Immigrants and Americans

Despite sitting tight in India and turning down every job offer the OA gets that leads us to the US of A, I was outraged by Joel Stein’s piece on Indian immigrants (along with half the rest of the world). I have never been to the US so I really can’t claim to know whether Indians have added to the flavour of  a state and how ugly the strip malls in Edison are, but I can’t believe they’re uglier than America’s contribution to the world – shapeless shorts.  Hairy, pale legs in shorts that show up everywhere, no matter how momentous the occasion. Here’s a deal – take your unimaginative clothing back and we’ll bring our doctors, engineers and cab drivers home! Honestly, I’m a little sick of inviting people home to a sit down dinner and having them turn up in shorts (the OA is subjected to me singing Chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai) if he decides to visit someone wearing those God awful knee length baggy shorts my brother got him from the US – he loves them. I don’t mind them being worn to the beach or the local market. I object to them being omnipresent.

Being of mixed heritage myself (part Tamil, part Bengali, part Garhwali with a dash of Chinese for flavour, in case you’re wondering), I sometimes think I might be missing the point. I don’t get this parochial, xenophobic reaction to immigrants, just as I don’t understand why the old Bangaloreans hate outsiders coming in while packing their young off to the greener pastures of the US.  Just as I don’t get why Joel Stein (he’s Jewish, isn’t he?) is getting all Nazi-like about other immigrants like himself in a country that is built by immigrants. He reminds me of a playground bully. Just the kind my kids deal with everyday. And even they aren’t as whiny or petty.

I think the reason why most Indians are so horrified by this kind of reaction is because as a country we’ve always welcomed immigrants. Parsis in Bombay. Jews in Cochin (whaddya say to that Joel?), the Portuguese and sometimes to our detriment, outsiders like the British who pretty much ripped us a new one. Yet we Athithi Devo Bhava them even today and half of Goa is owned by pale skinned people who want to soak up the sun and get tattoos and a tan. Manali is overrun by dreadlocked Israelis who have run away from their compulsory military service. We welcome the lost souls who want to find themselves and those who want to learn Hindi or Indian classical music.

There was a time when I harped on about brain drain but I’ve outgrown that (or atleast learnt to shut up about it in public – see Joel, there are things you’re allowed think, but have the common sense and courtesy to keep mum about – that’s what politically correct means!) and I hope I’ve been the soul of courtesy to all immigrants. In fact I have nothing to say about desis immigrating to the US except to beg my brother to move back. Partly because I miss him like a phantom limb and partly because I can’t stand the idea of my little brown skinned nephews and nieces opening their mouths to reveal a slow drawl and a nasal twang. Except that my kids beat them to it and inspite of being shudh desi bachchas (purer than desi ghee) sound like  call centre executives (thank you (not) Barney and Disney!). If I close my eyes and hear my daughter ask for warrerr to drink, she could be any other desi kid in the US. Perhaps its time to put them into little call centre sweat shops. Because even at 3 and 5 they are smart enough to help Americans reboot their computers and yes, remind them that the contents of their coffee cups are hot and their kids should be removed before their strollers are folded. I can see why apart from engineers and doctors they even need our cabbies. These poor people need us, dude. They’re so stupid that their hair dryers come with warnings not to use them in the shower and their toilet brushes say ‘don’t use orally’. And don’t get me started on the water they waste while showering (get a bucket, save the planet!) and the numerous electronic appliances they use while telling us poor developing countries to conserve. Can you see how terrifying it is for them to have people with funny accents turn up and win their spelling bees?

There, see, even we can make jokes at their expense – but there’s got to be a line we don’t cross. And I, brown skinned Jesus believer was horrified by the disparaging reference to an Elephant headed God, multi armed Gods and the reference to the dotheads (whoa!). Don’t get me wrong – the Hindus can see the Elephant head and so can everyone else. But it was the tone – it was simply vile. Jokes about religion are rarely funny – remember the Danish cartoon? Now you can debate that its all in jest and that we didn’t get the humour, but dude, if we didn’t get the humour then it’s time for an apology. And not a half -arsed “I thought they’d follow that Gandhi thing…” We are following the Gandhi thing which is why you weren’t pulled out of bed at midnight and lynched. This is non-violent protest. As for the assumption that all Indians are Hindus.. tsk tsk.

I also encountered a lot of desis (NRIs for the uninitiated!) who are shrugging it off. I am not sure if they are really as cool about it as they seem. To me it seems as though they’re doing their best to keep their heads down and weather this storm, plod along, show that they understand the American sense of humour, hold on to their visas and not cause any more trouble. To give their babies American names, to integrate seamlessly and not be the kind of Indian Joel talks about. Frankly none of us want to be the kind of gold chain and gel-dripping Indian that Joel talks about (other than Bappi Lahiri who has cornered that market). Neither do any of them want to live in Edison I am guessing. Heck, from his description, neither do I! But is he saying no other parts of the US are equally garish/in poor taste (although I am still trying to figure out what an inappropriate roof is)? If they’re not the sort of Indian that Joel is referring to, surely this is the time to make that point.

