What Is Desi Mentality - Life of Dr.Desi

What Is Desi Mentality - Life of Dr.Desi

by Ramesh Mahadevan

Warning : Dr Roy, Please hit 'n' now!

WARNING: Any kind of stereotyping is bad and uncivilized, we are told. But most of us have conjured up an abstract concept called the 'desi mentality' that seems to exist out there. While reading the rest of this post, you must remember that 'desis', like the designer underwear, come in all shapes, sizes, colors and moral bents.

Mister, rather Dr. Desi, is an embodiment of 'desi mentality'. He is everything we don't want to be, once our salad days are over. He is a portly gentleman of an indeterminate age, between thirty and fifty, with a face that belies his prosperity. A sagging belly bears testimony to his success as a professor/doctor and an almost bald pate, atop his designer glasses, only adds dignity to his shapeless form. When he is walking down the street, you can sense him from miles away, because of his 'apologetic desi walk'. His actual name is Dr. Sinha, but he could equally well have been a Dr. Thyagarajan or Dr. Chakraborty or Dr. Anything else. When you look at him, his appearance seems to tell you "I have got it made, buster and you go to hell".

Dr. Desi makes it a point to avoid accidental encounters with unknown desis. He would avoid making eye contacts with them or ignore an unsolicited 'hello' from a passing desi on the road. 'Why should I gravitate toward another Indian just because I lived in that country twenty some years ago?' he would rationalize. When caught in an elevator with another unheard of desi, he would feel so uncomfortable he would sweat, would pretend to be thinking hard about something or fix his gaze on a bug on the elevator roof and would shoot out of the elevator car with an incredible muzzle velocity once it comes to a stop.

He has a suburban home, two cars (one is a station wagon and the other one is a Honda Accord). His wife, who came to this country with a BA from a no-name arts college, (you still can't figure out whether she is talking in hindi or english) picked up an American degree somewhere along the line and now has a career of her own. His kids are grown up and left home. He had hoped his son would become a doctor. He had sent the kid, every summer, to the 'Hindu camp'. (which was such a drag, especially the lectures and yoga, the only redeeming feature was the surreptitious discussions on sex once the counselor disappeared) He had even promised to buy the kid a BMW if he got into a medical school. But the son is pursuing English and a blue-blooded blonde in a small liberal arts college in the next town and Dr. Desi tells everyone that that is the best such college in the whole country. His daughter, who religiously learnt Bharata Natyam when she was a kid, is now a big kid and fights with her mom every day. Must be harmonal changes. He knows it is his duty as a dad to get them married. But how? He looks at the Panasonic TV and VCR and the stacks of hindi movie cassettes. Any movie that was released after 'Phool aur patthar' is a relatively new movie for him. Just last week he saw a hindi movie, but he neither remembers the name nor the story line or the actors. There are also recently procured cassettes of Ramayana episodes. With all his weekend family gettogethers, his house gets chaotic and resembles the Lucknow Railway station. But, even then, it gets a little lonesome for him once in a while. Due to some peculiar aspect of his desi upbringing, he hates the idea of having pets at home, almost as passionately as he dislikes the chocolate flavor.

He thinks the new Indian students are a sorry bunch. They don't work as hard anymore. They all smoke and drink. If he is not careful, they might hang on to him for all kinds of favors, maybe a soft loan, a ride to the mall. In this age and clime, when eighty thousand bucks a year is almost like pocket change, how do these gangs of unkempt, uncouth urchins manage to live on a measly dole? They don't even eat macaroni everyday like he used to when he was a student. And they spend thirty dollars to see someone as weird as Pink Floyd.

Dr. Desi is religious, although not fastidious about it. Decades of American life hasn't changed his eating habit one bit. He still does not eat beef on fridays and Bajrangbaliki days. He even does Sathyanarayana Pooja, at which time, he would proudly wear his crisp dhoti, UP style. (For those of you who don't know UP style dhoti tying, you wrap it around first such that LHS = RHS and then proceed) Since the local community is not large enough to build a temple, he has designated one room in his basement to be the 'temple' and his buddies are already patronizing it. Eventually when the temple comes up, he may have to fight pitched battles with his archenemy Dr. Naik on the control of the temple. But that is way into the future.

Dr. and Mrs. Desi have time to go shopping on the weekends. They always go to the K. Mart and buy all the 'three for one' and 'Blue light sale' things and stock up. Dr. Desi's shoe size is 9. But if Size 11 is on sale, he will buy it. He does not patronize Indian restaurants because they are no good and on the rare occassion he goes there, he invariably ends up having a fight with the owner and comes home with a vow to do it 'never again'. Once every two years he has to go to India, and a few weeks before his departure, his house would resemble the 'Service Merchandise'. 'I have so many friends that I have to give them at least one gift each. My friend's son is a big officer in the Central government. Just last time I gave him my Seiko watch' he would tell his impressionable guest, not remembering to mention that this individual arranged for an easier customs clearance and helped him find a trustworthy jeweller who made necklaces out of his Kruegerrand gold coins.

When the students have Independence day celebration, he condescends to attend the 'function'. He is dressed in his best suit and gaudiest tie. He asks if he can get a concession on the admission ticket since he is buying three and if there is any family rate and yes, is it tax deductible? During the festivities he feels nostalgic about his distant ex-motherland. How does this country run? It is going to dogs, he says with finalty. Imagine, he continues, my father lives in a village where there is no indoor plumbing and how can my children feel comfortable out there. Rajiv Gandhi is doing some good, he pronounces, but THEY won't let him do his job. Suddenly he would find himself surrounded by ten students and he would even remember the name of one them. Now that he is the center of attention, he would tell them, in a quite generic fashion 'You people should come to my place and have dinner, ANY TIME'.

At any given time, either his sister or his wife's brother is on an extended visit, with their entire brood. On that predetermined week in June, he would pack all ten of them in the family station wagon, with two hundred pooris and drive off to see the Niagara Falls for the one millionth time. His old, frail mother-in-law has the rate-limiting steps. She would wear heavy woolen stockings inside her sari, in scorching sun. This would appear incongruous even to Dr. Desi, who has seen a number of East-West fusions.

About once a year, he would throw a party for his 'American friends'. His 'begum' would cook the entire previous day for it. Dr. Desi is a man transformed in front of people of opposite color. He even talks with an entirely different accent. He is more energetic, servile, eager to please, kids around a lot and generally does not seem to have any control over the situation and ends up having a good time. He would define a samosa to his curious guests as a 'fritter with spiced mincemeat and potatoe filling'. About once a year or so, he would even invite his desi bretheren for a party. Again, his wife would cook for a whole day, trying the hundredth variation on the samosa recipe, although she would lie to her guests that she didn't spend much time and the food is not going to be as well as she had wanted it to turn out. Two hours into the party, Dr. Desi would be overwhelmed, bored and would wait for his guests to leave. Enough talk about tax shelters and real estate. (The womenfolk are segregated into another room, talking about their respective children or their new household purchases) When all the guests are gone, the hosts would sit down and complain about all the guests and how impolite some of them were.

Years come and years go. There he appears frozen in time, like some metamorphic rock or Madhubala's beauty. Now, he leaves for work, after having checked his security system, as he has done for the last twenty years, not knowing if he should feel happy or sad or whether to worry about his possible mid life crisis. It must be the april air.

Copyright(R) Mahadevan Ramesh