As I quietly sipped my way (on the rocks I might add) into the 38th year of existence, I was pinged by a good buddy. Past the usual how, who, where and whatnots, the discussion shifted to a more poignant one regarding my experience in the foreign land. Having spent a considerable part of my life away from India (getting an education and what not), I suspect he considers me a credible source on what it was like to live there. Now granted that my earlier disclosure about my age may seem to belie my recollection abilities (partially that may be true), he asked me to pen down 10 things that are preconceived by those outside these borders about us. So – without much further ado here goes. Some of what will follow may truly sound strange but, as I discovered first hand – none of it comes from a bad place.
1. Reincarnation: The one question that I was constantly asked while I sipped a beer at my local watering hole was about our propensity to believe in life after death. Now let’s be honest with each other. We do believe that we will come back to this blue marble as someone better than we are. Of course, if you are anything like me – aiming to return as an ape is a bar already set too high. However, here is what I want to say to anyone planning a visit to the distant lands. Please don’t get offended by such a question. It is a benign query – albeit one that happens to be driven by our firmly held belief that we will come back.
2. Matrimony: Arranged marriages are not just the strong hold of the Indian subcontinent. Granted, that we are doing our best to shed this cumbersome (and frequently labeled as tragic) tradition, but don’t be surprised if you are asked if there is a belle (or a groom – as the case may be) already selected by your parents, waiting back for you. Invariably, my attempts to woo a maiden (fair or otherwise) were thwarted by a “friend” who would casually chime in with a gem like “so when do we meet this girl your parents have selected”...
3. Being a vegetarian: Okay – this one’s not that common with the increased awareness of vegetarianism, however when I first left these shores, being a vegetarian was a little hard – especially in the younger circle. I was regularly peppered with questions such as “Why?” or “So – you have NEVER eaten meat?” or bordering on more eloquent observations such as “But seafood isn’t meat!!”
4. Technology (Computers): Thanks to the IT boom here in India – it sure made a mess of our image out there. You should be ready to be asked technical questions such as what does DDR stand for – or how many gigs of RAM can the Z97 motherboard handle? If that doesn’t make sense – join the club – ‘cause I didn’t either. However, this definitely bought be a few free beers when I did help a buddy of mine setup some wireless access points.
5. Call centers: In line with the above point and an average western consumer getting screwed by big corporations, they don’t take kindly to crappy support from call centers that painfully and correctly are assumed to be here in India. You are most definitely going to be asked at some point or the other if your cousin works at a call center. It may very well offend you but you will be well served by simply responding with a firm no (unless your cousin DOES work at a call center in which case such statements should be the least of your worries.)
6. Getting Curried: “So you can make curry – yeah?” is most certainly going to be one that gets you within a week of your arrival there and guaranteed to jolt you out of the wonderment and amazement of being there. Never mind trying to explain there is no such thing as a universal curry or that Curry and “Kadhi” are different. You are a proud Indian and you better man up and be ready to dish out some when asked. Good idea to ask your mom to teach ya how to make curry. The fact that there is a curry power being sold – doesn’t help this public education endeavor.
7. Kamasutra : I read about this on an online blog about how Indian were automatically considered masters of this Holy Grail – however I didn’t think much of it at the time. Now that I am writing this and trying to wade through my memories – I am surprised at how many times it was implied that had a more than working awareness of the contents of this book. We obviously shall not delve in my then complete inexperience with the female anatomy (hands on or otherwise) but make sure you don’t claim to be an expert. The questions will follow with a scary frequency and incredibly uncomfortable detail.
8. The Bovine Prerogative: Cows are considered holy in our country and that is fine. What is not fine however is OUR expectation that other would understand our bovine affection. The fact that beef is an integral part of the western diet doesn’t help either, especially when during lunch with friends – and one or all are digging with fervor into their medium done steaks or juicy burgers. Try not to wince and throwing up at the table is a definite no-no.
So not quite 10 things that I had hoped to pen – but close enough. I must admit that I had a particularly good fortune of being surrounded by amazingly generous and funny individuals who welcomed me with open arms and when it was time to leave them 10 years later, I was absolutely crushed. Assumptions are usually driven by what people see of the television or some other catalyzing event. That said, the best thing to do is play off it and laugh it off. The alternative will actually play into another kind of assumption that is usually ugly and leads to a breakdown in the harmony amongst friends.
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