When I came to the US, my desi-ism (Inglish – Indian English) was far more evident. Progressively, I’ve gotten to hide it well. Now, there is no shame despite the teasing from my ‘Merican friends. And I’ve come to loving my lingual idiosyncrasies. In the end I’ve just become a hilarious concoction of brains and humor. Beauty is a topic for another day.
Majority of my kind must’ve have through the roller coaster ride of having impeccable English or so they said in India, a dash of British with a hint of desi-ism, yet like the masala chai, so flavorful. While I did round my lips in a pout for the ‘W’ and press my teeth like a chipmunk against my lips for the ‘V’, little did I know that the charm somehow turned into confusion.
When I said rubber innocently to indicate to what is called eraser (so sophisticated), I had a room full of full-time working, part-time MBA colleagues of mine jump up and down, laughing and spitting at the same time as if they’ve been pinched by Charlie Chaplin. Then, when I folded the pizza to make sure if fits in my mouth just right, not dripping the sauce or cheese onto my hand-me-downs that I wore with such pride. It was a quite a sight for them as if watching the rarest monkey in a zoo.
In one of my presentations during that same course, I fondly mentioned a ‘partner’ (I absolutely meant the opposite gender) and I had a plethora of questions come my way that I’m not prepared for even today. Are you gay? Funny part is that I knew nothing beyond happy and gay. So yes, I said I was happy and gay. For many months, I didn’t know why really handsome guys would turn the other way when I tried the ‘f’ of flirt. Maybe, my desi-ism just wasn’t their version of gay. I guess I totally missed the dating scene because I simply chose to be blissfully unaware of my being gay – the lighthearted and carefree meaning of it.
I was so famous in the beginning besides the FOB connotation for my bobble-head. Whether I said yes, no or partly yes or partly no or I’m spinning my head with excitement or about to faint was a guessing game. Some of the older professors, who had no patience, gave up on me just like they gave up on my test answers which were always in bullets. Little did I know that they were expecting a summarized version.
After I graduated, I went for my first mock interview with the counselor and she asked me to introduce myself. So, I said, ‘I passed out in such and such a year’. She was an Italian lady (no, not my host mom) and she immediately said, ‘honey, what relevance is that to begin with.’ For the next half hour I went down the path of convincing her that it is what she taught me in the first place. She turned purple not knowing how to deal with my accusation. I knew for sure she had better emotional quotient than me when she said, ‘did you mean, you graduated?’ And the famous Indian bobble-head came out just in time.
The tales around ‘doing the needful’ and ‘prepone’ have amused non-south Asians for decades. My ‘rest in person’ meaning I’ll talk to you in person to provide additional details, was often misunderstood for ‘rest in peace’ and I found myself scrambling for alternatives and sometimes loss of words too. Contrary to the fun others had at my expense, it was funny to hear people here adjectize the mouth you eat with bowel. ‘Oral diarrhea’ that means that someone doesn’t have control to what comes out of their mouth to ‘oral constipation’ meaning, someone is shy will top my list. I also learned ‘rolling my eyes,’ ‘rolling on the floor laughing,’ ‘laughing my ass off’ etc., the combinations of which were beyond my comprehension when I chugged along with my famous catholic convent school English medium education.
Heck, there was confusion even with how I wrote my name and for years till I corrected it nearly after a decade. It is first name then last name here. In India, we write last name also known as surname then first name. Then there is always this one thing that I have a hard time having my mom to get rid of. ‘What is your good name please,’ she greets everyone that she meets for the first time. Continuing the topic of my mom, although she is fluent as she can be in English with a flair of her beautiful Telugu diction, she’s come to terms with accentuating words like ‘intelligence,’ ‘excellence,’ ‘tolerance,’ with a -cy in the end. For example, intelligence would be intelligency and so on and so forth. Cute.
There are so many things I stand referee to both the dialects that is English and Inglish (Indian English / apna Desi-ism). Pinky promise or mother promise, I can’t decide. Whether I should break a solemn promise or whether I should defy a God promise is a matter of holy discretion. My heart is often torn between correcting someone who says, give a call (versus just say call which is the same thing) or revert back or just hide my smiles when someone of desi descent says ‘sweet rascal’ or ‘lucky bastard’ or ‘cheater-cock’.
The other day at work we had a potluck. And I made my customary biryani with a lot of Hyderabadi pride. I told a colleague of mine (American married to a Desi); I’ll ‘warm it’ in the microwave and bring to the room where we are having the potluck. He started looking at me with a mix of disgust, distrust and a degraded form of deer-in-the-headlights kind of look. After a good pause he said, why would you want to do that. I asked, why would I want to do what? He said, why would you want to ‘vomit’ in the microwave. I was stunned that after 20 years in this country where I am more American than the truest, my ‘warm it’ after all became ‘vomit’ to his ears. I had before than just recovered from an instance where my team heard ‘year-end’ as ‘urine’.
Whether I should lol, smh or wtf is a modernity that I am trying to blend into. Sometimes it is an amazing chocolate milk with froth while sometimes it just tastes like ‘vanilla chai’ at my favorite Patel’s Dunkin Donuts. Despite all of the hit and miss experiences, there is a lot of affection that comes my way in many ways than I aspire, in the form of ‘what did you say,’ or ‘did you mean,’ to ‘whatever’ or sometimes a chuckle worth a million words. At the end of the day, I am okay being a confused American with all my glorious Desi-ism.
(Gif courtesy: the honorable world wide web)