EVEN THOUGH I am a total goofball and have no known academic achievement, I was inducted into the Executive Committee of a mega project at a major university, (no names please !) just because my corporation dishes out money toward the project every year. That was one of those 'life-changing' events for me, because all these big, bad professors have started dancing in circles around me, like a bunch of Mujras, just to get a piece of the sponsorship money. Before I realized it, the Dean, Vice President and the Provost (just what the hell does a University Provost do ?) took me out for lunch at one of the luxurious, inner sanctums of the university and treated me to a lot of weak jokes and inane anecdotes about the university. One of them even told me "We always like students from India. You all have a solid foundation in mathematics." or some such, just to ingratiate me. It all sounded eerily unreal, sort of like poetic justice, because I have always been terrorized by professors, until very recently. In case any of you go on to become project sponsors, here are some useful tips.
Remember, it is like a tug-of-war between the professors, who are trying to impress the committee - and you, trying not to get impressed. First thing you ought to do during project presentations is to go to the very front desk, spread all your stuff across two chairs, empty your brief case and spread the contents on the desk. Ignore the speaker and his project presentations as much as possible. Always keep doodling something on your notepad and only occassionally should you look at the speaker in his eyes. Just when a new professor is called on to present his part of the project, leave the room to re-fill your coffee cup, just to unnerve the professor.
Always address the professors by their first names, even if they had won two or three Nobel prizes. If you don't know their first names, just call them Dave.
When the professor claims that the 'Mechano-fudge coefficient increases with temperature', you should interrupt him and mutter "Hmm. Interesting that it is increasing." If on the other hand, the professor mentions that it decreases with temperature, you should simply say "Hmm. Interesting that it is decreasing." In either case, the professor should get the idea that you somehow know these results already and that they are trivial.
Watch out for the professor who talks excitedly and jumps arouund as if he is on burning coal. He would claim that he has made a lot of technological breakthroughs and has several 'exciting' results. "These results are hot off the oven" he would claim, trying to imply that his lab is the hotbed of all research activity in the world, "As we speak, Wei Chen and Srini are measuring the Mechano-fudge coefficient on the latest samples in the lab."
At the end of any presentation, you can psych them by asking how come they did not do something. "Why didn't you measure the Mechano-fudge coefficient as a function of the phase of the moon ?" you can always ask them. To which, they might twist and turn or have stock answers such as "Jane is the only one who does these measurements. Now she is on maternity leave."
Let me tell you folks, it is a lot of fun to be on the supply side of the money-line.
EVEN THOUGH I don't personally own a dhoti, I think I can write a thesis on dhotis. In fact, a comparitive ethnic study of 'dhoti-tying' habits across the various states of India is much needed. By the way, the New York Times, in its infinite wisdom, has once referred to dhoti as 'an oversized diaper'.
For example, the Kerala folks, I am told, tie a dhoti asymmetrically, with the knot on the left hand side, (Verdad ?) whereas the Uttar Pradesh style is simply starting it such that LHS = RHS and then wrapping around symmetrically. In Rajasthan, the trick is to reduce the bulk to a neat, streamlined form. While you are in Tamil Nadu, you would tie it around like a barrel, in the 'lungi' format. There ought to be a law in India banning these lungi people, who fold their lungis at thigh level in a 'half mast,' from kick starting their bicycle and riding them. It can be very obscene.
The Bengalis, by the way, are the only ones who hang onto their dhoti ends in one hand. This is probably because they are still trying to figure out where to stick the ends of their dhotis. It is not uncommon to see them walk around in Calcutta, clutching their dhotis. However, in these modern times, when getting in and out of subways and tram cars are so tough, guys who are 'short-handed' because one of their hands is already occupied with the dhoti, are particularly at a disadvantage. For example, when the train or the bus jostles, oftentimes, the dhoti end and the owner get momentarily separated. But thank god for Newton's laws, the dhoti ends always come back to the hands, except that the guys discover that they are holding the wrong man's dhotis and not their own. The Bengalis of course are much more civil and gentle than most other folks in India and so under such situations, they would simply ask the others "Excuse me, may I have mine back, please". (This 'holding onto the end' is also observed among some Punjabi women and their 'Pallus', but then, that is another Ph. D topic)
Also, one of the most serious problems facing Indian men, to the point of affecting their general well-being, is the 'nada' (strap) of a pyjama getting sucked into the pyjamas. This is an acute epidemic across the globe and has to be halted right away. I have half a dozen pyjamas with the strap disappearing on one side. No matter how much brute force one applies, there is no way to yank out the sucked-in strap. My mom suggested that I buy a safety pin and thread the strap in again. But then, in these high-tech times, who has even heard of a safety pin ? You can try to cheat the pyjama by tying a knot out of the strap all the time, leaving no free end. But then, there is always the danger of your not being able to unravel the knot, especially when you need to go to the bathroom urgently. Also, strange as it may seem, the moment you put the knotted pyjama in the washer, the pyjama strap Houdinis itself and the black hole opens up and gobbles up one end of the strap. Is there any end to this malady or is this a grand conspiracy by all the tailors across India to generate guaranteed employment for themselves ?
