Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Lack of a Desi Filter

When in India, you drink filtered water.  There’s no way around it.  Unless, of course, you want to contract Amebiasis.  Not familiar with it?  I am.  It’s caused by a parasite found in unclean water.  What makes the water unclean?  It’s laced with fecal matter.  The, literally, “crappy” parasite lives in your intestines until treated, and it apparently really misses its ancestral home, because it makes you go to the bathroom.  A lot.

Lesson learned.  Filtration just makes everything better.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Desis liked their small talk the way they liked their water?  Unfortunately for all of us, that rarely seems to be the case.  Somewhere in Desi DNA, the gene for a verbal filter got lost.

I remember countless cringe-worthy, pubescent moments in India thanks to inquisitive distant relatives, old family friends, and total strangers.

An elderly relative once asked me how my movements were.  They were good, I thought.  I wasn’t the most athletic person in the world but I got around.  Despite my lack of upper body strength, I think I even passed most of the Presidential Fitness Test.  But before I could respond, someone whispered to me that the movements he was referring to were my bowel movements.  Awesome.

I’ve been asked at a very young age if I had gotten my periods yet.  What?  There was going to be more than one?  This did not sound good.

I’ve been told my nose was too big, my hair too curly, my posture, incorrect.

And if I ever had an upset stomach while in the motherland, my diarrhea became everbody’s business.  It was bad enough my name rhymed with the word, (well, that and gonorrhea), now anyone I shared even a couple genes with was acutely aware that I had the Runs thanks to that cilantro and ketchup “pizza” I had just eaten.  As I would sit there popping Hajmolas, Hawabans and other digestive tablets, laced with the aroma of flatulence, the working theory being to fight fire with fire, everyone and their mother would be busy openly discussing my very private matters.  And new visitors to the house were quickly updated with the situation. 

“Do you like India?  How is your trip so far?” 
“She has diarrhea.” 

“Do you remember me?” 
“She has diarrhea.”

“What time is it?”
“Supriya has diarrhea!”

I wish this lack of subtlety got refined on the flight to America but, unfortunately, this just wasn’t the case.  No aspect of life is too personal to be discussed openly by Desis who have just immigrated to the States or by those who have lived here for decades.

I’ve been asked by an uncle I had only met once, “Don’t you feel that you’re bringing your parents shame by not becoming a doctor?”  I’ve been called across the dance floor, mid-song, at an engagement party by an auntie I hadn’t seen in months.  She smiled, beckoning me towards her with her finger.  When I fought my way through hordes of Indians doing the Macarena, (or was it the Dougie?), and got to her side, she shouted above the music, “I saw the movie you worked on.”  I beamed, proud of my first credit on a film.  “Oh, thank you--”  “-It was awful,” she finished. 

Although I’ve never been able to tell anyone that the cars they helped design were ugly, or that the legal briefs they wrote were faulty, or that their bedside manner in the hospital was terrible, I’ve been told dozens of times what the structural issues are with films I’ve worked on, how the character arcs could be improved, and what plot points should have been included in the script.  I guess all those years of studying engineering, law and medicine made these people authorities in screenwriting.

I put up with the constant, uninvited assessments, thinking these intrusive opinions would be less readily available as I aged but I was mistaken.

After I turned 30 I was congratulated by a relative on my pregnancy.  Was I pregnant?  If I was, it was with pizza.  But because my weight was no longer in the high 90s like it was in the late 1990s, more than one person wished me all the best for my “pregnancy.”

When I finally was pregnant with a human child and not a bellyful of cheesy bread, I was told I must be due any day now.  I really hoped that wasn’t the case since I was only in the beginning of my second trimester.  When I got to my third trimester, I was asked by Indians I had never met before, “Are you sure you’re not having twins?”  Yes, yes I am.  Because that’s what ultrasounds are for.

Post-pregnancy, when I greeted an uncle with “hi,” he responded with the standard salutation: “You really need to lose that weight soon.”  And to top it all, three months after I gave birth, a Desi maternity store employee asked me when I was due.

As a 2nd generation Desi, I am totally aghast when these kinds of comments are made.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that a part of me wishes I could be that blunt and open with strangers.  There’s a strange kind of confidence in this, no matter how socially unacceptable it is.

In the end, as embarrassing and appalling as it is to be asked these questions, the bluntness does offer a sense of comfort, a sense of familiarity, and dare I say, a sense of family, even if you are meeting someone for the first time when they ask about your menstrual cycle.  So I guess everyone can drink the unfiltered Kool-Aid every now and then.  I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? 

Oh right, diarrhea.


  1. This article cracked me up! I know exactly how Supriya feels! Indians have no boundaries and a hard time with anything remotely unconventional. At least these blunt brethren of ours are easy to read :)

    1. Ha that's true! A perk I hadn't thought of...