Saturday, June 05, 2010

FAQs and a survivor’s guide to those visiting India the first time

Are you single?

Are you a woman?

Do your pestilential neighbors think you aren’t marrying due to suspicious reasons?


The maiden visit to the home country is always the most interesting. Most people would pay a handsome entry fee to merely come check you out and your ways of talking, eating, and walking, just like those visits you made to the zoo as a kid during the vacations, intently watching a gibbon eat a banana. Most listen intently to the way you speak, and are amazed at how you still haven’t forgotten Bengali or haven’t at least developed an accent while speaking Bengali. I tried faking an accent to not disappoint them, but it didn’t work. My Bengali-ness took over.

Anyway, I found that after meeting a few people, it became increasingly easy to answer their questions. It’s not because they asked easier questions, or stopped asking questions. It’s because all of them asked questions from the same question pool, just like our great University of Calcutta that has been reusing and recycling questions from the time Chengiz Khan had last invaded Russia or your grandfather had last watched Krishi Darshan on Doordarshan.

Q 1: Baaabaaa you look so different ..

Which euphemistically means you have put on weight and look ugly. The claim to the prolonged “baaabbaaaa” is not from ba ba black sheep. You aren’t a Bengali if you cannot drone a prolonged nagging baaabaaaa at the beginning of a conversation to show amazement. What it actually means, or if it was coined by someone great like Tagore, I don’t know.

You: Nod and smile

What you ought to do: Nod and smile. Don’t ask for explanations. You are not going to like being told on your face that you are fat.

Q 2: So what have you got from the US?

Don’t: Start giving an account.

Do: Keep them guessing. Say this and that. Don’t even bring them close to the room where you kept your suitcases. If possible, say NOTHING. Stuff some Hershey's kisses chocolates in their hands instead.

Q 3: So don’t you miss home?

Now this is a tricky one. If you say yes, you will be asked why you didn’t visit earlier. If you say no, you are finished. You will be portrayed as that insensitive monster of a child who never cared about old and ailing parents, and while the poor father was toiling hard and the poor mother was cooking for the family in the heat and humidity and missing you, you were gambling and having fun in Las Vegas.

Don’t: Try thinking of an apt answer.

Do: Smile and nod at an angle which could mean both a yes and a no. Say you’ve never been to Las Vegas or gambled.

Q 4: So when are you getting married?

A trickier one, with the question having many sub-derivatives. Some ask if you’ve decided to marry a foreigner [foreigner by the way is anyone non-Indian. So hopefully even Sri Lankans should qualify]. Some specify certain religions and races whose people you should never marry even if he is the last man with who you can repopulate the earth. Some demand that no matter who you marry, the ceremony should be in India. Some even ask you if you have come home to (secretly) get married.

Don’t: Let them believe you are as clueless as they are about your wedding. Never let them know you don’t have a plan or that useless software engineer bugger from the Bay Area fucked up the relationship and after 4 years of hanky panky, saying he needs more time to “figure things out” and you are too old, stigmatized and tired to find someone new.

Do: Smile suspiciously and coyly. Let them know there is something you are hiding. They will be dying to know the truth.

Q 5: So do you plan to become a citizen? Are you settling there?

The most unsettling of all the questions. For one, with the screwed up economy and your singlehood, you are light years away from a green card, let alone a citizenship. Your boss is making your life at work miserable and the last thing on your mind after 12 hours of coding or mixing chemicals in the lab everyday is to think if you are going to “settle” in the US.

Don’t: Try explaining things. Before you know, the neighbors would have found out how much you earn, spend, and save.

Do: Smile and nod making an angle which could mean a yes maybe or a no maybe.

And then there are some other questions you would have no answer to. Even the smile and the nod will not help.

Q 6: I’m not asking you your salary, but how much do you earn compared to India n standards? (You can almost see the currency converter in their heads ticking).

Q 7: So I’ve heard many Indian girls and boys in the US live together. Is that true?

Try saying: Yes, it’s called an orgy.

Q 8: So do you cook Indian food at all? No, you must be eating burger and fries, and beef and pork, no?

Try saying: Yes, and bull balls and bison meat too, transported all the way from Yellowstone National Park.

Q 9: Aren’t white people smelly and refuse to take a bath everyday?

Try saying: Yes, and it is sometimes required by the law in certain states that immigrants soap them.

Also try saying, yes, and we act that way too for days sometimes.

Q 10: Is there some good news we should know about?

Try saying: Absolutely. And look indicatively at those flab tires on your tummy.

While most questions are innocuous, bordering mainly on curiosity and lack of knowledge, answering them might get awkward after all that privacy and space you’ve had in the western society. No one really cares why you are not married or how much your earn away from home, unless of course it is the same desi aunty who is visiting her sonny boy back in California this time.

In summary, you can get away with most questions with an innocent smile and a nodding of the head which could mean a yes, no, maybe, probably, most likely, anything.



Anonymous said...

what abt the different kind of relationships people in the US have/how veggies taste yuck!how Indian food in restaurants is unpalatable/aar onek onek!! dont u think desi visitors to US are also interrogated???

Anonymous said...

"Try saying: Yes, it’s called an orgy" .... hahahahahahaa

Rachna said...

Its surprising that you can STILL smile after all these questions. I have been asked each and every one of them, and feel like ripping something or bashing some heads (mostly my own) after the interrogation.
I have started resenting this intrusion of privacy a LOT now- mostly because I don't think its innocuous. I keep thinking there is this ticker in their heads, comparing me to their offspring/ family etc. And me coming off worse!

I guess you are WAY nicer than me- I just get very angry.

sunshine said...

Anonymous 1: Desi visitors in the US are interrogated too. I think I blogged about it here

Anonymous 2: :)

Rachna: I guess I try to find the underlying humor in every situation. Or maybe I let people believe their kids are better than I am :) It's just my opinion, but you can identify the underlying humor in the most annoying of situations :)

Abhishek Mukherjee said...

I've read articles that start off well and tend to drag. This one's just the reverse - it gets better as you proceed.