#51 Being Auspicious

Hindu Swastika, Jaipur, India by Floppylion
Originally uploaded by Floppylion

Even if it involves fudging numbers.


#47 Being Polite

If there were a global metric of politeness in terms of the number of sorries and thank you’s uttered per capita per year for each nation, desi figures would run into numbers so high that we’d surely have to invent a new kind of  ‘illion’ name.

Desi politeness is a universal phenomenon, accentuated when the desi is away from homeland. Homeland politeness may be limited to having a quarrel over wanting to foot the bill, non-resident desi politeness surfaces in almost all real life public facing situations (qualifier used due to contrary evidence found in places like the comments section of this blog).

Workplace politeness includes graciously accepting weekend work. Restaurant politeness mandates agreeing to all suggestions made by the pretty waitresses.Queue politeness sometimes extends to not confronting those who cut it. Bar politeness means ordering the same drink as your friend so the bartender doesn’t have to struggle with understanding your pronunciation of the cocktail you really want (also, there may be image issues due to the color or name of the concerned cocktail).

Politeness is also a tool for dealing with uncomfortable situations. The best use of it can be witnessed in popular bachelor party venues where service providers are unwittingly denied by having genuine conversations about coding practices at work or general advice on career and academics.

If you are a non-desi, you’ll find riling up or picking a fight with a desi a fairly significant challenge. Even if you do manage to offend a desi, you’ll get some form of disguised  aggression in the form of a few colorful hindi words.


Its the middle of the work week. Quite possibly a none too exciting Wednesday like this one. Its actually been a rough day and you could do with some dessert, like some cake maybe. Yeah?

That cake could be the easiest cake you will find & eat if you are in the vicnity of a desi neighbourhood, because invariably every night when the clock strikes twelve, some desi in some apartment somewhere near you is celebrating their ‘surprise’ birthday party which they ‘ve probably been expecting since their last ‘surprise’ bash. The only genuine surprise that they can encounter is * you * actually showing up (no worries, you’ll still get a piece of the cake).

As the birthday week approaches frantic calendar invites start doing the rounds amongst desi pals. Email servers work overtime and everyone finds lots of ‘maybes’ on the original invite (with good reason). Great care is taken to keep the operation under wraps from the overly eager  birthday boy/girl. Again with good reason; after all its only fair to want to feel surprised after they’ve surprised so many of those pals themselves.

cakeRight, so once you find your way ( hint: its the apartment with countless shoes stacked outside) to this rather subdued yet wild-weekday-midnight-desi-party-apartment, you’ll probably have to get in line. No, not the cake eating line. Its the cake feeding line. Desi custom dictates that all party attendes fall into a single line , wait their turn to feed the special boy/girl and then and only then take their piece of cake . At this point, you may not be faulted for thinking that this bears uncanny resemblance to a temple you visited (right from taking your shoes off…) but the similarity doesn’t end here. Feeding etiquette mandates you to not just feed but also apply some of the cake on the hapless birthday boy’s face. Token resistance will be offered but you will find it easy to overcome.

Since you were not there from the start, you’ll probably have missed the preceding rough rituals of cake smothering (sometimes a special cake is purchased just for this purpose) , the brutal birthday bumps (everyone gets a fair chance to get one real hard kick in) folowed by the cake cutting and song singing. Admittedly these are fairly common birthday rituals but the desi twist is to get hold of other easy targets and subject them to the smothering and the bumps. This really is a “let the games begin” like announcement marked by uproarious laughter replacing the nervous titter of the room. If that sounds appealing enough, you need to up your desi friend count pronto.

Constant exchange of midnight surprises spices up weeknights and also keeps desi social equations straightened out. Tabs are kept on who attended, how many cakes were brought, which groups were responsible, who left early etc. These determine the course of future surprises. Like everything else desi, there are variations; sometimes one special night is not enough (yes, you guessed it : birthday week baby!) and sometimes you get invited to the surprise party by the birthday boy himself.

#45 Placing People

Placing people to where they belong

Placing people to where they belong

Desis love placing people. The placing exercise is all about identifying the social, economic, intellectual, spiritual, aesthetic  class to which the person belongs. Perfect strangers with whom there is no business what so ever are subjected to this perpetual exercise. Desis are so good at it that is ingrained into every single aspect of their lives starting with their very names.

Indian names are very much like IP addresses. An Indian full name can give you the ancestral village name, caste (sometimes sub caste), the generation, linguistic affiliation, the professional background, and the exact social class to which the person belongs etc. Desis are very good at parsing these names and placing them in the exact social strata or geographical location they come from.

Indians also use social appearances, attire and other paraphernalia like markings on forehead, number of threads in a sacred thread, design of rings and other jewelry to place them in a caste or a sub-caste. Brand names of clothes and dressing are used to put them in an economic class.

Cellphones and cars are another biggie. The size, color, brand, the size of the screen, the resolution of the camera, the ringtone on the phone, the cautiousness with which the phone is handled, the frequency of changing to a newer device are all signals to flaunt their class and desis are adept at reading them. Desis make it a point to include pictures of themselves holding expensive cellphones or standing beside high end cars in their portfolio.

