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Mr. Bania: The United States of India

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In India, they are beginning to celebrate Valentine’s Day. That is one of the by-products of globalization, economic liberalization, and the Internet. It is also partly because it is considered cool to blindly follow the Western traditions.

Some Indians, especially expats, may celebrate Halloween in India. They might be doing it because they reminisce about their past years in the United States. Or by aligning with the American values and traditions, they feel superior.

In the last few years, during my visits to India, I have seen the Indian flag being hoisted outside hotels and businesses. There is a prominent Indian flag outside the Leela hotel visible from the highway just as you enter Gurgaon from New Delhi.

I am ambivalent about these gestures. Raising the flag outside hotels or offices is fine as long as they are Indian flags! Celebrating Valentine’s and Halloween is fine but there is no shortage of festivals in India. Luckily Valentine’s and Halloween are not holidays but if they start observing Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, and 4th of July (America’s Independence Day), nobody will go to work.

ALSO READ: Mr. Bania: Raajeev I. Aggerwhil: ‘Smart Indian Weddings’ (April 18, 2018)

There was also a time when Bollywood would simply rip off stories and characters from Hollywood movies. Then they would complain that they didn’t get recognition at the Oscars!  Also, I feel they don’t have to exactly copy Hollywood movies but can use them as inspiration.

However, one thing I wish people in India would blindly copy is the Western manners, especially toward strangers. Whenever I travel to India, I am appalled by the lack of manners. Earlier this year, I was waiting at the gate to board a flight at Mumbai airport and this young man in his 30’s just cut in front of me. There were a dozen people behind me and nobody said anything. I said to him, “Bhaisahab, this is not a buffet line where food will finish. The plane is right there and it won’t take off without you.”  He smiled sheepishly, apologized, and went to the back of the line.

I have had people cut in the line while waiting at restaurants, at airport security check, at the railway station ticket counter, at cinema halls, at the Taj Mahal, at the line to take a picture with the bride and groom at a relative’s wedding. My favorite was to do darshan at a famous temple in Ujjain. I guess the impatient devotees thought either we didn’t belong to the right caste or that Gods’ blessings would finish by the time they got to the front.

The hardest part of traveling on the metro in New Delhi was getting out of the train because incoming passengers were too impatient to let the riders come out first. Even when disembarking on domestic flights, passengers seated in the back row would never wait for the passengers ahead of them as is the common practice in the US. In public places in India, you just have to be aggressive to claim your rights, otherwise, you will never get out of the metro or the plane! I don’t know if this disregard for strangers comes from overpopulation, hyper-competitiveness or past experiences of scarcity in the Indian society.

ALSO READ: Mr. Bania: Raajeev I. Aggerwhil: ‘To Frugality and Beyond’ (September 24, 2017)

I have experienced similar lack of courtesy and excessive nosiness at social gatherings in India. One of my distant uncles, who hadn’t seen me in years, started asking me how much I make, how much taxes I pay, what kind of car I drive. I smiled at him and asked for his mailing address. He asked me why. I told him that it would be easier if I could just mail him a copy of my tax returns!

Many of my relatives feel it is their birthright to comment on my family and my appearances too. “Thodey motey ho gaye pehele se. You gained weight.”  “Apka beta itna patla hai, khane ko nahin deyte kiya? Your son is so skinny, you don’t feed him?”  “Yehe itna lamba hai, iski shaadi kaise hogi.:” “ He is so tall, how will he get married?” I generally ignore them unless they persist. Earlier this year, my wife’s cousin started commenting about my hair (or lack of!). I brushed off the questions politely. After a few minutes when I told him I was going to some meditation classes, he commented again, “So that you develop the ability to grow your hair upward?”  I said, “No, so that I develop a tolerance to deal with relatives like you!”

When such incidents occur in public places, I get concerned about the stereotyping of Indians and Indian-Americans in this country and around the world. I feel rather than blindly copying western traditions like Valentine’s, Halloween or Hollywood movies, Indians should make the social environment more courteous by diligently adopting phrases such as, “Please. Thank you. Or even Bless You (when someone next to you sneezes).

Sometimes the incidents are so good, I just report them without any exaggeration. A few years ago this elderly couple came to my in-laws’ house in India. After looking at my wife’s pictures, they said to my mother-in-law, “Aapki beti to itni sundar hai ki lagta hi nahin ki aapki beti hai. Your daughter is so beautiful that she does not even look like your daughter.”   I must admit that it takes some creativity to praise and insult someone at the same time.

In the past, rude and idiosyncratic behavior bothered me. Now I have learned to incorporate those incidents in my stand-up routine. It provides more authentic material for my comedy. For that, I am truly grateful!  So next time you miss your stop at a metro in New Delhi because of the inconsiderate incoming passengers, or you are the last one to get out of the plane in Mumbai even if you are sitting in the front, or you never get to worship your favorite deity in Chennai because of the aggressive fellow countrymen, don’t get mad. Find humor in it. I did!

(Los Angeles-based comedian Raajeev Aggerwhil has starred in Nickelodeon’s TV show 100 Things to Do before High School and also acted in the film based on the television series. He is a frequent contributor to The American Bazaar. He can be reached via Twitter, and Instagram.)

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