I also read a couple of Joel’s posts because most of his supporters seem to believe that he has a certain kind of sense of humour that is an acquired taste (I’d really be more inclined to call it tasteless… but whatever floats your boat!). And I notice he talks about his own religious and ethnic background at times. Why then does he want Indians to wipe out every trace of their ethnic background and become baggy-shorts-wearing, barbeque-burger-tossing, appropriate-roofed-housing dwellers? Leave us our smelly, spicy curries at least!

I’ve been thinking about an appropriate response to Joel all this while and finally I realised the only thing he deserved was an equally juvenile, senselessly rude –  pppbffftttttf.

PS: I suppose Joel’s going to take this post amiss because I didn’t poke gentle fun of myself as a face saver. Not even one word about the Indian head wag… damnit. I should do a re-write. In fact I would, if it weren’t so darn hard to type  sitting atop an elephant, balancing my turban with the other hand.

Edited to add: More responses

Anna at Sepia Mutiny

Great Bong

Puzzled Private

Rahul K  Parikh

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129 thoughts on “Immigrants and Americans

  1. I would l like to know which are the firms offering your ‘OA’ jobs like free cookies. Any idea how tough the job scene in US is like?
    Babes a little less exaggeration would be easier to swallow :-)
    You always seem to hang out with the wrong crowd-ones who think you are a maid because you wear sarees, ones who think Joel’s article is fine,ones with kids who bully your kids…

    • Darling, religiously and regularly reading someone who you believe is guilty of exaggeration (to the extent where you feel compelled to call them out on it) shows a singular lack of intellect, a streak of presumptuousness as well as an inclination to masochism. Why read someone you don’t believe? I know I wouldn’t read Joel Stein and remember everything he said if I didn’t like/believe him!!! Have you nothing better to do with your time? Like, maybe get off the blog and get a job?
      And of course I’ll tell you the companies falling over themselves to have the OA on board. In fact, I’ll go one step further – I’ll ask him to send you a list of our investments, his pay slip and any other details you feel I am obliged to divulge to you
      As for hanging out with the wrong crowd – well what can I say – as is apparent, I seem to attract some idiots too …

        • 1)There ARE a few bloggers on sepiamutiny who didn’t get offended.I have read one personal blog (NRI) that claimed, they weren’t offended at all.
          2)It might be very difficult for you to swallow but people who turn down job offers from the US of A or return back voluntarily and not because of the recession do exist.
          3) You missed the point of the post
          4) If you had to choose between a person who exaggerates and a person who is extremely rude, who’d you go with? We all think that someone is exaggerating many a times, but I don’t think I can ever do what you just did. The fact that you don’t blog gives you the right to say/do whatever you want to and a person who has a blog has a moral responsibility to please you? If a lot of people share your opinion of a blogger, he/she will just lose readership, you don’t have to do a social favor by being so obnoxious and calling them out

          • thanks babe :)
            that was a sweet and fiery response. i dont recall saying people were handing out jobs like cookies. i dont know why she took it to mean that. i merely meant that we’ve had offers we’ve turned down – period.

            • MM – I am not even going to give the first comment any value by commenting about that comment.

              But after I read the article, I thought it was intended to be sarcastically funny (like Comedy Central in US type funny). So I just didn’t take any offense to it. But after reading the addendum by Joel Stein, I am convinced that even though Times asked him to write a humorous article, he definitely wasn’t going for the funny in that article (if you read his addendum). I am now offended. It is weird how his addendum added fuel to the fire (at least with me).

            • All said and done, after reading some of the other comments here, I am mad at myself for laughing with him. I think like many said, if this was a show on Comedy Central (Russell Peters has said far worse things about India/Indians) this would have been fine but a Times article it just doesn’t make any sense!!!

            • Hey bhagwaan…why do you attract them so??

              I don’t get why some commenter has to get all preachy…just shut up and hit x for God’s sake, but then we do love the entertainment value of the retorts :)

    • i am guessing you are an nri, because only an nri can believe that anyone could stay in india out of choice. :)

  2. #1: The U.S. policy is assimilation as opposed to multiculturalism.Meaning wherever you stepped off the boat from, you allegiance is to the American state and the American way. Probably explains why they have practically nothing in terms of minority rights like Canada or England (which are actually multicultural states).

    I think he did intend it humourously. It was very unfunny, but I don’t think the intention was as vile as the result.

    The reason I just could not work up a froth about this was because I have seen Indians abroad to be amongst the most racist asses on the planet with easy derogatory remarks about blacks, hispanics and other minorities. They don’t get published in Time, but boy if you hear some of those views – your skin would crawl and you would consider ripping your passport. I lived in an eastern suburb of Oslo and was constantly exposed to Indians moaning about the tragedy of somalians and Turks (the UNCIVILISED IMMIGRANTS WITHOUT THE COLLEGE ED, SEE?) taking over the neighbourhood.

    In Stein’s case, he was mourning the “disappearance” of the town of his childhood and youth. I can actually give that some leeway – even in the form of a totally unnecessary article.

