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.