EVEN THOUGH these are highly unfunny, here are some very poor jokes.
Q: What is the name of a desi-owned chain departmental store ?
A: Desi Penney.
Q: What is the name of a desi-owned fast food chain ?
A: Dosa Hut (Pittsburgh actually has a restaurant by this name)
Q: What is the favorite American city of desis ?
A: Desi Moines, Iowa.
Q: What is the favorite motel chain of the desis ?
A: RamaDas Hotel and Inns.
Q: What is the favorite sporting team of the Sangh Parivar and the Hindutva
types ? (No, not Cleveland Indians or Cincinnati Bengals)
A: Los Angeles 'Rams'.
Q: What is desi's favorite river ?
A: Of course, it is Ganga, stupid.
EVEN THOUGH many of the desis who come to this country are cream of the crop, topping their IITs and so forth and apply themselves to the most challenging Ph. D problems, they are also equally likely to spend a lot of time and energy on wasteful, lowly projects like enrolling in CD clubs, book clubs and otherwise involving in various trivial scams. There is not a single All-India topper who is not enrolled in one such club, because when it comes to Compact Disks, it is not the quality, but the quantity is what counts. Desis and scams are intertwined.
For example, during one of his visits, my uncle called me up and told me that he was a Numismatist. I told him I was so sorry to hear it and wished him good luck on getting better soon. Instantly my uncle called me an idiot and explained to me that a numismatist collected coins, for whatever reasons. He told me that he was going to send a hundred dollars to a place in New Orleans for some rare nineteenth century coins. When he got them by mail, they were all suspiciously marked 1899 ! Another time, he had to fake 'medical reasons' in order to extend his Air India ticket back to India and stay for a few extra months and the doctor ripped him off for more dollars than my uncle ripped off Air India. (of course, I was thrilled ! You don't know my uncle.)
Desis are not always at the receiving end of a scam. Frequently, they dish it out to them. One of my friends traveled to India by Lufthansa and sent copies of his tickets to three local airlines and got frequent flier mileage credit on all of them ! Then there is this guy, who buys tents and sleeping bags at a fancy store, takes them out on a camping trip and promptly returns them for credit after he gets back !
continuing along the same vein,
Time Table For A Freshly Arrived Desi Graduate Student
6 Sept 1993 - Arrive in this country.
7 Sept 1993 - Get all information about credit cards and how to apply for them. Send Emails to all and sundry.
8 Sept 1993 - Apply for the first credit card.
9 Sept 1993 - Discover Soc.Culture.Indian.
10 Sept 1993 - Join the CD club.
11 Sept 1993 - Rejected for first credit card.
12 Sept 1993 - Receive junk mail announcing that 'You have won the Grand Prize in a Sweepstake.' Be thrilled for half a day and phone up the scam company.
13 Sept 1993 - Watch first American football game on TV. Make a comment that soccer is much better.
14 Sept 1993 - Go to Ohio State University on a visit to see friends.
15 Sept 1993 - Make a post on Soc.Culture.Indian.
16 Sept 1993 - Make father, brother, roommates as members of CD club.
17 Sept 1993 - Buy Nike Air Jordan shoes and Levy 501s.
18 Sept 1993 - Find an American football team to support and be a fan of that team like crazy as if you have known the team since you were born.
19 Sept 1993 - Locate all wingmates and classmates and compile a mailing list of all old classmates.
20 Sept 1993 - Be the first in the batch to attend a Jethro Tull concert. The Tull group now plays exclusively for the IIT guys, because they are the only remaining fans of Tull.
21 Sept 1993 - Be disgusted with Soc.Culture.Indian. Discover that Kuram T Narayana offends everyone, no matter which ethnic group you belong to.
22 Sept 1993 - End 'piling on' with seniors and make that first pot of dal and rice.
30 Sept 1993 - Receive first paycheck and buy VCR and watch hindi movies.
1 Oct 1993 - Receive first phone bill for three hundred dollars.
1 Dec 1993 - Be the first one in the batch to go to get a driver's licence and go to Florida.
23 Dec 1993 - Enroll in Dancing class, swimming class and aerobics class.
24 Dec 1993 - Be the first one to shed 'rookie' status by getting a real credit card, (other than an American Express card) buying a car, organizing a football party, visiting Delaware and actually starting a project toward Masters or a Ph. D.
Acknowledgements: This post is generated out of idle conversations with Kannan Subramanian, Chidambaram, Sunil, Swagatha and R. Sundaram and has several of their comments.