's called "My Kind of Girl," and the video's some sort of Entrapment / Mission: Impossible / True Lies / Money Talks mashup. One commenter on Nah Right described it as:

  1. catch22 Says:

    did anyone actually watch this homo video?
    it’s redman and kumar escape from casino royale with a knockoff *nsync playing in the background (-)

Yeah, maybe so, but with Singh is Kinng working its way up the charts and Redman putting his B-List thing on Raghav's D-List thing, the year of the Turbanator could be nigh. Our UK DiasBROas have ditched their faux hawks, their sublet on Craig David's nutz and branched into the new Jagged Edge remix game. Take an R&B song, insert a rapper on the opening bars, do your verse, do your chorus, do your bridge, bring the MC back for his part as the hip-hop equivalent of a guitar solo, and wrap-wrap-wrap-wrap it up. End result? Garbage, most likely, but, yo, Raghav, you're prettier than me so I'm not going to hate if youjuswanaseing.

* We know nothing about UK geography and aren't even sure if there are Indians in the North End of London.

Friday, August 15, 2008

#10,366 Views: Mallu Aunties

TGIF. Thank Ganesh it's Funday. It's the freakin' weekend so jus' lean wit' it, rock wit' it and party like Iraq star. But first, let's get Sirius Black.

Put the kids to bed; turn down The Daily Show and stop updating your Netflix queue for a second. It's time to be just a little bit grown on the SILDC front. There's a hathee in the room and it needs to be acknowledged. Indians like porn.

Yeah, we said it. The monkey's out of the bottle. Pandora doesn't go back in that box. Indians like their prono. They like calling it prono. They like waiting for it; they like watching it. They like Google-ing it, and they most definitely like You Tube-ing it. Boob tube? Indeed.

There's a phenomenon that's come to our attention here in the SILDC offices over the past few weeks and it has nothing to do with our new pet turtle. Herregoes: What in the name of sweet, salubrious Shiva is a Mallu Aunty and why, why, WHY are Indians watching so many of her vids on You Tube?

"Maybe she's like the Indian equivalent of Obama Girl," you're telling yourself. Nope. Obama Girl wouldn't have videos entitled "Mallu Servant Aunty Wearing a Hot Blouse," or "Mallu Servant Aunty Wearing a Hot Blouse," or "Mallu Servant Aunty Wearing a Hot Blouse."

My fellow Bromo Sapiens on the Sub(way sammich) Continent, what are you doing? On any given day almost half of the most viewed videos on You Tube India feature Ms. Mallu Aunty. The other half are miscellaneous "Tollywood Sex Heroine Masala Movie B-Scenes."

You know, we could take MHG (Moral High Ground) and lecture our perverted brothers across the pond, but average height here at SILDC is 5'6'' so we don't even know what moral high ground looks like. All we can see is the bottom of its belly, and you know what? It's kind of seedy.

Repressed Indian dudes who want to get their socks off to a low-grade FLV of their Aunt Mallu massaging oil on her scalp courtesy of Surya Movies, you're not going to get a lecture from us. In fact we'll continue holding your hand. Um, your other hand. You keep doing you too, and we'll keep doing me three. It's Friday, baby, and Mallu Monday's right around the corner.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

#221: Going to Medical School in the Carribbean

We know, getting into medical school is hard. There are interviews; there are essays; there are 4 spots for 12,000 applicants; there's housing; there's books; there's that annoying shuttle you have to take to and from your apartment. It's four years of endless torture, gut-wrenching stress and incessant complaining about the bleak prospect of never having another summer off again, despite the fact that no one really has a summer break after college but no matter. Med school is hard and so is the life of someone trying to get in it.

Why then is medical school so popular? Why then are 7 of the 8 Punjabi kids and their siblings who grew up in your same neighborhood going so far out of their way to get into those harrowing halls of health care education? Why do they, despite having absolutely no discernible degree of compassion for anything other than themselves, try so so so so so hard to make sure they are the ones signing your discharge papers when they are 25? It's an irony as confounding as putting one hand in your pocket while the other one is giving a peace sign.

Even more confusing is why after following the system from kindergarten to middle school to high school to college prospective medical students buck the checks and balances of institutional learning and declare that no matter what North American medical college admissions boards say, they WILL become a doctor. After all, what do admissions officers know? If they're such experts on being doctors why aren't they out there attending lavish parties sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and refusing to see patients on Medicare? "I'm totally going to be a doctor!" you tell them, "Because, why, because, because otherwise I don't know what else I'd do!"

23 on the MCAT? So? 3.0 GPA? Who cares? Total lack of character and personality as conveyed by a contrived personal statement about a vague desire to "help people?" Whatever. Indians like going to med school so much that they won't even let medical schools denying their admission stop them. They'll just hop the border like a general of a convicted drug cartel and study epidemiology in the Dominican Republic. After all, it's called the DR for a reason.

Friday, August 8, 2008

#45 vs 180: Failing Pre-Med Then Choosing Pre-Law

Indians like, like, double like, triple like, mike and like, like, like being Pre-Med. Universities in the States know this and make Pre-Med the most difficult track to pursue in college, scheduling required classes like Gen. Chem. and Physics at 9:00 AM with lab sections till 8:30 PM on a Thursday night. As a result, a lot of Indians who begin college as Pre-Meds, without regard as to whether they have any inherent skills that would make them an asset to the medical community, end up dropping that Biology major for an Econ degree some time around the end of freshman year. That means no matter how much they liked medicine as a career path in the fall, come the spring Indians are all over Pre-Law like rice on cloves.