    If anything, I really hope this makes people the world over look at their own prejudices and utterances. Racist assholes unfortunately come in all shades and colours.

    p.s. I think an athiest has every right to mock and critique religion openly. I do not believe in sacred cows when it comes to religion and sorry all bets are off – for all religions without exception. (I love Bill Maher to death.) But it seems ridiculous to go there if you claim any allegiance to a faith yourself.

    • You bet Indians are racist too. I sacked my new cook yesterday (Not because she thought I was the maid I really should dress better!) because she refused to cook for my housemaids!!! Can you beat the cheek of that?! Bloody woman has the gall to say – I dont cook for servants. So yes, I know there are racist Indians. But I would hate to think that means that those of us who find it offensive, dont have the space left to comment.
      And no – I must disagree with the last part. You dont have a right to mock anything – although I am open to you critiquing it politely and in the spirit of debate.

      • MM, Religion, unfortunately, involve a lot of dogma and there is no way to even “politely” critique it and get away with NOT offending someone. However, politely I say that young girls in the first grade should not be covering their head with a head scarf(something I feel VERY strongly about)and be pulled out of swimming classes because of their attire, there will be someone who will turn and call me an anti-muslim cow.

        Even if you are not as crass as Joel, if someone decides to take offence, there is not much you can do.

        And all comment is free – innit? There should be room to comment everything – racism, dogma, school policy – even exaggeration;-) excellent reply by the way.

        • No ya… There is always room for dissent if worded politely. If you say women shouldnt use head scarves, there will be idiots who will explode. but there will also be plenty of intelligent people who will debate it rationally with you. The intent is what always matters. Do you agree?
          I mean are you trying to make a point here, trying to bring about change, trying to show me a different way of looking at things. Or are you just being plain offensive?
          Are you saying, hey MM – I have a good skin doctor you could show your acne to. Or are you saying – hey porridge face! Both lines point out my new pimply look but I’m going to react differently to you depending on your intention and the way you phrase it.
          There will always be those who take offence – (please note the pestilence who wants to get a list of companies who want the OA to join them – can I send her to grammar school, please?)
          All comment is free. But I think when you comment, you should know what you’re asking for and not back off saying – oh it wasnt my intention to hurt feelings.
          If it wasnt your intention, then you should have been less rude. Surely someone who writes for the Time can tell the difference between sarcasm/rudeness/polite debate.

      • In my opinion, the only people who can openly mock anything without being classified as jerks are comedians.

        I view it as a vent. We spend a lot of time in discourse keeping our words pent up and watching what we say. But when we watch a comedian attack anything in the rudest manner possible, it can be quite cathartic! It’s no wonder that people actually pay money to hear someone laugh at their expense :)

        For example, Bill Maher’s attacks on religion and George Carlin’s attacks on the same would be viewed as inappropriate elsewhere, but when it’s part of a show, they say what no one else can in a way that no one else can. And a lot of the time, making something humorous showcases the issue in a unique way.

        Of course, we can’t stop anyone from just being an idiot and insulting everyone on their own blog say. But we can easily get our own backs by ignoring them or boycotting them. Of course, I’m sure you’ll agree that finding out where they live and going and beating them up is an even worse sin.

  3. Really? The Indians here in NJ are foot-stomping, hair tearing mad as they rightly should be. He has apologised. A bit too late though. Dozens of my friends, whites and otherwise have cancelled their subscription to a magazine which was so highly regarded. This article really hurt a bit too close to home.

  4. The sheer amount of attention that Joel Stein’s article is getting is what really disturbs me, and not really the “humour” that he seemed to be projecting in his piece. It was an ostensibly funny article that makes superficial and unimaginative digs at the brown folks taking over Edison, an apparent nostalgic piece of how his hometown was metamorphosing before his own eyes. However, the irreverence of the article is what exactly it deserves to get.

    Unfortunately, a lot of humour involves attacking stereotypes – your digs at Americans are a case in point. But I am not sure what constitutes crossing a line? Do you not make any such digs at all? Or you do and then issue an footnote explaining the why, how, when of it? Do you only make racist jokes in an explicitly comedic environment (as our beloved stand-up comedians do) to ensure that they are not taken seriously? Or do you also make a joke about yourself to ensure a safety net – after all he who can laugh at himself can laugh at anything right? It is difficult to ascertain such complexities given jokes are often funny when they are being directed at issues that come with some tension, ideas that some people take just too seriously. To a certain extent I concur, that the person making the joke should be mindful of his audience and the climate before cracking something irreverent about something that could be sensitive. But in general, when you are broadcasting a joke, it is difficult to control this. Really, opening your mouth to spew out humour is always risky. Because you are more often than not targetting a topic that could be very serious to someone, anyone else.

    In light of this, we probably need to react contextually. Especially for an article like the one that Stein wrote only because it accomplishes nothing. It is neither nostalgic, nor funny, nor imaginative. Nothing that he says has not been said before. Am I the only one who thinks that this article does not deserve the attention it is getting?

