Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Vignettes from Sea - Clustering and Aggregation

I have by now seen the all of my desi brethren traveling with me. It is about Day Four and as I had predicted we have not exchanged any smiles or pleasantries with each other. A desi woman alone on cruise with her minor daughter is an outrage even by the low Class C standards that no self respecting desi would want to dignify with their acknowledgement. But what is life without the outliers - the desi that falls outside the established cluster - happily there are some of those too. And so it happened that I ran into Dusky with Blue Eyeliner while getting myself a bowl of fruit one afternoon. She made polite small talk as she served herself and we parted ways smiling at each other. We were to meet by the coffee machine the next morning.

The thaw from the previous afternoon had now turned to into an ominous chill. This happens a lot in desi to desi interactions when one party has miscued the other party's "true" class. In this case Dusky with Blue Eyeliner probably had me pegged as something other than the Class C that I really am. With the error of judgement having cleared overnight, she was now embarrassed about having spoken to me earlier. I responded to chill with a half smile so we could both save face in this awkward situation. In our subsequent encounters, Dusky with Blue Eyeliner ignored me like I was a piece of furniture. The world was right once again. She hung out with her family - husband and what looked like in-laws.  This was not a clustering and aggregating desi - there are always a few of those. They would end up Class C, if they chose not to improve their social graces.

The clustering phenomenon was an interesting one to observe as time passed. Most desi families would in the least have another family that they were joined in the hip to. The party of about seven to ten (including all of their kids) moved en-masse. By day two the ladies may occasionally split with fifty percent of the kids and the men went with the rest of them. They were always together for dinners and shows often dressed in a coordinated theme or style. They made little effort to befriend other desis organized in clusters similar to their own.  I saw a few new clusters form on the ship but most were prefab. While a two family cluster was the most common, I saw several larger ones. Typically, these folk were upwardly mobile Class Bs or Class As. No matter what the configuration a cluster was always an island that did not allow outsiders in.

Like Dusky with Blue Eyeliner, a few desi families were traveling solo. But unlike Dusky with Blue Eyeliner, some were anxious to be part of a bigger picture. To that end, the phenomenon of aggregation. In this case the seed group was a large one - I would say about five different families. Based on the interactions between them, they did not seem to have the long history and cohesion like the cluster families had. This was a random collection of families that spoke the same native language. 

By day three, a lot of the straggler families had piled on to this group until the aggregation was over fifty strong. They were able to commandeer a couple of full rows at the theater during showtime. It was easy to tell who the alpha pair was in the group. Their class and standing increased the profile of the aggregation on the whole. All of the ladies wanted to be close to Prom Queen and emulate her sense of style. Mr Prom Queen was sadly not Alpha Dog in the aggregation. That mantle fell on a gentleman with a rather homely wife. He was leading the charge as far as the men.

No comments: