Pet Peeves (Part 1/398)

by Ramesh Mahadevan
I am a very angry man with a lot of pet peeves. Here is a short list.

I am bugged by Hindi movies, of all things. Why are they all rushing to Rajasthan these days to make movies ? From Sridevi to Madhuri, from Tun Tun to Dimple, I have seen all actresses in mile long lehengas with a thousand bangles on each hand, traversing a desert. I must have seen every single camel in Rajasthan by now. Not that I have anything against Rajasthan, but it is just that it gets a little repetitive. Don't you think ?

And why are some songs always the last song in any cassette tape ? Do music directors compose designated 'last song of the cassette' songs ? As soon as these songs come on, you know it is time to switch the tape around.

And also how come people only know the first two lines of the old song "Jago, sone wale, sun lo meri kahani." Doesn't this song have a third and a fourth line at all ?

And what is it with desis and naming their kids these days ? Every friend of mine that has a kid, has a godforsaken name for the brat. Wellwishers like me can neither pronounce the name nor remember it, come Christhmas time.

"The girl is called Joshana" my sister told me long distance from India, soon after naming her n th kid.

"Oh, Jyotsana, that is a nice name."

"No, no. It is not Jyotsana. It is Joshana." She corrected me and proceeded to explain to me how the name actually means Jyotsana, but is still different. Darn ! If it sounds like Jyotsana and means Jyotsana, why can't she call the kid Jyotsana and make it easy on all of us ? Gone are the days when parents vied with each other to lovingly name their kids 'Ramesh - a simple, yet nice name. Now it is each kid to itself. It is like a contest to make sure your kid is the only one with that name. Why do you think they ask for the 'baby list' on the SCI every so often - to make sure they don't make the mistake of choosing a pre-existing name. These days it is far easier to remember the kids' social security number than the name itself.

And this probably tells us something about where India is heading toward. Can you imagine, a few years down the road, you go into a T shirt souvenir shop in India, to look for personalized coffee mugs and you will find nearly a billion coffee mugs with a billion different names, because by then, every Indian kid has his or her own name. Can you imagine how chaotic it is going to be just to look for one lousy coffee cup from among a billion ? Can you imagine the plight of the stores whether to stock a 'Joshana' coffee mug or not ? Can you imagine an IIT Madras completely bereft of a Bala or a Srini, instead of the packs of Srinis and Balas of these days ? And you can never go to a stranger and start a conversation like "So you are Ajay ? I used to know an Ajay in high school" or some such, because you won't know two people with the same name. Period.

And nowadays, epic-oriented names are 'in'. If it is not Vedic and has a sanskritic origin, the name is 'out'. My friend 'Sooth' was telling me about his friend who named his kid after a character from Kalidasa. (That narrows it down to about two thousand names) My friend tried to recall the name, but had total amnesia. After half an hour of trying, all Sooth could remember was that it rhymed with an airlines. Delta ? TWA ? This didn't seem to help. Then he also remembered that it rhymed with a motorcycle model. Could it be Vespa, Kinetic Honda ? Wait a minute, Then he remembered it also kind of rhymed with hot milk and the name was ...Meghdoot ! Fancy name for a brat who looked exactly like a Ramaswamy or Munna Lal.

Even among characters from mythology, only certain names seem fashionable. What is wrong with a Ravan or a Surpanakha ? (Sue, for short) Just because one Hidumba happened to be big, there is no reason to have this grudge against the name per se. In fact, Kaikeyi will make a nice name. Especially when the whole world is turning into a global village, a name like Kaikeyi will be easily recognized even in China, because it sounds Chinese. Prospective parents, ask for Ramesh Mahadevan's alternative list of baby names next time.

Talking of children, one of my gripes of all times is about the millions of screaming desi children who infest desi social functions here. They are often up to their elbows in gulab jamun syrup. How do the parents even figure out which one of them is their kid ? Does each kid have its own signature 'scream' ? I think what is happening is, when it is time for the parents to leave for home, they simply grab a kid or two arbitrarily from the general pool and take them home and then, perhaps exchange them again in the next party.