Simulated conversation from the spring of 2002:

Me: Hey, Jessminder. Wow you got dark(er). Didn't think that was possible.
Jessminder: Thanks.
Me: No, I'm not sure that was a compliment.
Jessminder: Cabo, baby!
Me: Right. How'd you end up doing in Chemistry?
Jessminder: C minus. Can you believe that? Oh well, I guess it's Pre-Law now!
Me: Are you sure you don't want to -
Jessminder: Raina! Is that top from French Connection!?
Me: Okay.

Apparently vocations and career paths are as interchangeable for Indian Americans as Swatch watch swatches and Asian roommates. How else can you explain the popularity of Law School as a Medical School alternative? Do the two as pursuits share anything beyond the requirement of a graduate program? Oh right, they're both better than consulting. Sorry, Deloitte. Ya burnt!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

#2Late: Post-Bac

To most college students and recent grads, BAC is a unit of measurement to gage how many Jager bombs you had at Gramercy Club in Lincoln Park last night. To others it's short for, "You better go BAC to school and take your pre-med course requirements so you don't have to get a real job, stupid."

Yes, Indians like to dance along to J-Kwon while everyone in the club gets tips(y), but they also like to study medicine. Problem is, some Indians in college are too busy doing the former to get to do the latter. Solution? The Post-Bac, or Post-Baccalaureate - a second bachelor's degree that allows the prodigal Indian scholar the opportunity to take all those pre-med classes he or she skipped during college in favor of esoteric electives in Gender Studies and Radio/TV/Film. The Post-Bac is your do-over for an undergraduate career misspent, and Indians like taking advantage of all it has to offer.

Many Indians find their way to the Post-Bac via a now familiar route. After graduating from a top 20 university with an emphasis on humanities, Indians inspired to shun convention will move to New York City with their white college friends who are Psych majors aspiring to be unemployed actors and writers. They will find an apartment in a trendy part of town, most likely Brooklyn or Long Island City, and use their parents' money to pay rent while they spend the first 3 months out of school trolling Craigslist for jobs in media, entertainment and film. They will luck into an internship with a low-level production company that they will passionately do for no pay for 3 more months. Unfulfilled and bolstered by entitlement, they will turn down a full-time offer by the production company in search of something more high profile - like a development position with HBO or a writing apprenticeship on The Daily Show.

After 24 months of failing to meet expectations, lowering them and failing to meet them again, the jaded Indian boy or girl will return home to his or her parents' house citing exhaustion. Holed up in their childhood bedroom, they will recall easier times when they boldly told their middle school teachers, "When I grow up I'm going to work for Doctors Without Borders!" They meant it at the time, but somehow college came along and distracted them with its tantalizing course catalogue (Sweet Shiva, Intro to Subversive Sexuality in East German Cinema?!) and its hypocritical, liberal message - "Education is for the growth of your soul, not your bank give us $45,000."

After careful reflection and self-flagellation for 4 years wasted they convince their patient parents they've seen the error of their ways and will go back to school. "For what," the parents will ask skeptically, "Sociology?"

"No," they're assuaged, "Pre-med. I'm getting my post-bac from Columbia, and after that I'll apply to medical school. Can I have $125,000?"

Sure you can. After all, can you really put a price on the realization of the Indian parents' dream for their child to be a doctor? Imagine the look on Ritu auntie's face when she finds out her son , also named Ritu, won't be the only pre-med student at the Jain temple in Sugarland. That's worth 25 rupees crore, at least.

So good luck, wayward Indian student who once was lost but now is found. You tried your hand at the real world and have learned it's not right for you. Go forth to medical school; there's no looking BAC.

Monday, July 21, 2008

#219: Taking All the Cheese Cubes From the Mattar Paneer

No Indian gathering would be complete without the requisite tray of Mattar Paneer heated from below with a blue gas flame. Whether the occasion be a Saraswati Puja in a church basement or a lunch buffet at Convention, Mattar Paneer, or stewed peas and chunks of cheese, will serve as the culinary keystone of a meal, seamlessly uniting the dry smokiness of the naan with the equally stark tuft of pilao. Here is something with moisture, something that will lubricate the joints of this dessicated meal and bring it to life with the fluidity of motion, for as any Indian knows, no meal is a meal until both your napkin and paper plate are soaked through with the soggy consistency of curry run amok.

Perhaps no other dish can match Mattar Paneer for its boggy constitution because no other dish faces the same degree of focused scrutiny. At any Indian gathering where food is served, Mattar Paneer endures an attention novel to its nature - for reasons beyond the scope of sheer sociology, Indians love to pillage trays of Mattar Paneer for all the cubes of cheese, leaving diners unfortunate enough to populate the rear of the line with only a swamp of curried peas to halfheartedly ladle on to their plate.

