18

New and Fresh as a Desi

*Desi = Colloquial word for someone from the Indian sub-continent.

I was transferring some pictures to my hard drive last night, and I felt like visiting those days back. Oh boy! I could see how my weight and roundness of my face has fluctuated from 2009 to 2018. I saw so many clothes in my pictures that have been donated away, that I loved, that I hated. I wore flared jeans! Of course the xBF featured prominently and so did Abhi, and I felt pangs of intense nostalgia and some pain(of totally different kinds).

There is a certain charm about coming to the US for the first time as a naive student. This extends to going anywhere abroad, but I speak for ‘Murica because, ah well, I came here. The first few days are very interesting when you figure out how everything is exact opposite to India, how quiet the cities and towns are, and how your clothes stand out in a very stripey-collared-shirts way. I remembered how starry eyed I was when I landed in San Diego! It was, just, so different! And eventually I realized that it is way different from any other city in the USA also. Free, liberal, culturally open, and so hippie! It was like breathing in a different, fresher kind of air, but with the same essence that Pune had. Those were exciting times. Trying to learn how to live alone, and navigating through intense emotional drama, and then feeling the first flutters of infatuation post India days.

I made my first non-Indian friend on the very first day of class, who is still one of my closest friends. The group from school(lab and associated friends) has stuck together through Thursday game nights, brewery sessions, camping weekends, dance nights, and now wedding shenanigans. They were my true representation of the whole ‘SDSU being a party school’ thing. I still get asked if I studied anything because of SDSU’s reputation and my answer has 3 points. 1. I was in grad school. 2. My major was Mechanical Engineering. 3. I am a true and highly stereotypical Desi. NOBODY invited us! I totally exaggerate. I had a lot of firsts with these guys that I can never forget, and they make sure that I don’t!

Yet, at every point, I felt that I did not fit. I just didnt mix in, and I still feel the same. With my nutty behavior, an accent where asking for water is a royal pain, my forever confused sense of style, overly frizzy hair, stuff that blurts out from my mouth, I still feel that I stand out as super Desi. But that IS the best part! I get to stand out! I still have a sense of belonging to my country and culture, while learning something new everyday about different countries. I get to retain my Desi-ness while I continue my explorations. How many people from other countries can say that?! And how many people from India can claim to call two countries home? We are the lot that gets the best of both the worlds! In my best buddy Adam’s exact words, I am weird and basic as hell, but yet they love me!

Cultural assimilation is a beautiful thing, but so is, standing out. Here’s a toast to all the self described nuts who feel like they belong, even when they don’t! Let the paradox live and thrive!

10

Tedha hai, par mera hai

During lunch yesterday, I was sitting in the break room with colleagues and friends. 1 Indian and 3 Vietnamese. Our talks were about very random things, and then veered towards girls getting paid to text Mr. Old Moneybags. I have heard that it is just texting and no adult conversation involved. Apparently, they just want to talk and have a mentally stimulating conversation with educated girls. Weird.

As background, let me tell you that one of the Vietnamese girls is married to an Indian, a Bombay Gujarati boy. Her Mother in Law is here visiting right now. She started telling us about how her MIL is a vegetarian and doesn’t work and women in India arent allowed to work. I jumped in right there with a big Nooooooooo! I said that was or is in only the super traditional families. Or some women genuinely don’t want to work, they prefer being homemakers, eg. my cousin bhabhi. Then somehow the talk took a turn towards the movie ‘Water’ where they have shown the plight of young widows, new widows, old widows. The movie is a very true portrayel of womanhood, in my opinion. Yet I chimed in and said how pathetic the situation was, but there are people trying to improve it and there are improvements. Then she told about similar situations in Vietnam where young girls were sold off with a moneyback guarantee by the poor families. Human trafficking is rampant in the developing/under-developed countries and it is very hard to put a check on it. The need for food, clean water, and a roof on the head makes people do things way beneath human dignity.

I agreed to everything, but I realised one thing. I am extremely protective towards India’s image. It is like, I will say anything about my country. But you say something, and I will break your face. I don’t hide behind unicorns and rainbows when it comes to facing the grim realities, but I hate the generalization that happens when non Indians talk about my country. They don’t know about India. They don’t understand that there are many little countries within this giant country. I do not disagree that the general status of women is more like a commodity and something to lech at, but I still hate that when I talk about my life in my city, some of my friends here tell that it must be so scary and dangerous. :-/

I do not pooh-pooh away the fact that most families cannot afford a decent square meal a day. But it makes me angry when people wonder in front of me about why anyone would want to move back leaving USA and the cushy job. I am perfectly aware of the inflation and the sluggish industrial pace my country is facing, but heck, if you don’t know that India has very good job prospects, you are living under a rock.

If you ask me, I can list down 10 bad things about India. And about the USA. Also, I can list down 20 great things about India, and the USA. Comparing India and the USA is like comparing apples to oranges. Both are so vastly different with so many goods and bads. Specially, India is an absolutely different culture than any other country. It can be very overwhelming, even for Indians when they are moving to another location within the country itself. Let us cut it some slack. We are positive about things. There will be marked improvements in the coming years.

So, do not speak about how bad India is. Only I am allowed to say that.