The Global Desi

The musings of a Desi in Pardes

Humor to kachcha hai ji

The desi sense of humor is an expat.

Let me vent on a topic that hits close to home: the sense of humor as employed by Bollywood; rather the lack of sophistication in it. And as it is I blame the lack of maturity of us as a people for this as I think that is what our movies reflect.

You see, I sincerely believe that you can learn a lot about a person, a nation and a culture by what they feel is worthy of their smiles. And let’s face it – nobody likes to be laughed at. We all love to be laughed with. So considering that I squarely belong in a few groups that are taught in our culture that they should be getting used to being made fun of, it is no surprise that this is a sticking point for me.

I am totally open to the idea that as an expat of about a decade, maybe I am out of touch with the India of today; the India of now. But considering that I felt the same way about this issue in my younger, intensely patriotic days, I hardly think my distance from the homeland is at work here.

I recently picked ‘Dil to Bachcha hai ji’ to watch on hulu+. Considering that Ajay Devgan is an actor I can respect and that I’ve usually liked most of his movies in the last 10 years, I figured I was safe in this choice.

So so many holes in the humor for a purportedly comedy movie.

But instead of listing it all out, let me focus on two things that were right up there.
Impossible to ignore is the gay guy that has lately become indispensible in desi movies. There is something very coy about desis talking about sexual orientations. Not been able to say ‘gay’ without a smirk, a blush and a giggle. Quite adolescent really. And of course it is all about the gay guy. Lesbians are non-existent. Or they are simply categorized as the butch woman who is not a true woman because she does not simper and sway or drop pallus and hence deserves no male attention. Maybe that is why we haven’t been able to figure out this simple fact about ‘the gays’: they might like people of their own sex but by no means are they less discerning about who will receive their attentions than anyone else. A gay guys is no more likely to hit on every single guy he sees on the streets than the average straight guy is likely to hit on every single woman on the streets.

Now moving onto the point that hits home. Squarely so. Overweight women. Obviously objects of ridicule (and they might as well resign themselves to their fate) and a blight on the face of female humanity, they have been persistently used as props in desi cinema. Thankfully, we have moved on from the days of the lovely Guddi Maruti. Really, she was quite lovely and had an awesome presence. But all for naught for her weight obviously overshadowed everything else.

Nowadays it’s more subtle. But it is there all right. The sneaking shadow of a smirk that can only come when seeing an overweight woman. Somehow overweight men don’t inspire the same amount of mirth but they, too, have had their share of the limelight.

Coming back to our movie of the day – DTBHJ. The mature, older man is getting divorced. Having successfully navigated his way out of the clutches of the predatory woman lawyer, he finds himself drawn to the young, nubile new thing in the office. At the end of the day, he sits in his car, wondering if he should offer a ride to young thing standing outside the work place. Before the guy can work up the gumption to do so, Casanova swoops in on his bike and carries away the damsel. As our guy watches them ride away, enters the slightly overweight unimportant girl from the office simpering as she asks her ‘sir’ for a ride. He absentmindedly, and rather irritably I might say, nods and she gets into the car.

And that is where we decided we could stop the movie. Granted there were no obvious jokes about this. But I really wanted to slap the next person that waxed eloquent on how our culture is so deep and the western cultures are so superficial and shallow. Really? Let’s be serious and take a good long look in the mirror. When it comes to choosing mates we Indians are amongst the shallowest, most superficial and most cruel people on earth. Nobody wants to see if the slightly shorter, stockier or less fair of the girls is actually a lovely person who will bring smiles and love into the house. Nope. She has to be tall slim and fair and ‘homely’ (that’s another post another day).

Please – young India. I have begun to notice that people are no longer choosing mates based on their looks and biodatas. Lets keep this up and find the right person and not just the right face.

