Monday, February 01, 2010

Dave Aur Jenny

Some weeks ago, I stumbled upon a blog by two non-desi New Yorkers living in Delhi,  writing about their Indian experience. What struck me most was the thoughtful yet upbeat tone of the posts. Here were a couple of foreigners, who had made Delhi their home and were ready to embrace that experience for all that it implied. From what a reader can tell, they are having a wonderful time.

It was very refreshing to read about India as viewed by western eyes without the gratuitous exotification that often goes with the territory. It is not every day that a desi gets to hear about India from "goras" who throw themselves wholeheartedly into the Indian experience. It is far more typical is to hear from observers who remain outsiders even if they live in India, providing a commentary that remains woefully two dimensional because they have not really "lived" the life they are writing about.

Dave and Jenny were kind enough to answer some questions I had for them.

Me : Are you able to be as indulgent as you are about even your no so pleasant experiences in India because you are visitors there and always have the option to return home ?

Dave says: “Any commitment is made easier with the knowledge that one has fallback options. If the economy exploded and our jobs did their best Harry Houdini impression, we could go home. The same thing went for our exploration of India: if we ate one too many gol goppas from the wrong guy, we knew we could always go flying back to Mommy.”

Me : This is a question for Jenny - Do you find Indian men treat you differently that they treat Indian women ?

Jenny says: “I found that both Indian men and women were a little more formal towards me than they were too each other. They didn’t tease me as much as they teased each other—but they were always quite friendly. So I guess I got all the good parts of it.”

Me : In your post about Dehi's safety you conclude with the question "Never mind what Delhi’s apocalyptic news media says. The real question is this: what’s keeping a city of poor, jealous, sexually-frustrated young men from unleashing their aggressions and turning Delhi into Gotham City?" While the math and the statistics may be right, is your impression that an unaccompanied Indian woman in Delhi is safer than she is in New York city ?

Jenny say: “In this regard, I think New York is safer for unaccompanied women, only because in New York there aren’t as many dark street corners. Even in the middle of the night, there’s always tons of people around—but in Delhi after 11, it’s a ghost town.”

Me : I have American friends who have lost their jobs because of outsourcing and find it difficult to get hired here because they are considered too old to "fit in" in most IT shops. Would you recommend a single white woman in her 50s to seek job opportunities in India assuming she has the appetite for the adventure ?

Dave says: “We recommend India to anyone! We had an amazing experience. As long as she realizes that a single white woman in her 50s is even RARER in the Delhi IT world than in the US IT world, she’ll be fine. But there’s no doubt that everyone will know who she is the first day she shows up for work.”

Me : Another question for Jenny - Have you ever felt that not having a male partner could be a handicap in Delhi ? Would your Indian experience be just the same without Dave accompanying you ?

Jenny says: “Without a man around, my experience would have been quite different, I have to admit. I would have found it much more difficult to enter into negotiations and I would have felt a lot more insecure. I sometimes attracted unwanted attention, and I felt more comfortable having Dave there to ward it off.”

Me : What about India would you miss the most when you leave for good ?
The food. Without a doubt. And the people, because we’ve never been in such a friendly city.

Me : In your post Gora Evasion you write "So when two Goras converge on a road, there are no pleasantries. No acknowledgments. If our eyes meet, it’s only by accident, and we both quickly look away." Interestingly enough, desis do exactly the same thing when they run into other desis in America. What is your theory for such evasion ?

I've written extensively about this in the upcoming book, but the basic theory is that people traveling abroad want to pretend that they're on a grand adventure. So we close our ideas to any evidence that other people came before us -- it makes us feel less special.

Me : What do to make of Bollywood and the desi fascination with it ?

We wish we understood it better. It's clear just how complex and nuanced the culture is when we see a movie -- we could live in India for another twenty years and still not understand everything.

Me : Of all the places that you have lived and visited in India, which one was the closest to what you had imagined India would be like and which one was the farthest ?

I think the Old City in Delhi comes closest to our expectations, in the sense that we knew we'd see something amazing every time we went. The biggest surprise was walking around Jodhpur, I think -- not the tourist areas but far into the outskirts. Everything was so beautiful and everyone was so friendly.

Me : Where have you found India's assimilation of western culture to be the most beneficial to the Indian people and where has it been an been a really bad misadventure ?

It's hard for us to say, because we don't have enough perspective to know what it was like before. And it makes us nervous to say anything, because we don't want to sound like a cultural imperialist. But we can say this: we love coffee, so the more CCDs that open up, the better the world will be. :)

Dave and Jenny have a book in the works which they call "part memoir and part guidebook: an in-depth exploration of the Delhi we lived, the lessons we learned, and the funny things that happened to us". You can get on their mailing list for "announcements, invitations to the launch party, and more!"  

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastioc observation
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Me : In your post Gora Evasion you write "So when two Goras converge on a road, there are no pleasantries. No acknowledgments. If our eyes meet, it’s only by accident, and we both quickly look away." Interestingly enough, desis do exactly the same thing when they run into other desis in America. What is your theory for such evasion ?

I've written extensively about this in the upcoming book, but the basic theory is that people traveling abroad want to pretend that they're on a grand adventure. So we close our ideas to any evidence that other people came before us -- it makes us feel less special.
----------

As a desi, I turn away instantly when I see a desi in USA because I suspect the chap is a Quixtar Amway salesman, or an H1B trying to get GC, or looking for directions to Patel Brother grocery store, or a Toyota Corolla chap about to assault me for owning a non-Toyota brand etc.
Nothing as complicated as wanting to be special. But then I'm not trying to sell a book so I have to concoct esoteric nonsense.

Anonymous said...

HC ,

Thank you. This is a nice & interesting blog.

LIFE_REFACTORED said...

Interesting read ma'am. As always.