Any Indian who has had the misfortune of sitting at the table called last to attend the buffet during an Indian wedding reception knows the gnawing anxiety and aggravated Restless Leg Syndrome elicited by the understanding that Indians, in general, will purloin paneer. When the time comes and the black vested hotel employee responsible for controlling the rush toward the food points at your table, granting you permission to join the ranks of the ravenous plundering the peas, pakoras, and parathas, your heart sinks to find the Mattar Paneer paneerless. You look helplessly around, searching for eye contact with any member of the hotel staff who can understand your plight, and you realize the futility of your request as they shrug sympathetically when you explain through your St. Louis drawl, "Thurr's no Panurr Herre! Thurr's no murre Panurr Herre!"

The cause is lost like a Ralph Nader presidential bid as you notice the only people who understand you are rummaging through the leftover peas and perhaps beating you to that lonely curd of cheese sitting defiantly at the bottom like a noble pearl beneath the sea taunting the greedy to grasp it.

Ultimately you resign yourself to a parched meal of dry carbohydrates and water, grimacing at the prospect of washing down tandoori fired chicken wrapped in arid naan with a bolus of straightforward white rice. Just then, though, like the gates of Heaven welcoming you behind St. Peter, the double doors leading to the hotel's kitchen swing open to reveal another tray of Mattar Paneer arriving at the table. As the staff replaces the old tray with the new like a highly skilled pit crew you see the overabundance of cheese cubes bouncing in the soupy sea of peas like buoyant chunks of bullion offering themselves up for your covetous consumption.

You reach for the dish but the ladle is out of your grasp; you are too far forward in the perpetually moving line. There is no way back as people push ahead to make their way through the buffet efficiently. Like the rush for open seats on a New Jersey Transit train from Edison to Jersey City during the AM commute there is no way to compete against the will of all. You must move forward. You turn to a seemingly sympathetic Uncle nearby and he reaches out with the omniscience of benediction. "Come, beta," he says, "If you'd like more Paneer the end of the line starts there."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Perhaps it's the implicit recognition of Polytheism and the existence of a pantheon of deities that proffer the blessings of good fortune, wisdom and fecundity of the film's title that draw Indians to The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Or maybe it's because the movie's release and popularity in the Eighties coincided with a time when large numbers of Indian immigrants had more recently arrived in America and found the movie's message of Western civilization's hypocrisy of consumption as civilization a pleasing balm to the culture shock of of leaving India for more "advanced" pastures.

Or maybe the flick is just funny in that indescribable way 1980's movies like Gremlins, Short Circuit and Batteries Not Included were funny, particularly to Indians.

Any way you churn the chutney, Indians love the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy and it formed an indelible cultural backdrop for young Indian Americans growing up in the 1980s along with Thriller, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Loony Tunes and Weird Al Yankovic's "Dare to be Stupid" album.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

#+10: Rolling Deep

To the uninitiated, "rolling deep" is the term given to the act of traveling in a group larger than socially logical. For example, 5 people going out to dinner would not be considered "deep" since dinner parties often times reach as high as ten participants. 12 people, however, pulling up to a club in 3 different taxis then bombarding the doorman with a fusillade of fake New Jersey driver's licenses that read Amit, Ajay, Aamish, Akshat, Akshay, Aabir, Anisha, Anita, Amita, Avani, Avani and Avani would constitute, in process, the act of rolling deep, which Indians like to do.

Whether it be taking a respite from work and leaving the office for lunch or heading down to the Sargent Hall cafeteria on a Wednesday after Orgo lab, Indians refuse to sojourn solely. A trip to the corner break room on the 14th, 16th, or other equally unimpressive floor of a Manhattan office building between the hours of 12:15 and 12:35 PM will yield a group of Indians huddled around steaming Tupperware containers recounting the details of mundane domestic lives and dry work tasks in a language indiscernible to the average American corporate drone. Though the number of Indians in this group may not exceed 3, their unexpected presence in a corporate kitchen in New York will undoubtedly inspire in their non-Indian coworkers sentiments along the lines of, "Damn, dogg, did you see all those Indians in the break room?" and "Shit, bro, there are mad Indians at the end of the hall. Those cats roll deep." At least one Indian who is part of the group eating their lunch will briefly look up at the sound of this exchange since his name is Deep and will think for a second he has been summoned.

Collegiate and post-collegiate Indians also tend to travel in large, ethnically homogeneous groups. Far more obnoxious than the congregation of Indians innocuously making room for themselves in an area designated for leisure and breaking, this flock of Viks, Riks and dicks choose places such as apartment units, dorms, hallways and calculus discussion sections to convene their annoying gatherings, speaking loudly and shrilly at every opportunity. The depth of this particular crowd is fully appreciated when they stand outside your door waiting for an elevator and scream such inanities as, "Ohmahgawd, like, how many Indians do you think we can fit into one elevator?" Well, Soniya, probably a lot since you and your boyfriend, I'm sorry brother, collectively weigh 150 lbs with wrists the size of dandias.

Indians can also be seen rolling deep at the library, at the hookah bar, at the club with the vaguely Turkish name, and at the orientation program for any undergraduate accelerated medicine and MBA program.

Monday, July 14, 2008

#218: Heh?

Pronounced "Haay," "Heaayh," "Hae" or any other variation of the aggressively nasal Indian response to the most basic of inquiries.