Wanna-be nation

For as long as I can remember, India has been a country of wanna-bes. Not said in a derogatory way at all. In fact I think we are among the most tenacious wanna-bes in the world and that is what makes us among the most successful communities anywhere we go. We always wanna-be – richer, more educated, happier, better, better dressed, etc. None of them are goals to be brushed off. But globally speaking we’ve also been hounded by the stigma of being part of the 3rd world. And that has created a nation that is too much a wanna-be.

In our recently developed zeal to not be less / behind / below / smaller / poorer than the west, I think we are losing some key aspects of our identity. We do not have to prove that we are no longer behind say, the US. That was one thing that struck me about the US and many other countries. Even countries that are not as developed. Most of them don’t spend time comparing each aspect of their countries and cultures with others. They are content and confident in themselves. I struggle to think of one example of an American friend saying “We are better off than those *insert random developed country people*”. They don’t care. They don’t care to compare themselves to the UK. Or to Japan. Or to Germany. If there is a specific topic that is being discussed at a convention – yes. But in general, day-to-day conversation, no.

IMHO the thing about insisting this is that we are assuming the identity of followers in the same game; one which was developed by the countries that are excelling at it. It is a game where we will never ever get ahead.

We are playing cricket. They are playing football. And we are wondering if we are catching up. If we have as many goals. We don’t and we never will. We are not traveling down the same road and that’s ok. Sure – grab some good things from them because they have had a longer time to develop those tools.

But I think it is most necessary for India to realize that if it is serious in its endeavor to be recognized as a world leader or a developed nation, to stop trying to prove that it is no less than others. Just be proud of where we have reached, keep striving to better ourselves and shut up about other countries. Really. It kills the soul to always want to be better than someone else when we are not even alike.

Alive in India

Positive. Trying to think positive.
Yes… I’m alive here. The place is buzzing with activity and humanity and the give and take, the interactions that signify life. I had heard at some point that one of the main signs of life is exchange with the environment. By that token definitely India is hopping. Though I do wonder, after today morning, just how much of that noise and buzzing is absolutely unnecessary ‘magajmari’.

Oh well. Yes. As clichéd as it may sound, there is something in the air. Something that doesn’t let you sleep too much. That makes you smile at other people. That makes you want to talk and not just hide behind your laptop screen all the time. So there. Out I go from behind my laptop screen. To interact. To give and to take. And to flip someone off.

To live.

A yay and a nay for a Hindi movie.

Over the last few years I had begun to get weary of the usual Bollywood fare. I wondered if I was getting too snobby for my ‘roots’. Because I did grow up watching these movies! Granted not many – since as kids we weren’t allowed to. But since I have also been getting weary of the typical Hollywood fare I figured I was ok.

Anyway, I still enjoy the occasional Hindi movie that does not focus on the tired love story. ‘A Wednesday’ is one such movie that I really liked. Of course ‘Taare Zameen Par‘ deserves a huge mention. But more about TZP later. Right now I want to talk about a movie I saw over the weekend – Say Salaam India.

Its what we call an offbeat movie or a non-mainstream movie in Bollywood. The starcast was impressive – each of the names mentioned are people I associate with good acting and meaningful movies. Here’s the description of the movie from wikipedia:

Salaam India is the story of cricket. It revolves around a group of 4 boys and their passion for the game. The boys come from humble backgrounds and limited resources but what they have is a zeal for the game of cricket and undeniable natural talent. They study in the local corporation school where the most important sport on agenda is wrestling…. Taught by Wrestling Guru Surinder Huda- a man driven by hatred for cricket because in his eyes it is cricket that is responsible for destroying traditional sports like Kushti, Kabbadi, and Hockey etc.

To me, SSI was also the story of the Cricket coach that refused to bow down to the politics that plague pretty much any organization in India.

Some yays: Its a beautifully made movie. Very true to life, very down to earth and highlights some very true issues. It also gives a very inspiring lesson without sounding like a lecture. It did sadden me that having had what I consider a staunchly middle class upbringing, I could identify so much more with the poor kids’ lives than the rich ones. Especially in terms of the small joys, the concerns, the relationships they build with people… everything that India likes to take pride in seems to be reflected in that part of the story.

