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 account...now 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.