"Dad, what time are we leaving?" you ask. Even before the last syllable of your question carries from your lips to his ears he's given up all hope of any sort of comprehension and immediately fires back, "HEH?" a honking retort that tightens the shoulders and spikes the heart rate of anyone unfortunate enough to hear it.

Not familiar with the grating Indian tone of incomprehension? Check out a poorly executed facsimile.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

#217: Disregarding Pronouns/Articles

1. Tell truth.
2. That is a true.
3. Bring.
4. Eat some small snack.
5. Are you wearing the one pant?

Monday, July 7, 2008

#212: Fearing Open Flames

As has been documented, Indians fear many things. Indians fear uncertainty; Indians fear the Chinese; Indians fear the future; and Indians fear Islam. Another thing Indians fear is an open flame.

The primary forum in which fear of an open flame manifests itself is the kitchen, where gas burning stoves ignite like the volcanoes of Mordor under skillets of rotis, pots of stewing lamb and kettles of boiling water. One ill-advised move in this culinary quagmire could ignite a dupatta like Michael Jackson's hair in a Pepsi commercial.

An overheard conversation in a Delhi salwar bazzar:

Guy: Are these clothes flame retardant?

Salesperson: Excuse me?

Guy: Flame Retardant! Retardant to flames.

Salesperson: Um, I don't think so. If you light them with a flame they will catch fire.

Guy: No, clothes in America are chemically treated so as not to conflagrate.

Salesperson: Conflagrate?

Guy: Will these clothes catch fire while cooking?

Salesperson: I don't believe these clothes are meant to be cooked in, sir.

Oh, aren't they? Why else would we see our mothers and aunties drape themselves in their finest silk saris before gatherings held in remodelled basements only to spend the next five hours stationed in front of the stove while their reluctant children conduct tours of the house?

The fear of open flames translates to other areas of the home as well. The fancy barbecue set on the back porch is rarely, if ever, fired up and never serves as a center for congregation as it does in Tyler Perry movies. Fireplaces are often times merely decorative and if functional are gas operated and covered with at least 3 glass and mesh barriers while a mini fire extinguisher stands vigilantly in the corner. Even incense burns cautiously beneath the watchful Indian eye as it's immediately extinguished under the faucet after its final embers glow and it is wrapped in a damp paper towel before being gingerly disposed of.

Though open flames factor prominently into Hindu weddings, festivals and mosque razings they are a source of grave concern among many judicious Indians. Especially the ones in dupattas. Those things can conflagrate.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

#4th of July: Convention!

The Fourth of July in America means a lot of things: hot dogs, barbecues, fireworks and, if you're Indian, Convention.

An Indian convention is like any other convention. They are held in Marriott Hotels; they require registration; the primary mode of currency is the "meal ticket;" there is a gift tote, and there are an overabundance of "Hello My Name is..." name tags.

Indian families usually kick start their holiday weekend by loading up the Windstar with coolers of parathas, DDLJ DVDs, issues of Newsweek Magazine, throw blankets for the back seat and bottles of water. When Dad hits the highway and creeps up to that cruising speed of 55 the family settles in for a 13 hour drive to Houston, Toronto, Orlando, San Mateo, Denver, or wherever else the Bengali, Telugu, Assamese or Sikh societies of North America have decided to convene to celebrate the 4th.

For kids, Convention is an opportunity to reconnect with family friends whom you only see once a year, the friends you don't refer to as a "friend" when talking with your white friends at school but as your "cousin." Every year, in the lobby of a hotel, you, Deb, Niloy, Neel, Neal, Sunil, Anil, Bablu, Aabir, Sid, Benita, Indu, Sanjay and Sanjeev greet each other enthusiastically before spending the next 3 days lounging on the lobby furniture, playing tag in the parking lot, obnoxiously rough housing in the pool, slamming doors, screaming in the hallway, and allowing the absence of structured activity for kids to entice you to make up games utilizing an empty conference room, a circle of chairs and ubiquitous pitchers of water.

At some point the older kids will excuse themselves from the festivities, spike up their hair, dress up in a button down, straighten their locks and pregame in 3A before following someone whose friend lives in the area to the bars and clubs of the host city. Everyone else will be left to play TV-G versions of Never Have I Ever since Nerissa won't tell her 9 year old brother to go to bed.

For adults, Convention is an annual exercise in learning how out of touch their notions of India become with every passing year. As newer immigrants arrive, the average age of the Convention seems to get younger, contributing to a heavy sense of mortality and irrelevance among the generation that founded the Marathi Association of North America in a 4H Club basement in St. Lois in 1985 after taking advantage of the opportunities created in America by the 1977 immigration reforms. These generational gaps, however, will soon disappear as all adults will come together through that most established ritual of Indian Convention - in-fighting.

Fights at the Convention will range in topics from the choice of the Guest Artist to the absence of Indian food during the first night's buffet. What began as a bitter email chain in February regarding the selection of which city should host the annual event will, by the end of the July 4th weekend, devolve into a screaming match about the "future of the community," and the establishment of rival factions that will secede from the Convention and in the future hold their own counter Conventions in protest to the choices made by the host committee.