Now that my praise and love of the story and the movie have been put forth, here’s a small nay. The movie is a humongous step back for sensitivity in marital and familial relations. Despite trying hard, it actually falls flat on its face because it tries to force the ‘must be divinely patient and willing to sacrifice everything and yet take all blame for everything’ role that Indian women are always thrust with. Three scenes bothered me considerably.

Scene 1: Hari Sadu. Awesome cricket player and coach. Not bringing in a steady income. Plays cricket in the galli. Then comes home to wife who is a college professor (I think) and then by common sense obviously the main wage earner of the family. Takes off shoes. Wife is awesome and reminds him that it is his day of watching the match with his son, Rustom. Mr Sadu conveniently leaves his shoes and socks and rushes to the boy (who has mental and physical disabilities). So again common sense is that the wife should be willing to pick up after husband like he is her child rather than her equal and yet somehow her superior. Or she’s not a good wife.

Scene 2: Husband compliments wife in his quirky way comparing her to some International Cricket player. She complains light heartedly, and he spouts off a mukhda of a Jagjit Singh (Oh I miss him) Ghazal. She is happier. So he ushers her off to “Jao mere liye ek cup chai le ke aao”. Seriously?

Scene 3: Husband and wife are sitting on their garden swing with child sleeping in wife’s lap. Wife says she has thought about how she was unable to give him a son that he could teach and play cricket with. So many things wrong here. One – the child might hear you, lady. And he is high-functioning. ie. he understands all. So a little consideration here would be great. And, all women now repeat after me “Unless you drank a bottle of whiskey a day and did drugs while pregnant, you are NOT responsible for your child’s disabilities”. To the movie’s credit, the husband does react nicely and considerately to this. Thank goodness for small mercies.

Overall, I’d like to say again, that this movie was a breath of fresh air in the Bollywood landscape. But I write this little review in hopes that someday, some scriptwriters will realize that each scene is a chance to either make a good statement or blow up the screen with tired cliches that are harmful to our social construct.

So, thank you, Subhash Kapoor (writer and director) for giving us a movie worth watching and getting teary eyed over. But I hope you will give some consideration to my review (if you ever read it) and please not deal any more blows to the women of India through your movies. We women are as much human as any man in India. We have personalities that go beyond the prescribed Sati Savitri role. We have a value that is more than the sum of our body parts and a place greater than at the feet of our husbands.

And my husband would tell you this very same thing.

Well written article

http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/07/28/india-journal-get-over-the-oprah-angst/tab/print/ 

I think the above article outlines very nicely how we live in denial. We are definitely the privileged class in India. But we don’t think so. At least my generation (late 30s) doesn’t think so. Because we continue comparing ourselves to the western countries. 

We have so much more than our fellow Indians. I’m thankful for that and hope to be able to give back more as time goes by. 

 

Gulmohur and the things I miss the most about India.

Spontaneity

Color

Abandon

Blooming

Warmth

Sweet shade

Sweat

Early mornings

Loss

Love

Enveloping compassion

Acceptance

Rain

Pitter patter

Soil

Terracotta water pots 

Stone

Food smells

Flowers

Fragrance

Un-sterilized

 

Growing up I never thought that googling a picture of Gulmohur would bring tears to my eyes. That it would evoke the kind of yearning which envelopes the being. That so many memories of my childhood and youth are somehow held in the deep greens and brilliant vermillion of the tree. Against the blue of the sky, and later, on the brown of the earth as I walk in the sweetness of the early mornings, with the stingless chill that only summer mornings in India have… As I breathe in the indefinable smell of morning dew… As I hear the temple bells, the traffic and the azaan… the chai on the dusty roads… the calm of the midnight moon… the wind in the hair at 30 kmph on a kinetic Honda… the feeling of clean after a long, sweaty day… the toothy smile of the kid who just smeared his candy on your dress… the softness of salwar kameez… maati… 

Mumbai meri jaan (le lega)

My first few hours in India and Mumbai proved just why I would not ever want to live in the madness that is the economic and cultural hub of the country. See, most people when they think about India or, if they know it, when they talk about India, they speak of the India of the memories. The yummy chaat, the lovely smiling people, the giving nature of all, the saundhi si khooshboo and all that jazz. So when the average foreigner in love with India pictures India, his imagination with regards to the grand reality of the world is something like this:

————————————————*—[           ]—————————————–

With the asterisk representing the average niceness in the world. ie the general reality of India is a tad better than the average niceness in the world.  

