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TIM BLIGHT on the things that Indians love: a joy – and sometimes a challenge – to discover
Those savvy with internet-based popular culture will likely be aware of the comedic blog. ‘Stuff white people like’. Some may have heard of ‘inspired-by’ websites such as the Australian-based ‘Things Bogans like’. However the two ‘Stuff desis/Indians like’ blogs (yes, they actually exist!) seem to be stagnating. So it is in this spirit that I thought it appropriate to compose my own tongue-in-cheek, completely un-factual list, based on my cultural observations over the past year.
1. Breaking news
‘Breaking news: Maoist forces attack bus’. ‘Breaking news: SRK blockbuster releases today’. Can you see the difference? An Indian television news director can – one is an urgent, headline-grabbing story, the other is about a terrorist campaign in the east of the country. The masses lap up the latest and ‘breakest’ breaking news about the lives of celebrities. ‘Just in: Priyanka Chopra dons a baseball cap!’
‘Breaking news: Who cares?’
2. The status quo
Ever wondered what would happen if an NRI didn’t visit all of their relatives in a visit back to Mumbai? “This is not done, yaar!”, I’m told with a disapproving tone. Apparently I’ll have to continue wondering, as it is never done! I did consider taking my parents on a local train when they visited, but was also told “This is not done”. I began to wonder what is done! “Marrying a foreigner?” “Why not?” I was told enthusiastically. “Like Sania Mirza did?” “Arey, this is not done, yaar…”
3. Singularity in English
Even the proudest Indians see English as a mark of status. In India, it’s better to have poor grasp on English than to have never grasped at all. A friend’s mother could barely stand the shame when her husband admitted that his English wasn’t that good – despite the fact he speaks fluent German, Spanish and Japanese. However what really intrigues me is the notion that everything must happen in isolation. “I’m vegetarian only”; after all, one must distinguish oneself from all those carnivorous vegetarians who aren’t only vegetarian.
4. Wearing shirts
Indian men love collared shirts. They’ll wear them to parties, to the office, to the temple, around the house, to the beach, on holidays, while flying, while driving, while shopping, to weddings and to funerals. I know someone who wears a collared shirt to bed. I foolishly wore a non-collared shirt to casual day at work, and was told, “This is not done, yaar…”
5. Talking about prices
Indians have a mind-blowing talent to maintain a lengthy conversation about the cost of things. Long after the car has been filled up, months after the house has been furnished, decades after the wedding has taken place, they’ll still possess an encyclopaedic memory of the itemised bill. How much did this newspaper cost? Free? Ok, but how much did it cost you to get to the newsagent?
6. Mobile phones
At last count, there were 919 million mobile phones in use in India. I never cease to be amazed by the catalogue-like knowledge of Indians about all the phones on the market. I was once told that my phone would cost (see point 5) around Rs. 55,000 here, but about Rs. 45,000 in the US, unless I got the 16GB version. The guy was a rickshaw-driver.
7. Verbal distinction
Have you ever felt the need to stand out from the crowd by talking more profusely, or more elaborately than others? In India, this is a national sport. A sentence’s impact is proportionate to the number of times it is repeated. A child is going outside to play? Don’t just warn him – do it 17 times, by several family members – that way, he’ll get the picture. “Don’t fall off the cliff!” Seems like a redundant statement? Say it anyway! And don’t forget the man who is dismissive at the dhabawallah in rural Bihar, because they don’t serve espresso. “When I went to America…” he scoffs, making sure to say it loud enough that everyone else around him knows.
8. Overlong wedding videos, until…
A wedding is the second proudest day of an Indian couple’s life. The proudest day is when they show the 6-hour long wedding video to every acquaintance who visits their home for years to come… until they have a child who learns how to play a concerto. Or who has learnt Odisha’s traditional dance. Or can recite the Mahabharata from memory. As the starry-eyed offspring begins the 17,834th shloka, and his parents beam with pride, the guests have just noticed the clock strike 2am and ask politely for another chai…
9. Doing an MBA
If India had a citizenship test, this would surely be in it. From microbiologists to museum curators, everyone seems to have an MBA to their name. Perhaps one needs business nouse when studying tiny bacterial organisms, or perhaps, like frozen ready-meals, they keep it in the fridge for a rainy day.
10. Becoming old and philosophical
Medical science is yet to determine exactly what occurs in the Indian male’s brain at the age of 55. What is clear, however, is that beyond this age, an Indian man feels qualified to express his philosophical musings to anyone who will listen. Sometimes these slow and deliberate monologues are insightful; often they are statements of common sense. The Indian culture of respect for elders means those around him will simply say, “Wah!”. And dissenters like myself are told, “This is not done, yaar”.
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