As the weekend wraps up flights are caught, rental cars are returned and cell phone chargers are left behind in empty rooms. Sincere goodbyes waft around during the final complimentary continental breakfast as emails are exchanged and unrealized weekend romances leave a sour taste in your stomach along with the previous night's unwise mixture of raita and Johnny Walker Black. As you hug your new friends and bask in the comfort of extended family you realize you maybe kind of sort of love these people and will undoubtedly keep in touch over IM and email. You won't. But there's always next year.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

#213: Torchlights

"Blackout! Quick, get me the torchlight!"

"The what?"

"The torchlight! It's in the telephone drawer. Next to the collection of pens from assorted pharmaceutical companies and the cello-tape!"

"Oh, you mean the flash light."

"That's what I said. Torchlight. Bring quick!"

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

#60601: Colonizing Apartment Complexes

If karma and Justin Timberlake have taught us anything it's that what goes around, goes around, goes around, goes around always comes back around. So it is with actions, so it is with charity and so, too, is it with taking something over and calling it your own. The British may have had control over India until 1947, but 60 years later we're ready to run our tricolor up the ramparts of some overpriced housing complex and claim it as our own Fatehpur Sikri this side of Uttar Pradesh.


Once the saturation point of Indians in an apartment complex is reached the building as a whole will inevitably follow the process of gradual Gangefication, the way by which a formerly normal building will come to resemble the banks of the Ganges due to a sharp increase in Indian residents. For example, despite the existence of dryers within each unit, Indians will insist on hanging large pieces of fabric outside to dry, making New Brunswick look more like New Delhi during a Kumba Mela.

Also, during Gangefication the halls of the building will absorb into its stucco paint and popcorn finish the lingering smells of subji, dhaal, okra, cumin and oven heat, an odor familiar to anyone who has ever visited an all-you-can-eat Indian lunch buffet.

Gangefication, like its sociological analogue Gentrification, is an almost unstoppable domino process. As soon as one Indian family or phD candidate moves into an apartment building, other residents will notice frequent reservations of the common space in his or her name for specifically Indian punctions (sic). These punctions (sic) may be anything from children's birthday parties to rehearsals for dances depicting the childhood of Krishna.

Once the precedent is established that Yes, Indians are welcome here, more will arrive with a frequency to rival Sophie Kinsella spinoffs. Soon, other residents will notice piles of shoes strewn in the hall during large gatherings within particular units, blue chappals sitting on welcome mats when no one is around, rows of small satellite dishes to capture TV Asia, Zee TV, and other Indian specific programming only available via Dish, and a parking structure overrun with silver and light blue Toyota Camrys, with owners that file formal complaints if anyone even slightly incurs on their reserved space.

Other tell-tale signs of Gangefication are the crackling sounds of radios on Saturday mornings tuned to Atul Sheth's Geet Mala Program and large, unruly gatherings of Indian men crammed onto a single Jennifer Convertibles couch at Arvind's place at 2:00 am for the international broadcast of India vs. Sri Lanka during the Cricket World Cup.


Gangefication is not limited to places like Farmington Hills, MI and Malden, Mass. Even locales as cosmopolitan as downtown Chicago are susceptible to an overpowering influx of Indians. These colonizers waving the imperial flag of Brown Town, however, are not newly arrived immigrants fettering themselves from acculturation, but rather 1st generation Indians who do their parents the favor of living in the condominium their family purchased in exchange for a promise to go to graduate school, or at least marry either brown or Jewish. This gradual dominance of condo high rises by affluent Indian twentysomethings is called Macacafication.

High-rise condos along lake Michigan and around Trillenium Park, such as McClurg Center, Presidential Towers and Harbor Point attract Indian populations much more insidious than the more middle-class apartment complex populations of south Jersey and Dearborn, MI. Macacondo residents blend into their surroundings, almost seamlessly mixing with other residents, wearing J. Crew pea coats, shorts with Greek letters emblazoned on the rear and even convincing themselves they are "down" with the "Kallu" doorman simply because they listen to Jeezy while jogging short distances on the treadmill in the state of the art gym on the 54th floor.

These Indians betray their stealth, however, when they participate in the most egregious of Indian apartment events - the pre-party. Flip cup tournaments set against the reverberating synth sweeps of Ursher's "Love in the Club" and Ginuwine's "My Pony" through an iHome docking station immediately let you know this condo has been macacafied.

Another conspicuous indicator that an apartment complex or condominium high-rise verges on the threshold of turning brown is the presence of Niraj (KNEE-raj), or some other speculative desi working hard to pad his resume for business school, who "flips" properties but has to live in an empty, unfurnished unit and eat cans of albacore tuna with a spork due to the inopportune timing of the housing market collapse. This Donald Chump is merely the harbinger of more deluded desis who will soon arrive and shake your ceilings when they practice breakdance moves they can incorporate into their Lagaan dance for the Feinberg Medical School cultural show in the unit above yours.