    • I see your point just as you do mine. The entire point of making digs at Americans was to say that we can all do it – but its so darn pointless.
      And in general, while I am prickly about stereotypes, I get that a person has a right to joke – maybe even on their own personal blogs. Where I draw that line however is when it gets published by the Time. There are certain standards we expect from our news agencies and our news channels and magazines. I’d take it in a lad mag like Maxim. Not in the Time. I dont know if I made sense…

  5. Haha. So I’m not the only one who has an issue with the ‘US- returned in ugly what-do-you-call-them-shorts?’ phenomena! Commonly spotted at the supermarkets (which is fine, but dude, at 5 in the evening, please do look like you’ve had a bath that day and No, your cologne might be American but its still too strong), but sometimes at restaurants, movie theatres and like you said, at dinner parties!
    Was at Chennai this weekend and with the NRI season hotting up, there were much spottings of this variety than usual!
    And wanting to have your ‘little brown skinned nephews and nieces’ close by, to absolutely spoil and pamper is a good enough reason for your brother to come back to India. If not the Button, then atleast tales of Thambi mama’s babies, no? :)

      • Count me in. If I have a problem with Mr Stein’s article (I read it only now), I have a bigger problem with the “onsite returned” pseudo Americans. I live in Bangalore where this category is everywhere. In shorts, of course. Gah!

        I HATE those shorts. Even on vacations. At least those loose chgequered ones that threaten to fall any minute.

        Chah! Looks like I totally missed the point :P

    • my nri brother in law turned up in those to a lunch at mainland china. he insists people respect him more because he looks american :)

      was so proud of the manager there, who whispered in his year, “sir, next time please wear full pants”.

  6. Frankly, I did not ‘get’ Mr Stein’s humor. *eyes rolling*

    Coming from Malaysia, we are regarded by as staying atop of trees, yup by the same general knowledge/geographically challenged people.

    Now, if you could excuse me, it is time for me to go branch hopping..yeay!

  7. I shall come back and lave a comment on them Amreekans and their funny accents and their need to change the spellings of words to make it easier (favour/ favor for instance) when I stop laughing.

    Long live our Elephant God…Ganpati bappa moryaaaaa!!!

  8. remember i was in kansas city earlier? i kept kidding around saying where the eff is this place? how does one get there, by elephant? i thought it was a great joke, so did my (desi) friends. but it sort of fell flat on the americans i tried it on. damn!

  9. Also remind little Joel about the firang paedophiles who scour the tourist spots in Goa and Kerala, and unfortunately for us, walk away scot-free or at the most, with just a rap on the knuckles.
    maybe it is time that these aberrations got deported to Edison….we’ll trade our cabbies / doctors in Edison for them. Take what’s yours, Joel. maybe you’ll feel more at home with such company.

      • Hello,

        Now this is a different topic altogether and MM can probably write an article on that. It is just not firangs we can blame here.. Just think about it. Our people, our goverment we let it happen…Infact there are lot of Indians who are caught in this act here in the US..This happens in families in India many a times. People donot tell anyone out of shame and family pride…I donot think this one can be just attributed to firangs

  10. When I read him before I thought it was more of him missing seeing his home town as it was as opposed to ridiculing immigrants. Some what akin to the feeling I get when I cant relate to things back in India when I visit . I sure do like the sarcasm in your response though.

  11. His response with ‘stomach sick’and ‘tiny bit’ irritated me more. come on, if you want to say something, at least be authentic about it instead of disguising it with such responses. I did try to read it again to see if I had missed the humour, but even on re reading it feels like he has slipped and it projects more angst than anything else.

  12. Really dont know what to say..I have been in Nj/NY long enough to know what Edision is like. Yes it is the Gandhi Bazar/Avenue Road/Chickpet/CottonPet of NJ. But that does not warrant him to write a post like that.

    I witnessed the 9/11 in NY and the agression that came up post the terror strike. Every brown skinned asian was looked down upon. People lived in fear. I decided to pack up for good..not in fear, coz i decided to marry and we wanted to settle back in India.

    Other than our bad roads, there is nothing to complain about the living standards. In fact standard if living is much better here than anywhere. I have a co-worker who is Italian, married an Indian and moved to India lock stock and Barrel. She even forced her parents to move along with her. And believe it or not..She loves it. Her kids love this place to bits. So much so she is taking kannada classes to be able to speak to the locals.

    I suppose we have people in both ends of the spectrum. And Joel is one among the many Americans who sill think we are a country of snake charmers.

    I dont think my response is composed very well…busy at work..checked this post..had to comment :-)

    • The example of an Italian moving to India is not really a good one. Italy is the European India and at times far worse than India. So she moved to India for good. It’s just something like Indians moving to US. :)

  13. Dude, you’re bang on. I was writing my reaction to this too, but really, you’ve said it all and better. I have just this to add:

    1. The joke’s not funny if your audience can’t bring yourself to laugh at it.

    2. There IS a huge difference between spewing this on a blog / stand up comedy show than putting this under Opinions in Time. Perhaps that’s the reason why we actually can watch Russell Peters and laugh?This sort of thing is precisely the reason the magazine medium is losing its credibility.. how is it any better than watching India TV anymore? Closer home, they disappoint like this –

    4. Mocking religion openly (while professing allegiance to another or not) is simply trash-talking. You have a RIGHT to do it but it doesn’t do anyone any good, and the humour that results goes by the name of “cheap thrills”.

