There is a peculiar pattern to how desi folk get to know each other at gatherings. There is an unsaid, unwritten protocol for this adventure to play out during each interaction. A tightly-scripted dance of ego and chauvinism precedes any two unrelated desi strangers becoming acquaintances.
Once the two strangers spot each other at a desi dinner party, chances are they may not leap at the opportunity to introduce themselves with a handshake straight-away. Instead, they quietly revert to their respective bunch of friends and exchange periodic glances from the opposite corners of the room.
The glances are responded to with stern body language utterly devoid of any warmth or emotion. It’s a Mexican stand-off. A real ego tussle being played out about who will go up first, and say ‘hello’.
Eventually, as the night progresses, the two strangers are introduced, usually by the host. Pleasantries out of the way, the newly acquainted individuals will continue to stand next to each other. Still in silence. A drink in hand.
“So, what do you do, mate?” is the usual ice-breaker (“mate” in bold italics is intended to highlight the “Aussie accent” applied to this utterance). Intended to ease the tension and help the two strangers mingle, this seemingly harmless little query initiates another mini ego contest. For the next 15 odd minutes, our newly crowned ‘desi acquaintances’ will now try to out-do each other’s careers. Eventually, most often, they will agree to disagree about their professional superiority.
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The ‘employment bout’ out of the way, the next topic of discussion is likely to be “So, where do you live, mate?” And yes, you guessed it, another 15-minute debate spent convincing each other why their respective suburb or estates is among the most upcoming residential areas of the city. And yes, once again, let’s just agree to disagree.
Around 30 minutes into this ‘get-to-know each other’ combat, and the kids of these two whiz past in their frolic. At the typical desi dinner party, the children are summoned (often sternly), by their respective parents, and instructed to greet the newly found “Uncle” or “Aunty”. Kids, who were never keen to come to this party to start with, fork out a token unwilling ‘Namaste’ under duress.
But the ego dispute between the two adults is yet un-resolved. So they try and settle it by shifting their debate to “What school do your kids go to, mate?” Now, this query can be the real decider of status and social hierarchy. The person whose kids happen to attend a private/grammar institution wastes no time to claim some “ego-miles” to leap ahead of the other.
The other person realises they are losing ground. They blurt out “State education statistics” to establish that the school attended by their children has the best rating and results. This is followed by a well-placed parting remark: “Private school kids are often spoilt. And there is a massive drugs issue at such schools, mate.” The contest is back to even-stevens.
And so it goes on. Bout after bout. Debate after debate. Until the party ends. “Who was that guy you were talking to at the party?” ask the respective spouses on the drive home. “Some useless dude who was trying to show off how cool he was,” is usually the response.
“But, I made sure I told him who I am and put him back in his box!” are the famous last words for the night. From both our protagonists.