So the next time you see a gaggle of Gujubabes crowd into a mirrored elevator and press the button for Pent House or a recently immigrated newlywed couple carrying burlap sacks of Basmati buzz up to 3G, smile and nod to yourself. What went around has come around and it's our time to claim this 2BR for the motherland with an exotic print throw over the seat back of the couch. Jai Hind, Timberlake. Jai Hind.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

#404 Error: Game vs. G-AIM

"I wasn't really spitting game / I was scrimmaging" - Kanye West, "This Way"

We Indians aren't really spitting game either, Kanye, just spinaches...from our Palak Paneers. If game recognize game, like Twista said, then we wouldn't know game if it called us up, told us it was our second cousin and asked for an H-1 sponsorship. In real life, game, to Indians, is an over of cricket and an hour of carrom. Online, however, game becomes G-chat convos and AIM seshes, or G-AIM, a thing with which we're well familiar. Intel crore duo? We're 'bout it, 'bout it.

Indians, being an awkward people more likely to watch the movie Prom Night than go to their own, have thrived in the recent environment that has valued social networking over socializing. If there's anything Indians know a thing or two about, it's networking, whether it be servers routed together in your IT department or that salubrious, meat-packing NETIP mixer at Club Buddha Bar for "young professionals" next Friday night. Forget your MOBILE number. Lose your STYLE number. What's your IP number? Sexy, yaar.

Gaming on g-chat and AIM comes with its own virtual advantages. For example, G-AIM allows you the chance to look things up on the web in order to appear more well informed than you actually are while talking to a prospective Priya online. Quick Google searches, tabbed Wikipedia entries and frequently refreshed accounts allow the Indian G-AIMer to speak intelligibly on topics ranging from Margaret Thatcher's Monetarist policies to Mariah Carey's recent nuptials.

The most advantageous aspect of G-AIM that Indians have been able to exploit, however, is its cloak of anonymity and possibilities of redefinition. Who you are in your cubicle at the actuarial firm you work at with Qdoba salsa on your shirt means nothing when you're On G-chat and AIM what you say is what matters - how quickly you type it and how well you spell it - both things at which Indians excel (not including Excel).

In person, though, there are high pitched voices, slight speech impediments, adult acne, and soft Bausch & Laumb contacts forced on to eyes tearing and lashing out with the red ire of thousands of exacerbated capillaries screaming, "You can't wear contacts, it's allergy season!"

Online, you can define your personality and lazily find common ground by rapidly sharing links to things that interest you and describe you in a URL: Indian parody videos on YouTube, South Indian flim scenes appropriating Michael Jackson dances, songs buffalaxed beyond recognition, an NY Times article on the latest 28 year old Punjabi-American from California who sold his web start-up venture that your parents forwarded to not so subtly encourage you to study for the GMATs. All these things say to the other person, hey, look, we kinda maybe might like the same things and visit the same websites - information I never would have learned from you if I saw you in a public place, stared at you for too long and lost my voice due to an endocrine problem resulting from crippling social anxiety.

Doubters of the Indian proficiency in G-AIM should ask themselves: why have online dating sites grown in popularity among Indians? Why do Indians run Friendster and Orkut like DJ Khaled yelling "We the best" at Shore Club down on South Beach?

Because we're a social people. Not in real life, but in Second Life, a world in which the existence of avatars alone is enough to lure any Indian remedially versed in the 10 incarnations of Vishnu. Why call when you can message? Why touch when you can poke? Why say I love you when you can type it on her Wall? This impersonal courtship is no new development for Indians accustomed to love stories told by their parents of two young graduate students who never spoke before meeting on a tarmac in Aurangabad, flying Continental to O'Hare, and learning to love their arranged marriage in a duplex somewhere in Skokie.

Indians, arguably the ethnicity most represented by teenage awkwardness around the world with 1 billion people and 9.7 trillion IB credits, have nearly perfected the art of G-AIM. When you're plagued with unsightly facial hair, braces, and overactive sebaceous glands by grade 9, you're not left with many social options other than Duke Nuk'em 3D and AOL Teen Chat #89.

Question: Age/sex check?

Answer: The age of digital interaction, and yes, please..seriously, good god.. please let this happen.. please let this happen...for once.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Oh no, we didn't. Um, yes, we did. Stuff Indians Like dot com presents our first SILDC FLIMS production, Call Center. Wait, another Indian R&B parody video with bad singing and dubious production quality? Dhuy. What else do you think macacas with mac books would do? Watch it, hate it, love it, leave it. Just don't say we never did anything to earn your RSS feeds.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

#196: Dropping Babies

Michael Jackson dangled a baby from a balcony, and maybe its that cavalier spirit toward raising strapping children that Indians can identify with in the King of Pop.

Indians at the shrine of Solapur in the state of Maharastra have been dropping babies from the holy site's 50 foot ledge for 500 years with the intent of blessing their free-falling newborns with luck and strength.

Both Hindus and Muslims have indulged their superstitions with this practice, proving the Indian obsession with pushing their children through the most stressful and traumatic childhoods is a trait that transcends creed.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

#29: Michael Jackson

Like Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson is a perennial favorite among Indians in America. Eddie Murphy wrote the handbook for immigrant acculturation in Coming to America; the Huxtables became the model family for raising dark-skinned children while working as doctors and lawyers; Michael Jackson showed recent emigres that in America it's still okay to dance. MJ's reach has even extended beyond the pond, inspiring Indians in England to put their arms up and get down, as shown by Suleman Mirza and Madhu Singh on a recent episode of Britain's Got Talent

Perhaps nowhere else in the world does Michael Jackson continue to enjoy cultural relevance other than the place where 1980s American music stars go to die and enjoy karmic rebirth on the Channel V pop charts - India. Just ask Bryan Adams.