    5. Uma up there sounds scarily insecure. Dude, can someone answer for me why they read something if it’s so difficult to appreciate and even stomach? How is it possible that you’re so hateful yet so desperately hooked? It’s a choice, may I remind! The worst part is they’re so absorbed in their negativity, they fail to see whether they’re being really relevant to the topic at hand!

    Surely, if I understand Uma-types here, I would now be counted amongst MM worshippers. There’s only 2 ways to go apparently – either you’re a worshipper or a hater. Because come what may, it can’t be the case that you visit the blog of a woman you’ve never met, love what she has to say pretty consistently, follow her and have a civilized way of disagreeing when you do.

    • i think you said it best – you have a right to mock anything – but then expect the lash back. Dont imagine you can do it and then go all – oh i’m stomach sick because i didnt mean to hurt your feelings.
      and i think its time you guys got together and built a temple to me. then uma and co can bomb it. give them something to do please. anything, so long as they stop reading me.

      • I have an idea. You get a picture of one of those nictotine-patch type thingies put on the sidebar, saying “In Case You Find Youself Addicted But Have Nothing Nice to Say”.

        And I read MGM’s second comment about polite critique ALSO not being a way. It makes a LOT of sense. But I still believe that polite dissent needs to be the first step before you really get down and dirty. Secondly, in this particular case, religion had absolutely nothing to do with what Joel tries to say. If I read his tone correctly, it’s like this: “I hate Indians. Look at their elephantine Gods. Smell their hot curries. Complete Geeks. Dotheads… blah blah blah”.. in that sense, he uses religion as one of the retorts among ou food, dress, lifestyle, geekiness and what have you! And if we basically find the whole damn article disgusting, why should we feel *obliged* to get all super-sensitive and leave out our dissent for the religion bit only?

  14. I know there are a lot of these yahoos around the world who think they’re better than others cos THEY don’t worship an elephant god or wear a “dot” on their heads.

    What I’m surprised at is the fact that Time actually let this be published.

    • exactly. the issue here is less about what a racist little twit Joel is and more about it being sanctioned by Time, which is almost as good as an endorsement if you ask me.

  15. I hear you on the Americanised (yes, I don’t use American spellings) names. I came back coz I wanted to give my kids ‘exotic’ ‘ethnic’ names that stand a good chance of being used whole and unmangled and speled almost right most of the time. I mean why the hell do we call Indian clothes ethnic, as in ‘Today is ethnic wear day in college’? They’re normal clothes, it’s our heritage and we now have to designate special days to wear them.

    I found the article offensive. My mom once told an American couple we were traveling with in Turkey that we all had our own personal elephants parked in our garages coz the woman refused to believe anything else!

      • Last I heard we were celebrating Traditional Day in college where we all wore saris/ lehengas/ suits/ sherwanis/ kurta pajamas/ dhotis/ munds in our respective styles (depending on where we came from) while the foreign students wore their respective traditional styles. I really haven’t heard of Ethnic days being celebrated anywhere

      • Very common, MGM. My college in Chennai (otherwise considered conservative)had an annual ethnic day!

  16. Well said MM! Its hard to believe the Joels (and the Umas for that matter- what is with the woman?!) of the world.I’ve met a lot of Joels along the way and I personally find the best way to deal with them without losing your mind is with a generous dose of humor. I would’ve done the head wag as I read this post, but you know how it affects the gentle balance of the turban.
    P.S. A dash of Chinese?? Do tell!

    • ah yes. a great great grandma was Chinese :) my brother and i often get asked if we have north eastern roots.

      and you’re a good natured woman. oh to be less prickly!

  17. Hey, are you mad OR are you mad?! I was reaaaally laughing aloud as I finished reading your post.
    Doing the tag next? Would love to read that one from you.

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  19. I read this and looked for a comment form on the Time website, but couldn’t find one.

    I absolutely agree with everything you say, except that I feel he has a right to express his views, as much as we all do. Although I was mad when I read the stuff about dot heads and about Ganesha and how he thinks some immigrants have been more beneficial than some others!

    Now they have an update on the site that says we are sorry if this piece hurt anyone, the intention was not to hurt. Yeah right!

    Well said MM.

    • i agree. everyone has a right to express their opinion. which is what gives us our right to give our opinion that he is racist. maybe he didnt mean it. but that is our reading of it.
      and thank you :)

  20. Also, even if it was intended to be funny I would have laughed more had an Indian written that piece, or if Stein had stuck to making fun of his community. Somehow, this poking fun of everyone who is different from you is not sitting well with me. But then, to each his own!