In truth, India expands its reality more like this:

—-[                                                                *                                                             ]—-

You’re as likely to find an abhorrent lack of manners and courtesy as you are to find the unexpected generosity of the common man.

Coming into the euphemistically named MumbaiInternationalAirport is… an interesting experience to say the least. It had been a while since I flew into Mumbai. For the last few years I had flown into Ahmedabad or Delhi. When it comes to Airport planning, staff and convenience, Mumbai loses hands down. The lack of convenience, the attitude of the customs staff is all appalling. I’m quite sure there is some hidden reason why they need to check my passport and customs form 5 different times at 5 different places with 5 different people. I’m sure there is a reason – I’m yet to figure it out.

Then they spy my little baggie of costume jewelry in the scanner. They ask me about it – I show that it is all imitation/costume stuff which is painfully obvious as such. Not being able to nail me on my ‘gold and silver’ they make me take out my laptop – my much scuffed, loved and crumbed upon laptop. They ask me if I have a receipt for it proving that it is old and used. The logic escapes me. Finally he relents when I tell him he is free to look through the hard drive and find all the files and programs that prove I’ve been using it for a while.  

Then the guy spies my cheapo walmart dslr and wants to know if I have a receipt showing that it is old and used and mine. Frustrated, I say no. There is really no way for me to prove that this is my camera – it is the only camera I’m carrying and I’m pretty sure I’m allowed to carry one camera. And I don’t know any person that visits India without a camera in hand. Argh. He senses my readiness at that point, to erupt and cause a scene and wisely lets me go.

I have to put together my randomly thrown around stuff on the floor (nicely tiled with marble I think) because there are no chairs/tables/anything to put your luggage on.

After a few more people pawing at my passport for no reason, I reach the prepaid taxi counter. I realize that I didn’t see a single public phone so I ask around – I had to call my agent and my home to confirm my train tickets and also inform them of what time I’d be reaching small town India. By then I’m ready to start crying because apparently after their very wise decision to make it impossible for NRIs to carry pre-paid phones abroad (any line unused for more than 20 days or so gets disconnected) the powers that be in India decide that no one that lands in India needs to call anyone. And if they do, they better know someone whose cell phone can be borrowed. Sigh. An ‘International’ airport without a single payphone or PCO. Thank you Deepak – nice employee of unknown airline – for not only letting me use your cell phone but also making my morning so much better by being nice.

Finally I finagle a prepaid taxi to the train station for my train. A bumpy ride stopped many times for ‘checking’ and ‘stamping’ and I reach the dusty Terminus. There is no earthly way to get your luggage into the station. The sole PCO there refuses to open. Ever. I ask a person near the station if I can call home using his phone number. He lets me. I call and let home know. I find a way to store my bags and not have to lug them around all the time. I then walk around with my poor carry on being dragged over ridiculous ‘roads’ looking for a much promised PCO that is ‘just there – just outside’. A nice rickwalla pities me and lets me use his cell phone. I could’ve easily blown off all the remaining balance on his cell phone but he didn’t care. He let me use it.

So in conclusion?

  1. I don’t think I’d every happily survive in Mumbai. Especially when it comes to India I am a small town person.
  2. Try to avoid flying into Mumbai. I have never had a single unremarkable experience with the customs people there.
  3. Depending on whether it’s a glass half full day or otherwise, you find caring, nice, generous people all over India that make it worthwhile to deal with the bureaucracy and lack of planning in the cities and airports. Or you can think that the hassles of dealing with these guys and the lack of city planning and basic conveniences is enough to drown out the small voices of reason and human spirit. After more than 24 hours in planes and airports, it is very very hard to not see the half empty part of the glass but the kindness of the people shines through.