Jackson moved to Bahrain, seemingly aware that the white people he loved enough to physically emulate have rejected him as a psychopathic baby-dangler. You married Lisa-Marie Priestley, but she didn't like you. You were best friends with Paul McCartney, but now he hates your guts. No worries, Michael, you never had Paris, but at least you'll have Dhaka, where the less informed still believe "Heal the World" is a motivating message and not just a pretty badass Super Bowl halftime show.

In the 1970s and 1980s every Indian-American family had a copy of the Bad album on vinyl, had committed to memory the words of Weird Al Yankovic's parody "Eat It," and had a third cousin named Raj who at every annual Telugu convention in Houston would unbutton his white shirt, tip his black fedora, hike up his white socks and pop-lock it out to a Michael Jackson - Bally Sagoo medley mix.

You're right, Michael, it doesn't matter if you're black or white. Sometimes you can be brown or whatever race you are now. In the end what brings us together is the popular culture that unites us and the songs to which we can dance from LA to Lahore, ideally with members of the same sex.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

#190: Phonetic Misspellings

Subway Sammiches. 50th and Broadway. New York, NY.

Monday, April 28, 2008

#189: Homeopathic Care

It goes without saying that Indians like the practice of Medicine. What is alarming, though, is that for a community with such confidence in the institutions of science and maths, Indians still manage to believe, in a back corner of their minds normally reserved for heretical thoughts such as "M. Night Shyamalan sucks" and "Isn't Sanjay Gupta gay," that homeopathic care might work.

One would think that 4 years of private, parochial high school, 3 years of undergraduate study in an accelerated medical program, 4 years of medical school, 2 years of interning, and 3 years of residency would banish any and all thoughts among Indians that remotely consider holistic care a legitimate alternative to Western medicine. Gas X is for indigestion; Zithromax is for boils; hydrocortisone cream is for eczema; and Prilosec is for acid reflux. Ginger root, chamomile, red bark and vinegar have no place in the pantheon of prescribed panaceas.

Not so, according to Indians, superstitious and scientific alike. To Indians there is no hypocrisy between taking Crestor for high blood pressure and tiger toe nails for a migraine. Even pharmacies in India, which boast their accredited professionalism with a dingy red-cross insignia outside a ramshackle stand crammed between a cobbler and a paan shop, offer both acetaminophen and hibiscus leaves to cure that crick in your neck.

Do you suffer from Asthma? Try some Pranayama.

What about Diarrhea? Here are some boiled banyan buds.

Do you have Depression? Too bad, it doesn't exist.

To Indians there's no sickness beyond the reach of antibiotics, analgesics and good ol' fashioned ayurveda. Except leprosy. That shit is still a bitch to cure.

Friday, April 25, 2008

#188: Dancing With Members of the Same Sex

It's no surprise that Indians enjoy dancing. On wedding occasions, birthday occasions, pooja occasions, after party occasions, bhangra occasions, and garba occasions, Indians love to crank dat curry sauce and cut a Persian rug.

What is somewhat eye-opening, however, is the Indian penchant for dancing with members of the same sex. In metropoles around the world Indian men and Indian women congregate in groups of their own gender and make their shoulders lean. Maybe it's a sociological result of a conservative culture inhibiting casual and free interaction between the sexes beginning at a very young age. Or maybe it's more simple than that; maybe Indians just like getting down with people that share their genitalia.

You've seen this phenomenon manifest itself at every SASA show, Diwali Function, Holi Fest, India Night, Fusion Concert, and Diversity in Dance Celebration you've ever been to. In nearly each Hindi Flim Remix Dance there is an even number of boys and girls. One would assume this ratio would facilitate quick and easy partner pairing.

Wrong. Instead, Indians prefer to break fusion dances into gender specific portions during which all the girls dance together and subsequently all the boys dance together. Girls will usually do something vaguely inspired by Indian classical forms while the boys will break out their classic Blackstreet-meets-112-meets-'Nysnc-meets-DDLJ hip-hop bhangra routine to the ritual cheers of "Oh my Gawwwwwwds, so sexy Pratul!" from the crowd.

One also sees the Indian proclivity for same sex brown downs in numerous national dance competitions that encourage dude-on-dude dancing and girl-on-girl garbas. Bhangra Blowouts, Dandia Dhamakas, and Raas Riots from Berkeley to GW feature large groups of Indians breaking it down on stage with finger flags and wooden dowels while the opposite sex watches from the seats of the amphitheater, left only to "ooh" and "aah" at hammer downs, poorly executed worms and gratuitous shoulder mounting. Clearly, as evinced by by these demonstrations of dancing in practice, in India girls garba with girls, boys bhangra with boys and only girls named Lakshmi do Kathak.

Perhaps nowhere else is the practice of same sex dancing between Indians more prevalent in the community than at the club or after party. Normally, social interaction tends to escalate during the course of the night from immature tom-foolery to more intimate exchanges on the dance-floor. One need not look further than their high school Homecoming dance to see this. At the end of Homecoming, who were you slow dancing with to Sarah McLachlans "Angel"? Pathik? Ajay? Sanjeev? No, most likely you were dancing with Kate, Katherine, Kimberly, Jenna or whichever other white girl you decided to ask as your date.

