One of the ‘perks‘ of being an Indian living in the chromatically homogenous American Midwest is that there are any number of conversations that start with “…hey how come Indians..[insert mildly offensive semi-ignorant benign stereotype here]?“. And 9 times out of 10 I’m absolutely fine with it. I like curious people and destroying cultural myths about India generally means that I too can then ask the mildly offensive, semi-ignorant, benignly stereotypical question that’s been burning a hole in my brain – hey, how come white people* think coriander and cumin are exotic spices?
But then there are other times that I feel a real sense of expectation on my shoulders – like I’m answering for 1.25 billion Indian people and I’m doing a piss poor job because really, what do I know?! This sense of expectation makes me antsy and I am apt to get a) slightly defensive, and b) slightly punchy. As a result of which I may, on occasion, ummm.. make up stuff….actually, who are we kidding, I just outright lie. See if you can tell which I’m doing in these next illustrative examples.
Let’s start with something easy: hey, how come Indian kids always win the spelling bee? Because if the first words you’ve learned to spell are your first and last name – Laxmikant Gopalnarayanan (completely made up name so if you do exist, I apologize) – then spelling “stromuhr” or “knaidel”, is just a piece of knake!!
My turn: hey, how come white people think picking fruit is a fun family activity? You have strawberry picking and cherry picking and apple picking, and entire extended families spend hours out in the hot sun doing this while eating donuts and drinking cider. And what on God’s green earth is “hobby” farming?!
Now you go: hey, how come Indians don’t come to my yoga class? Ok, I’ve been to your yoga class and let me just say – that is not my father’s yoga! The yoga I know is about controlling your breathing and stretching and improving flexibility, not hotdogging in various improbable and death-defying positions with names like Smoking Crane, or Tranquil Water-buffalo, or Levitating Giraffe! Yoga isn’t supposed to raise your heart rate and make you breathless – it’s supposed to calm you down and put you in a semi-comatose state as you languidly reach towards your toes and maybe consider resting your head upon your knees like divine benediction. Also, don’t get me started on the hideousness that is hot yoga!
I’m up: hey, how come white people like redecorating their houses for every damn holiday? I mean, Indians will put out some lamps for Diwali, but we do not store boxes upon boxes of ceramic pumpkins and glittery skeletons and entire villages of tiny decorated houses, to pull out for 2 weeks a year at a time! And of course there’s the seasonally appropriate bedding and linens and china and silverware – for the love of all that is holy, stop the madness – I can’t keep up!!
Here’s a popular one: hey, how come Indians order plain water without ice in restaurants? Because we’re from a warm tropical climate and hence allergic to any and all cold stuff! Yup, all of us are deathly allergic to ice water – it’s a curse I tell you. If you want to kill an Indian, put ice in their water and then if you want to really rub it in stand over their asphyxiating bodies with an epi pen! If you think that’s quirky, you should really ask us about eating yogurt when you have a sore throat, drinking water after eating mangoes, and going outdoors with wet hair.
All right, my turn again: hey, how come white people like going camping so much? You do realize that there are places in the world where people have no choice but to live in tents and stay unwashed, right? Also, if you do want to commune with nature and sleep amongst the stars, then commit to it – what’s with the expensive camping gear and entire mobile houses that you take with you? All the comforts of home as you seek to escape the comforts of home! And as far as I have seen there’s really nothing whatsoever natural about the food you eat while you’re camping – marshmallows…really?
This is a recent favorite: hey, how come Indians don’t like dogs? Well, based on the fact that you know two Indian families on your street who shockingly don’t own dogs and don’t fawn over your precious pooches, I can see how you have arrived at this most reasonable conclusion that an entire nation of people somehow doesn’t like dogs. I really don’t think we have a national position on dogs – on cows, yes, we are against eating them – or at least the vegetarians amongst us, even if those people are just plain wrong because cows do taste like heaven on earth. Also, one of our many gods may have been horrifically mutilated by dogs which makes them canis non grata in the Indian sub-continent.
My last question: hey, how come white people find it perfectly acceptable to lie to their kids? You’ve got your fairies that take teeth from under pillows in the middle of the night, your naughty elves who wander on shelves, your giant bunnies that bring candy, and your gold hording leprechauns. No wonder my kids were too scared to sleep alone for years! Just doing the Santa thing alone almost killed me – trying to find new hiding spots for presents, then wrapping them up in the middle of the night – an absolute nightmare. The only upside was that I had a convenient fall guy for any Christmas day disappointments. I can think of no Indian festival that includes present bearing mythical creatures. My parents made it quite clear that all gifts were provided by the parents, chosen by the parents, and could be taken away by parents subject to good behavior. Also, there were no lists – you got what you got and you damn well better like it!
So hopefully by now I’ve helped clear up some of your questions about Indians or I’ve left you with more – feel free to send in more queries and respond to mine. Also, to my friends and family who may recognize some of these questions and my answers, …. I love ya ;-)!
*Before I posted this blog I asked Dave, my resident white people expert on account that he is…melanin challenged, if my use of “white people” was culturally insensitive to his people. His answer – and I quote – “there’s no one who reads this blog who you haven’t offended already so go for it. My people will survive the indignity.” And so I did – you’re welcome!