  21. I gingerly clicked on the article because I actually didn’t want to give them more hits. The article is dumb, unfunny and a bit too cliched. What somehow I’m not het up about though is Time magazine – press in the US first stands by freedom of speech and being what they thought was a humour column I think they let it go. Having worked for a major US publication in the past what I have come to see is their value for individual opinion and yes, like you said they understand the backlash that can come from publishing unpopular pieces. It’s trade off for not being afraid to publish diverse and unpopular pieces where it matters (of course this article was not of monumental import). I still believe in this brand of journalism and editorial – the candid, unafraid and yes what can be perceived the way this one has. I’d rather have that than one that routinely self selects and censors itself but admittedly this is a bad side effect of that philosophy. This article disappointed me for lack of substance, cliches and poor editing – it should’ve been held up at least for that! On the flip side, the NY Times despite upholding the highest standards 10 years hence still gets questions about plagiarism by one of their writers – compare that to the rampant plagiarism that we are subject to in other pubs with no apology. So I’d rather look at a publication holistically – the value of their journalism, their fact finding, their ability to research and provide me with information and opinion that makes me question and think. Knowing Time, I don’t think they were looking either for easy sensationalism nor are they routinely racist or bigoted (I don’t think anyway – I don’t subscribe and am not a regular reader). That’s my 2 cents – but the premise is certainly freedom of speech and if you can dish it out, you should take it too – which I think they do. I do agree with the other reader – you can never guarantee something said politely will necessarily not offend anyone. I for instance think this is a very civil response…do you? :)
    Every site from the Wall street journal to vanity fair is chock full of comments and criticism from readers with no attempt to hide anything that is against them.

    Btw, who is this Uma girl. Joel Stein, meet Uma – you have met your match.

  22. MM, Joel Stein’s writing style is sarcastic. I have in the past abandoned reading some of his articles mid-way because I failed to see the point. By targeting an ethnic group, he has opened himself a lot of criticism that he bargained for.

    But, if you see some of his points, they do make some sense. He is feeling lost in his hometown. It seems “taken over” to him. Well, he left it long time ago. Did he expect it to remain unchanged for this long? But don’t most ex-pats feel that way? Does this mean the current locals are “bad”? This is just evolution of the culture of the place. He needs to re-evaluate some things.

    One thing that I can say irks me about places that he mentions, is the absolute lack of hygiene and road sense that people fall back into when they visit such Indian joints. I see the same people who follow rules in other parts of US, ignore them here because of the “chalta-hain” attitude. If it can irk me, I don’t know how sometimes the non-Indians tolerate it?

    Traditionally, we Indians like with some stereotypes about Americans as well. I always hear people saying that Americans don’t mix with Indians. I beg to differ. I have many non-Indian friends who I can have conversations with. And I do talk to them about India a lot. Some of my neighbors have even asked my for recipes because they seem to always smell yummy food being made in out house! They seem genuinely interested. Agreed, quite a few have a lot less knowledge about India. But, then how much do we know about Nigerian culture for example? This is how we learn, we develop healthy relationships and not gawk from a distance.

    P.S.: The “inappropriate roof” refers to the Indian shop being setup in a traditional red-roof Pizza Hut looking building which is trademark of Pizza Hut.

      • I see no humour in this post of his. It is a very fine line between laughing with someone and laughing at someone. And Joel clearly is on the other side. If his post did not have religious snides, it might not have evoked such a response from the readers.

      • MM,
        You have point about line being drawn. JS clearly crossed that line. And it was not even humor…it was belittling and humiliating a large population most of whom don’t even live in effing Edison!!

    • Poonam,
      I second every bit of what you wrote. JS is an idiot. The part the irked me the most was the allusion to Indian gods. I am not even religious but how dare he questions the beliefs of so many Indians!?!

  23. This article was just blood-boiling. Having lived in a gulf-nation for several years and having faced the torment of always being treated as a second hand citizen despite being much qualified and much more educated than the natives has opened my eye to the sheer joy of living in one’s own country.

    Like you said , there is sarcasm and there are vile jokes. This is definitely not funny!

  24. Mad Momma, I work in San Francisco. I found that article totally irritating. And above all I loved your point about being “politically correct”, as thats what I am being right now, by not talking about certain things that are happening right in front of me here!

  25. Finally a troll, its been so many months!!! :)

    As for Joel, he can rant all he wants on “his” blog/space but not a magazine! Even then he has no right to call names or mock someone else’s God. I seriously didnt find anything funny in there! May be I’m cold blooded with no sense of humor.

  26. Hail, you true Indian warrior!
    Seated on the elephant, balancing your turban while defending your des, and tossing trolls on the side! Salaam! :-D

  27. I pity the boys for having to wear full pants when us girls can wear breezy skirts in the hot humid monsoons. So i am pretty okay with them donning the knee-length shorts even to friendly dinners. cmon girls, have a heart.

  28. What in the world is an inappropriate roof? And how the hell do you tell if the whole country is a genius by looking at a few people? This tells us that he definitely is not a genius by any standards.
    I used to hold TIME in a high regard, I’m not so sure anymore.

  29. Pingback: Taking the Gandhian way…… « Mothering Multiples………

  30. i for one welcome anybody to the states who is willing to work and take care of themselves. i love the melting pot that i live in and enjoy all the delectable cuisines immigrants bring. if you and your family ever find yourselves in the states please let me know as i would definitely love to meet you in person. on another note-i profess to being a shorts wearer except when raining. i do dress proper when attending dress affairs though. i grew up at the beach in southern california and shorts and flip flops are the standard issue uniform.