At the Indian after party, though, 9 times out of 10 by the end of the night you're huddled tight into an Urkel Circle with 5 other Indian guys throwing your arms up in unison to whatever Mariah Carey remix is most culturally salient at the moment. And where are Preity, Payal, Puja and Priyanka? Dancing with each other on the opposite side of the dance floor, of course, mentally plotting the steps for their all-female Kuchipudi dance to be performed at next year's cultural show.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

#186: Pretending Their Favorite Book is Midnight's Children

The world of South Asian diasporic literature is as populated as India itself. There's Masti Chick Lit, Alternative Identity Lit, Plagiarized Lit, Overwrought Lit, Wait is Zadie Smith Black or Pakistani Lit, Who's Monica Ali Lit, and Sweet Lakshmi Please Have My Baby Jhumpa Lahiri Lit. Above and beyond all these words, pages, paperbacks and epigrams, though, there is only one forefather of South Asian diasporic literature. Sorry, Naipal, but his name is Salman, and Indians like lying to people that they love his books.

Depending on your degree of precociousness and the extremes of your post-adolescent identity crisis during which you threatened to change your name to Steve and convert to Christianity, you probably picked up your first Rushdie book around middle to late high school. Most likely this was Satanic Verses since you vaguely remembered something from when you were 8 about a revolution in Iran and a fatwa on a fat man. Or maybe it was Midnight's Children, which you stumbled across on the Barnes and Noble Summer Reading table while looking for Confederacy of Dunces. Either way, whatever you read you didn't understand and it took you seven years to finish.

It doesn't matter that you turned the last page of Midnight's Children by the time you finished college. It doesn't matter that you bought The Ground Beneath Her Feet, or that you thought the plot sounded a lot like the movie Taal. It doesn't matter if you watched Rushdie speak, or that he signed your copy of Shalimar the Clown. You didn't read it, but you tell people you did.

On Friendster, Facebook, Orkut and Linked In pages all around, Indians claim their favorite books are some sort of combination between The Interpreter of Maladies, The Kite Runner, Digital Fortress, On Beauty, The God of Small Things and Midnight's Children. Most likely that last one is an equivocation. You may have read Midnight's Children but can you remember it? Can you describe Salim? Can you tell me why he ended up in some spitoon on the Kashmiri border? Can you explain why his left nostril always ran? Neither can I. But, damn, I love that book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

#50 Super Sprint: Vespas

If you're from America Vespas are what you associate with insufferable hipsters too in love with the past to acknowledge the merits of a ten-speed. If you're from Europe, on the other hand, Vespas conjure an image of young Lotharios parading past side-walk cafes smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and stealing your girlfriend. Perhaps in every country, culture, and locale around the world, Vespas stand for what is cool and hip. Except in India where the only thing cool are the Limcas, and the only thing hip is what your grandmother broke while sweeping the stairwell with a handmade broom of reeds.

Vespas enjoy a popularity in India that may take some by surprise. Founded in Italy in the mid forties, Vespas sprung to popularity as a cheap mode of transportation in war-torn southern Europe and as a stylish accessory after prominent placement in Hollywood movies in the 1950s. In India, however, Vespas rose in popular use as a result of a tried and true Indian formula- we stole them. Bajaj Auto acquired the rights to sell Vespa technology in the sub-continent, but later faced litigation from Piaggio, the Italian creators, after it ventured into North American markets unlawfully. LML Motors, a parts supplier to Piaggio, also broke into the business of peddling Vespa clones before closing due to labor strikes in 2006.

People who visited India in the '80s and '90s will have noticed the popularity of Vespas among the Indian population. Vespa riders often fell into 2 categories. First, there were the young, Indian men inspired by the burgeoning forms of cool, popularized by such icons as Jaidev in Sholay and John Travolta's Vinny Bobarino. This first group would often times take their young, American nephews around the city on the back of their Vespa, stopping for petrol, paan and cigarettes before turning to the child to beg through a thick Indian accent, "Ey, don't tell your Mudder, okay?"The second group of Vespa riders in India were also young Indian men, but who had recently been married. These users were usually seen on the road with at least four members of their new family piled on the rear along with groceries, shopping bags, furniture and clothing. The wife would sit sideways demurely, a child or two on her lap, her long hair streaming out from beneath her helmet and flapping in the wind with the shawl of her pink salwaar khameez.

As you sat in the backseat of the Tata Sumo barrelling through the streets of the city, you would see the veins in your father's temple flare at the sight of this young man, most likely unable to upgrade to a four-wheeler with the other demands made on his income by his new responsibilities as a breadwinner. "Buy a Maruti, stupid!" your dad, a Neurologist now practicing in America, would shout at the unsuspecting husband on his Vespa, "You are threatening the physical consistencies of your childrens' skulls!" He would lean back into the car and shake his head disapprovingly, but in the reflection of the rear view mirror you swear you could see the glint in his eye as he remembered the days when he rolled confidently around on his lime green Vespa channeling his inner Barbarino and telling condescending adults to shove it, "Up their nose with a rubber hose." In India, he was as cool as cool could get.