Talking of desi functions and parties, my friend Banana has a simple sociological observation about NRI desis who are in their Vanaprastha or Sanyasi stage of their immigrant lives, completely devoid of any memory of their ex-fatherland. I am talking about those desis who think it is cute to be totally ignorant about India and the goings-on there. I don't know why it does, but it does bug me.

The only topics some of these guys can talk about are

  1. Cholestrol and triglycerides and
  2. Home Mortgage and house prices" claims Banana. It is interesting how many NRIs masquerade as desis and don't even know how many states there are in India. A true NRI also does not know the name of the vice president of India.

And you can never get these guys interested in anything that is going on in India. They can foresee every news item about India and are bitterly cynical about everything in India. Plane crash near Bangalore ? According to them, planes ALWAYS crash in India. Elephants marching toward Calcutta ? Goes to show how screwed up India is in general. It is really very difficult to make conversations in such company.

They probably have a citizenship test to become a citizen of the USA. India ought to have a similar test to evaluate these expatriates and revoke their citizenships if they failed to answer some simple questions about 'Bharat'.

The questions can range in complexity from 'Who is Raveena Tandon's present boyfriend ?' to 'Gavaskar is still the captain of the Indian cricket team, true or false'. Or an occassional trick question like 'What is the similarity between Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav ?'A take home project could be "What is Jai Maharaj trying to say ?"

Trivia question: Where in the USA will you drive on the left side of the road, like in India ? The answer is American Virgin Islands. Even more interesting is that the place is flooded with desis, who run almost every shop on the island. There is a Bhoolchand Electronics store (with branches all around the Caribbeans), Anju Jewelry and old, Gujarati women in traditional sarees hawking "I'm a sex machine" T shirts.

And here is another one of my peeves. Somehow, we desis who are wedded to our computers and terminals, who can't pass a single day without sending an email, can not seem to relate to the merchant-class desi immigrants. We always tend to belittle the Potels, the taxi drivers and the newspaper vendors on the New York Subway stations. Why ?

We make jokes like, New Jersey is already eighty percent desis now and pretty soon white Americans would need a visa to go to New Jersey. Yuba City, California was ranked the worst place to live in the USA, according to the Rand McNally Atlas. The place has a lot of Indian immigrants and that's why, we laugh again. Why do we feel so superior to these people who probably work harder than most of us, even though they cannot solve the fourth order differential equation like some of us ?

In fact, it will be a swell idea to exploit desi communities, like in Jackson Heights or New Jersey. And use them to promote tourism. Like in Amish country and Disney World, we can have tourists come and observe the desi lifestyle and the old world living. For a fee, Desis can put on a show for the tourists - like make chai in the morning, demonstrate a 'tel malish' with shining 1040 grade viscous oil, fry 'chat', spit 'pan' for a home run, extract sugar cane juice and finally an evening finale can be arranged for some of them to play a group Anthakshari, complete with a fight about whether a given song exists or not.

"Which part of India are you from ?" is a favorite question of many well meaning locals. And when I say I am from the south of India, they often go "Then, that must be somewhere near Delhi or Bombay." Not that I know any better about Bolivia or Finland.

This used to bug me. But I have mellowed these days about such things. Still I usually keep a collection of such 'innocent questions' I've been asked. Here is a sampler: "Are you from Lebanon/Afganisthan/Philippines ?" "Don't they draft twelve, thirteen year old boys in the army in India ?" But the one that gets the award is "You say you are from India, do you consider yourself an Asian or a European ?" I swear, it really happened.

And it is highly un-original of people to make fun of that friendly graduate student who is STILL doing his or her Ph. D after all these years. Leave the poor bastard alone, please. In my earlier incarnation, even I had made fun of such students.

Also, do you know what the desi record is for doing a Ph. D for the longest time ? The answer is - here, hold your breath for a minute - fifty three semesters (about twenty six years) in Germany. The department - Physics. Measured in cosmic terms, two and perhaps three Kumbh Melas would have occurred in that time frame.

(This is told to me by a friend, who 'knows' the guy first hand, so don't go around scrutinizing the Guinness Book. Also, the German system is different, in terms of how long you can do your Ph. D)