  31. So apart from everything else though, I think what he is really saying


    And to me that sums up what he is – racist. The rest of it is just fluff. What he wants his neighbourhood to look like is row upon row of cookie cutter homes where you can’t tell one from the other, the same burnt odor of tons of meat on the grill everywhere, the same 7-11, the same everything. What next? Bald heads, shaved eyebrows, numbered ids? Is that assimilated(homogenous) enough for our Mr. Stein? And what exactly is an American name? British? Italian? Polish? German? American Indian? Jewish???
    Changing names now, people do that so their names don’t get butchered by people who cannot bother to read (A nurse actually calls out to my son “Vinyaa, is there a Vinyaa here”. His name is V-I-N-A-Y!!! Easiest name to say, straight syllables, nothing complicated. Maybe Joel Stein should have a “funny” piece on the education system here.

  32. Loved ur post! It’s the perfect response! Matches his tone n arrogance…n [hopefully] puts him back at his spot. I truly am the kind who will crack jokes about my height n will laugh at others cracking jokes on me…but there is a way to do it n one must know where to draw the line.His article felt very insulting more than anything else.

  33. Hey Mad Momma, let me start by saying that your blog is great and I do drop by often. But (as a desi myself), I do take offense to the following perception –

    “To me it seems as though they’re doing their best to keep their heads down and weather this storm, plod along, show that they understand the American sense of humour, hold on to their visas and not cause any more trouble.”

    Maybe you didn’t mean to, but you did end up making us desis sound like meek-spirited, sorry-arsed lambs, willing to take lying down any kind of racist trash that comes their way. Even if its their self-respect that’s at stake.

    So. Not. True.

    A lot of desis did speak up against the tastelessly-humored article, and yes, many did not. And I am certain that the reasons for (not) doing so, would’ve been disparate – from apathy (not the kind that emanates from fear of being in a foreign land, but rather, from sheer apathy itself), to genuinely finding the digs good-humored, to wanting to save their breath for more personal battles -the kind, for example, where they’ll never give desis a window seat at a restaurant, you know, because they’re “reserved” (read : put away for the first white-skinned bloke who walks in). And just for the record, Indian restaurants are the biggest culprits in such matters. But I digress.

    I didn’t mean to make a mountain out of a molehill, but for some reason I find an increasing number of Indians who choose not to leave the motherland, developing an attitude against those who do. I am not saying you’re one of them. In fact, what you said might be true for some, but lets not make sweeping generalizations, is all I am saying.

  34. Hi Mad Momma.
    I have been following your blog for a few weeks and now really love your writing style!
    Yes, the article offended me! It was racist!
    I have been living in the US for 10 years now, and sometime I feel some of us Indians call for these attacks. Especially when we are in a big group, we tend to talk loudly in our mother tongue (which is okay) but go a step further sometimes point at “firangi” and make a comment. I have cringed many times because of that as I feel they may understand what you are saying almost. I try not to sterotype Indians by going out of the way to tip generously, not ask for free refills again and again and maintain my clothes without smelling of masala all the time. But I still hate Stein for his article.

    • i dont believe in pointing at anyone- thats just ill-mannered. but whats wrong with speaking your own language if you’re with a group, unless there is an outsider there? dont firangs continue to speak their language in other countries unless they’re speaking to a local person?

      • I think conversing loudly in your language triggers racism. When in Rome, I believing in being Roman. That does not mean I am hiding my culture but I am just keeping it subtle. I do not like it when Chinese people giggle around me in Chinese. Makes me want to avoid them and stereotype. Happens a lot arnd my work place like that. I flaunt my proud culture with chicken work kurtas over my formal pants, kohl lined eyes and special treats for my coworkers during Diwali and try not to be abrasive. Be subtle that’s all I guess I am saying.

  35. “I think the reason why most Indians are so horrified by this kind of reaction is because as a country we’ve always welcomed immigrants”

    correction – we’ve welcomed, almost fell over ourselves to please, white-skinned immigrants. most of my african-american friends still think india is *the* most racist country they’ve been to.

  36. Hey MM,

    I guess you have to see Edison to believe it, its really just like the way Joel Stein describes it and its actually worse, i know many indian including myself who will move anywhere but refuse to have edison in our address. Not to say Joel said a lot of things he shouldnt have in the article, but Edison is really a joke!!

  37. and girl – apart from adding to the chorus of – there you go girl etc. :) (even at the risk of being called a groupie by Uma – but aren’t you glad she’s here. i love your trolls and even more so your responses to them.)

    Don’t ever again say you do not ‘do humour’. This was irreverent and really quite funny. Now let me go read this. i really do have my head up the ….. i was completely unaware of the brouhaha.