Now seated in the ‘luxurious’ ac waiting room at the new Bandra Terminus, I am already tiring of the fight that is day to day living in Des. Its 8 am. 

It is rightly said (and I quote my professors) that India is progressing despite its government not thanks to it.

The more things change, the more they were never the same.

The lure of the exotic, the unknown and the new vs. the pull of the known, the own and the familiar. Very often the story of life boils down to this; and the balance of the two. Yes there are the fortunate few, who never face the dilemma or those even fewer and even more fortunate ones who face it and emerge stronger for it – comfortable in the knowledge that they know themselves and exactly that which makes them happy.

But for the vast majority of us, this balancing act continues ceaselessly as the two sides ebb and flow, tugging us along for the ride.

And many a times the tugging, the pulling and the pushing, and the constant oscillating between the two, lulls us into a false sense of security. Not because the conflict could one day end (well, death does a good job – but apart from that…) but because we assume that the known will always remain. And that it will always remain known. But as we walk along merrily in search of our new, we forget that the familiar changes as well while we are away. No – I will not bore by talking about how the des changes as we explore the pardes. No. That we know. We all do. Doesn’t make it any less valid or true – but that is not the point of my rant.

The point is that there are so many aspects and factors to each of our familiars that we often fail to notice that the change is not in that which is apparent but often in other things.

People like me come home to friends and acquaintances. Or we meet friends and acquaintances out there in the wild, wild west. And we muse upon how things and people have changed. And then, in some sparkling moments of clarity or luck we realize, or someone nicely points out to us, that it never was what we thought it was. Maybe that’s where the whole theory of “maya” came up.

What we remember as our familiar depends on us, our circumstances, the time, our memories, the level and capacity of our understanding, our maturity, the other person’s circumstances, their maturity, their naïveté, our naïveté, our respective dependents, co-dependents, blah blah blah. Yea. Lots.

Say I meet old friend Sushmita and wonder what suddenly made her so bitter. Oh heck yes – if I had to face half as much as she faced so far, I might be twice as bitter. Or not. Maybe. Who knows? But then I talk to another friend who gently points out that she was always this bitter. Yes. And negative and petty too. I was either too forgiving, too pre-occupied with life, or, more probably, too naïve to notice. And maybe I simply didn’t care.

As we grow our old relationships are burdened more and more with our ever increasing expectations from them. The fact that we have known a person for 15 years somehow adds a greater level of preoccupation with them in our lives.

So… Is this true for my relationship with my country too? Was des the same and I just remember it differently? Was childhood not the idyllic place I picture it to be? Are my memories rosier than the reality? Or less? Do I place too much importance on my relationship with India simply because I see others making a big deal about whether I love India equally since I don’t live there?

Who knows? All I see today is that as we were busy exploring the new and the exotic, the familiar changed and so did its tune; its pull, its draw and its appeal. That living in the now has a whole new meaning as I pack away my musings so that I may concentrate more fully on enjoying the new familiar. Or the familiar yet new. Because it is no longer simply the familiar. Things have changed and so have I. And I am once again ready to explore.

And I suddenly realize that this is a gift. A blessing beyond what I could have thought to ask for. For what better than to have a life that brings newness with age rather than jadedness? Look out des, ‘coz I’m ready to get to know you all over again. No longer as the young, blithely indifferent little girl. But as a grown woman. Who sees you through a completely new vision.

Hello world!

The desi in pardes. That’s me.

These are going to be my thoughts, musings, ramblings, rantings and sometimes thoughtful posts on so many things that come to mind.

I hope this blog touches a chord somewhere in someone’s life. Helps someone out there understand a different perspective. Or gives them cause to share their own perspective.