Friday, 2 July 2010

Joey, all you need is some Chai and a history book.

Look at him.
I mean, just look at him.

When I first saw this picture, my heart skipped a beat. OK, I admit I have a thing for spectacled, extremely geeky, sorta cute journos. But hey, there's something so irresistible about guys who write, who are witty and who are so damn well-read. Oh well, then a friend of mine felt she must pop the bubble I live in and sent me this.

And I realized that probably dream guys are just that - a dream.

And before I knew it, Blogosphere was buzzing with tall tales of new age racism, debates on multiculturalism and fantastic arguments on the plight of the browning White World. I spent the entire day reading comments, blogs, articles, rants, status messages - everything that could possibly help me see the humour in his article. I found none. Then I looked through a couple of responses to the article in The Hindu and The Express and realized - wait, this is the funny part everyone missed out - What Joel Stein was saying was different from what he was trying to say.

Yes, there was a difference.

What he said was - that his town of Edison, NJ is populated with trashy, ugly people from the Indian sub-continent. I'm sure there are Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as well, just that Joey can't tell the difference. Altogether, he said he resented going back because Edison lost its old, White World charm, and that it had become a two storey town of Betel sellers, Roti eaters, Bhangra dancers and stank of Cologne.

What he was trying to say was - that he felt like a foreigner in his own hometown because of its huge immigrant population. Simple.

A few years ago, this article would have had me furious. I've never been to America, but I think spending a year in Britain, (where I felt like I was back home in India) taught me that every coin has two sides. I understand Joel's sentiments about his home town; I can imagine how horrid it must be to come back home and see your quiet neighbourhood transformed into a circus of sorts. I sympathize with him having to put up with the strange scent of turmeric, chilli powder and incense. And having to look around for non-spicy food.

What I couldn't understand was his ignorance of history in general, his prejudiced rant on the Indian stereotype, and his utter, blatant disrespect for (South)Asian culture. And no-one echoed my sentiments better than this guy.

If you're reading this Joey, here's what I'd like you to know -

I never knew how a bunch of people half a world away chose a random town in New Jersey to populate. Were they from some Indian state that got made fun of by all the other Indian states and didn't want to give up that feeling? Are the malls in India that bad? Did we accidentally keep numbering our parkway exits all the way to Mumbai?

Indians didn't have a grand plan of settling in Edison, or any other part of the world. When we grew up, America was the first country any average Indian heard of. The only world outside India for most of us was America - and of course, Britain. But then, America just seemed funner, greater and grander than Britain at that time. If you must know, alot of us are still sulking with Britain. But to be fair to you, yes, our malls are bad.

Lyndon Johnson's 1965 immigration law raised immigration caps for non-European countries. LBJ apparently had some weird relationship with Asians in which he liked both inviting them over and going over to Asia to kill them.

Ok, so you tried being funny. It was a little bit, that last part. But I think I'll pass. This was the Act of the century wasn't it Joe? The one that was supposed to signify an era of change and American liberalism?

For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.

Yeah, even I thought all Indians were geniuses. But when I grew up, I realized that most of us in my country weren't geniuses because not all of us could afford an education. So I'm sorry if many of the not-so-brilliant merchants (Gujaratis and Punjabis I think you are referring to), brought along their even-less-bright cousins. The truth, we don't really care about how educated and sophisticated each other are. And about India being poor, yeah. Sad Story. Did you know that India was one of the wealthiest countries in the world - it took us several thousand years of existence and a few hundred battles to get to the lowest rung of the ladder. Wait, you're American right? - do you know why and how America got rich as it is today? Or did you flunk history at high school.

At which point my townsfolk started calling the new Edisonians "dot heads." One kid I knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to "go home to India." In retrospect, I question just how good our schools were if "dot heads" was the best racist insult we could come up with for a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose.

Joel, the dot you are referring to is The Bindi. If you must know what a Bindi signifies, look at this. Every Indian woman wears a Bindi with her sari regardless of what religion she belongs to. Also we're a proud, beautiful, exotic species who love spicy food, singing and dancing. Personally, I don't see how you find racial attacks funny. Did you laugh when Jews were slaughtered in Germany, Joey? I wonder.

Unlike some of my friends in the 1980s, I liked a lot of things about the way my town changed: far better restaurants, friends dorky enough to play Dungeons & Dragons with me, restaurant owners who didn't card us because all white people look old. But sometime after I left, the town became a maze of charmless Indian strip malls and housing developments. Whenever I go back, I feel what people in Arizona talk about: a sense of loss and anomie and disbelief that anyone can eat food that spicy.

Well, nice to hear that you actually liked something - Dorky Indians who played Dungeons and Dragons with you. How many Indians did you make friends with? I wonder. As far as I know, Indians love the outdoors. Most of them play cricket, football and tennis. Ok, that last part is funny. Did you ACTUALLY think that you can separate Indians from their food. Holy Moly. Which world are you living in? We'd carry spices in our wallets if we had to. We don't consider Hamburgers and Pizzas food. At all.

Their assimilation is so wonderfully American that if the Statue of Liberty could shed a tear, she would. Because of the amount of cologne they wear.

Indians wearing cologne - This is the first time I've heard of this one. If I see anyone wearing cologne next time, I'll remember to laugh. For sakes.

Frankly, I don't understand why TIME would waste any space letting you write a humour column that doesn't make anyone laugh. Remember that saying? It's not satire if no one's laughing. I definitely didn't find it funny, and I don't even care enough let an idiot like you bother me because - quoting you - you said you are 'an arrogant, solipsistic, attention-needy freak who pretends to have an opinion about everything.'

But on the brighter side, probably you ought to share a few good xenophobic jokes with the Taliban. And have a chat with my friend IC, who deserves your space in the TIME mag. He looks alot like you, a better version and a better person. And most importantly, he writes stuff worth reading.

Otherwise I think you're alright. Not Hot. Not intelligent. Not irresistible. Other than therapy, all you need is some chai and a history book.

P.S - Just so you know if Russell Peters had written this, we'd laugh. Yes, since he's the same ethnicity and he's been in our shoes. Maybe a tan would've worked for you? Also, why is this hilarious article of yours not in the TIME mag international edition? Too few for satire here, eh?

6 voices:

Anonymous said...

brilliant . as usual . pah :)

Gradwolf said...

Oh Meera, thats one of the few most calculative and dispassionate reaction to Stein's piece that I've read. Superbly articulated! I've read mostly emotional overreaction all over the interwebs, especially the sepia mutiny piece by Anna. It was simply not funny and thats all to it.

Revathy said...

I am amazed at how ignorant he is! And did he think actually he could pass this off as funny?!!

Revathy said...

oh..and dream guys are like unicorns re.
Seemingly they do not exist!:P

BCC said...

I was truly bothered by this article. esp : ,a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose .

beliefs , religion and culture is something rather personal to one. Hindu or not Hindu , what he said , is just plain disrespectful.

Meera Vijayann said...

@ BCC - True, that was rather idotic comment.

@ Revathi - I know he's ignorant. OMG but he looks like Josh Hartnett.

@ Gradwolf - Thank adi:)

@ Kaavys - Why anonymous? you stalker woman. Hehehe :P