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.