More recent cues to place people have been people’s accents, hair styles, visa statuses, the countries they have been to, schools they have gone to, foreign degrees conferred upon them, companies they work for etc. When desis check facebook/orkut profiles online, they most certainly check for  all the above cues along with their tastes in music and film. A degree from an ivy league school, an americanized accent, a little goatee, a liking for Coldplay or Death cab for Cutie are sure to get you placed you up there.

But to get yourself placed in a totally uber category, you should be dating/married to a white person or at the minimum having lunch/coffee with a non desi.

#44 Stuff They Own

Originally uploaded by justinhenry

From the toothpaste they buy to the old television set they hold on to for years on end, every possession has a special significance in a desi’s life. Once an item enters a desi household, only its complete consumption or a worthy exchange offer can dislodge it.

Clinging on to stuff they own acquires ritualistic proportions often rendering desi homes as a curious museum of mostly obsolete or useless artifacts. Unlike museums though, which focus on the act of collecting, desi homes focus exclusively on the act of not letting go. For instance, medicines for some strange reason are treasured possessions,with bottle of vicks , iodex or amrutanjan enduring life spans of over a decade; well past their respective expiry dates.


From the moment the smallest of knick-knack is purchased from the most obscure of little outlets, the desi will feel not just a sense of ownership toward it, but also a sense of pride and an inexplicable sentimental attachment to it. And, if they got it on a deal, then it pretty much becomes a part of their legacy for future generations. This is not just limited to the purchases, it also elegantly extends itself  to stuff they don’t technically own or purchase.

Desis are also expert reusers and champion refurbishers of stuff that is broken. And while America, with all its wastefulness and throw away culture proves to be a formidable obstacle in a desi’s reuse endeavours, there is always room for those broken shoes on trips back home.

Palo Alto, CA:  In a truly original and maverick gimmick, the still popular amateur-anthro blog Stuff Desis Like (SDL) refused to mark its first anniversary with any sort of noticeable activity.

On account of the blog’s  anniversary, a social get together or even a formal Hindu ceremony of some sort was largely expected.

Speculation is rife that a lack of originality, rather than marketing/PR creativity is the main motivation behind this latest stunt. Scientists actually believe that  this non-celebration might very well be the effects of caffeine in the chai that desis love to drink at all times.

However,  if  certain secret sources are to be believed,  this is indeed a move of sheer genius,worth its weight in gold.   The busy brown bloggers have been unavailable for comments on the matter, but this may be due to a host of  reasons including the ongoing tax season, india’s tour of new zealand, the falling India rupee or perhaps  the unmissable opportunities thrown out by this great recession we find ourselves  in.

Desis all over the world are  awaiting the outcome of this non-celebration eagerly.  Some enthusiatic desis we spoke to, expect a guest post by none other than SRK ;  who has purportedly opposed to the pictures used in one of the entries.  Others however, have checked their levels of optimism after this agonizingly extended delay in marking the anniversary event in any way.

The never growing ,  eighty-nine member strong  Facebook fan community of the blog seems to have truly caught-on with the spirit of this non-celebration by refusing to take part in discussions or inviting others to be a part of the community, preferring instead to share posts from the blog as wall posts.  Other social networks,  even though desi favorites, remain dormant with blatant inactivity.

Previous gimmicks from these bloggers have included something similar.


PS:  Thank you to all our readers !

#43 Being Inquisitive

Originally uploaded by .krish.Tipirneni.

Desi inquisitiveness is a complex phenomenon, ridden with emotional highs and lows,replete with dramatic twists and turns. Peskiness, curiosity and an unbound spirit of inquiry go a long way in trying to satiate this inquisitiveness.

Not that desis mean to be overly enthusiastic with their inquiries; it is just that their well-intentioned selves care so much for you , that the proverbial nose-poke into your business turns out to be as feeble as having a feisty festoon.

The inquisitiveness also happens to be selfless, with the inferred information and the carefully deduced conclusions shared amongst fellow pursuers of knowledge. The experienced experts throw in their own enlightened judgments into the mix and the purists apply a liberal dose of “Indian traditions” on top of those judgments.

In the factors that inform these conclusions; education, caste, achievements, job, salaray levels, relationship status and religion figure prominently. The connections drawn between these are bizarre yet probable; flippant,yet elaborate. Sample this : “How can someone who only has a bachelors degree, not be from a lower caste and have a white girlfriend, when they just got laid-off ?!!?”

If you are subjected to desi inquisitiveness, you are walking on a fine line between desi adulation and desi abhorrence and there is no real recipe to successfully negotiate through it. Conform or take a stance. In case you decide on the latter, don’t reveal it all at once in the interest of keeping everyone hooked. Desis like to play it like a video game – just enough challenge and just enough reward, at all times.

If all else fails, you can always huddle with other desis. On the other hand, if you want to kick-off your own career in the curiosity business, you just need find the flame within you and start bartering information.