Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I got Unk'd

In the World of Desis, every elder person is regarded as being an uncle or an auntie. The term of course is used loosely because contary to popular belief, all Indians are not related. That being said, I would be willing to concede that there are probably only two degrees of separation between all brown people. Care to disagree? Well how many times have your parents introduced you to some random person and was like "this is Kiran Uncle, his brother and I were in 7th standard together and his cousin Pooja Auntie lived across the street from us."

But I digress... The fact of the matter is that being called an "uncle" by non-relatives basically conjures up the image of random old people. Uncles and aunts, by definition are people you're supposed to make fun of. (for the record, I know it's bad grammar to end a sentence with a preposition, but the point of my blog is to write in a nice easy-speak manner, something that connects with middle American...or middle India, which geographically speaking would technically be Madhya Pradesh). It is the duty of all kids to label the random uncles that they meet with some incredibly judgmental and partially untrue character generalizations. For instance, how familiar does this hypothetical conversation sound:
Parental Unit: Come on get ready, we're going to Pradeep Uncle's home.
Innocent Desi Kid: Pradeep Uncle? Their place is so boring, plus he always burps whenever he eats chicken.
Parental Unit: (pretending to ignore those comments) ...don't wear your short-pants, try to look decent, and don't wear those big jeans of yours, you look very shabby with them.
Innocent Desi Kid: I think Pradeep Uncle is a racist too. He once said he doesn't like Mexicans
Aunties usually don't have broad generalizations attached to them because most interactions with them is limited. Usually when you go over to another Indian person's house the mom's gather in the kitchen or the family room to watch old movies. Every kid knows not to enter these two zones alone. If they do, they will get flooded with questions about school and their personal well-being.

The Uncles on the other hand gather in the living room and discuss a wide range topics. Although the categories are diverse, they are indeed the same ones discussed at every Desi Gathering. It's like watching re-runs of Jeopardy. Every week the contestants are the same and so are the categories. More or less they boil down to this:
  1. Problems regarding Indian bureaucracy
  2. Indian Cricketing triumphs! : 1955-1970
  3. American Presidents: 1988-Present
  4. Childhood stories revolving around kite festivals
  5. Hindu/Muslim relations: A retrospective
All of these conversations take place over a card game of Bridge. The rules of engagement are simple: there must be organized disagreement for at least 5 hours, where no one person is allowed to state their entire point of view without being interrupted. This, in the Uncle World, is considered a fun Saturday night.

While the aunts actually care about a child's emotional health, the uncles' main motivation for interaction with kids is profit. "Sooo, I hear you a now playing THE basketball, would you need an agent if you go professional in the N.B. of A?."

Well this is the nature of things in the Indian world with regards to uncles and aunts, and sometimes you feel like things will never change. I too was foolish about this matter until this past weekend. I was locking my front door, minding my own business when I had a rare encounter with my next door neighbor and her adoreable baby girl. I of course said "helloooo" (with multiple "o's") and the mom-person said "Hi, how are you?"

Just when I was about to answer the mom looked at the baby and said the U-word. It's as if my world was closing in around me. The walls were crumbling, the sky ripped open, and the devil could be seen riding on the fiery wings of Mercury... she looked at her baby and said "Say hello to uncle! Say hello to uncle!"

I was labeled an Uncle. For the first time in my life I had been Uncle-fied. It was awful. Suddenly the sunny day seemed sunny no more. I felt the sudden need to only wear brown pants and reject any love for going to the mall for fun. Soon I would stop wearing short-pants altogether. It was like watching Teen-Wolf, when Michael J Fox suddenly starts transforming in front of our eyes for the first time. Only this was worse, far worse. I was Unk'd.

I wonder what my stereotyped idiosyncracies will be according to kids. I wonder what my views on Indian bureaucracy will be. I wonder if I will still like Mexicans. Will I start dismissing all music with a beat as simply being "noise"? I simply don't know, but what I do know is this: there's no going back. As Maya Angelou said, "I know why the caged bird sings, I know why the caged birds sings."

3 comments:

witnee said...

I will never call you uncle. That is a Promise.
But I may never pronounce your real name correctly either.
Even though, as some say I am 95% browner than most indian kids, I find it extremely hard to call people Uncle and Auntie.
I guess its that 5% whitey in me that can't get over the fact that I'm not related to random Indians.

!nfoiac said...

unk'd! you have been branded..lol

dont know if u have come across this old piece on desi uncles n aunts .. by an ex-sci(soc.culture.india) poster
http://openscroll.org/ramesh/uncle.html

!nfoiac said...

sorry meant this one:
http://openscroll.org/ramesh/uncleaunt.html