  38. well, he never said it was humor. it was utter consternation, i would say…
    i mean look at us! we ourselves hate each other and throwing each other out of each others’ states…

    forget the 1 percent civilized among us and look at the rest. khaps, castes, religious intolerance, language and ethnic divide, why should we feel bad at what he has written? he is ruing the fact that his beautiful country is infested with Indians.

    and of course he has a right to feel sad about it.

    dunno why all you indians are so flustered about it. why are we so thin-skinned about everything? one Nobel laureate was denied credit in the UK, he hollers out “racism, racism, here guys, come check out”…

    and now someone calls a spade a spade and we again holler out? yes so Indians do carry their “culture” abroad and ruin theirs. they are subtler people. In some neighborhoods in the UK the genteel Brits left their homes because we Indians are farting real loud out there.

    why are the Punjabis being beaten up in Australia? because they are racists? no, because we are boors first. We go ogle at their women, we export corruption hidden in our blood, we spoil their entire social and moral fabric. so they hit back.

    why are Telugus being killed in the US? 1. they are the maximum number of Indians there. 2. most of them can just code. they know no decency, they push their way into an elevator, they never say hello to others, they stick together in ghettos, drink only rasam, look only for Indian restaurants, carry ration for six months from home, and cannot mix. they have never had the guts to speak with one decent-looking woman back home, so they want to go for a lap dance, tongues lolling. but then these are first-gen Indians. Joel is talking about the sons and daughters of the opportunistic trader community who are the same worldwide: spoilt, gelled hair, golden chains, dude-ing around. you want to defend them?

    and lemme ask you how many Indians you can yourself respect and feel proud of? count them and get the percentage. you will know what Joel means.

    • brits dont fart loud ?
      jeez. that explains it all.
      and expats dont carry their rations here? i beg your pardon, i dont know one expat who eats idlis and parathas for breakfast. hell, the reason they dont need to carry is because we stock cornflakes and bacon.
      as for the khaps and castes – i agree, but i criticise them as loud and long as i object to this.

  39. OK, MM you finally got me to comment on your blog. After having written it out give me leave to tell you that I MUCH prefer talking about these things with you while I am sneaking a smoke. Of, course, this isn’t a response to your blog, it is a response to Stein. And my apologies to those who very rightly point out that Indians can be amongst the most racist people. Of course there are and may the racist Indians join hands with the other racist people around the world, form a new colony on another planet, elect Joel Stein to office and perhaps invite George Bush over as well. But, one person’s racism can not be excused by another group’s racism.

    The irony of the image with which Joel Stein’s campaign…er humourous article against the immigrant Dot Heads; otherwise known as Indians, which is also, according to his sloppy research (hey, that’s unfair, Americans do not actually ever research, they state their opinions with the confidence of being the citizens of a superpower) synonymous with being the multi armed, elephant god head worshiping Hindus (so that’s a couple of millions of Indians who aren’t Hindus being insulted at being called dot heads, when in fact they aren’t); has me in splits.
    The statue of Liberty is hardly likely to be weeping tears at the pollution of White American Stupidity seeing as she is French. On the other hand, originating in the land of those dammed unpatriotic French; because of whose lack of appropriate loyalty to the American economic cause the cuisine culturally impoverished Americans had to rename their French Fries ‘Freedom Fries’; the Lady with the Torch might be forgiven for wondering if she needs to begin packing her bags to head off home since immigrants are not welcome. Especially since the plaque that she so proudly wears on her pedestal contain the lines :
    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    Embarrassing, really to be bearing those lines when immigration is clearly the worst thing happening to America.
    But all his nostalgic, cultural insecurity revealing rant is not worth noting except for the magnitude of its hypocrisy. I am not going to repeat what is well acknowledged the world over except of course in the US of A that the entire nation consists of immigrants, all of whom has no compunction in decimating the original, native population. Well, that is one of ensuring that no call you White Euro rejects Immigrants!
    No, what I want to ask Joel Stein is something different: have you ever asked yourself what makes you so scared of immigrants? Is it that after years of assimilation and achieving the bland, kitschy cultural crassness that is Amerciana you are terrified of a culture that is not easily taken over by your… well, I do not even have a word for it because your identity is so much like a thief’s hodgepodge, something stolen form here, something stolen form there and then churned in a blender till it is colourless and bland and meaningless enough to appeal to all of you. Perhaps that is why your cultural shrines are Disneyworld and the gigantic super sized football stadium.
    Unlike the Mad Momma I am not a brown skinned Jesus believer. I am a not so brown skinned Indian “whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose.” Incidentally, the pantheon of Gods in my religion is numbered at 33 crores, or was it 33 thousand crores. It does not really matter. They are all excellent material for jokes and trust me the Hindus are good at cracking jokes at the expense of their Gods. So, far our Gods seem to have taken it in their stride. Do please ignore the newly emergent tribe of Hindu Fundamentalists; they are remarkably similar in their outlook to Fundamentalists of other religions. The point is that perhaps living in land of multiplicity (and that includes a wider variety of cultural, religious and cuisines than you can imagine) makes Indians more accepting of differences. It teaches us tolerance. It teaches us not to fear that which is different. Maybe you need to expand your cultural horizons a bit. And then you will not want to see the town of your childhood stuck in a time warp of cultural and economic stagnation, unless that is the American ideal. In which case, I shall hope that you truly get what you want: a slice of insular, uncomprehending white Americana, where things never change.

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