Saturday, May 01, 2010

Getting Desis

Every once in a while an non-desi co-worker has asked me to corroborate something they had heard from another desi. The matter in question more often than not has to do with desi culture, Hinduism (which is frequently referred to as the Hindi religion whereas the language Hindi is called Hindu) and of course the perennial favorites - curry, bindi, caste system, dowry and arranged marriages.

In the early days, I would be bewildered when called upon to opine on matters that until that minute I had no opinion on. Depending on their source and the particular ax the desi in question had to grind, their information ranged from incomplete to incorrect to decidedly bizarre. So I would take it upon myself to set the record straight to the best of my ability and the reaction would  range between surprise and suspicion. For the most part, I was concerned about my professional credibility and did not want my views on say the meaning of Karma to imperil that because it was at complete odds with what this person had been told by another desi.
Over time, I have found a better way to deal with the situation. If the issue at hand is the best way to cook palak paneer (because the directions they were given by another desi resulted in an unmitigated disaster), I don't hesitate to share what I know. However, when it comes to more controversial issues like caste, right-wing politics or the dowry system, I try to refer them to a book on the subject preferably by a difficult to reader authors like Nirad Chaudhuri, Salman Rushdie or Gurucharan Das. I figure that should keep them occupied and confused for a while. I also have created canned responses to FAQs that have included the likes of:
Is Monsoon Wedding a good depiction of how Indians get married ?
What is the difference between the Hindi and the Hindu religion ?
How real is the depiction of poverty in Slumdog Millionaire ?
What are the main castes in India ?
What do you think of The Namesake ?
What can I eat in an Indian restaurant that is not curry ?
Do all Indian live in joint families ?
Are all Indian women demure and submissive ?

What is the religious significance of the the dot on the forehead ?

Is it true that you can tell a person's caste from their name ?
Recently, I got a couple of questions that were both fun and different from anything I have had to respond to before. This guy wanted a list of interesting cuss words in Hindi with their approximate English translations and a list of slick gangster movies from Bollywood. That tells me the man has evolved past the Curry, Slumdog and Namesake stage and is ready to "get" India and desis. If only, I would come across more of this variety.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Govern your thoughts when alone, and your tongue when in company. ....................................................