Average American’s guide to Indianism*

There was a time when the term Indian raised images of tall, gaunt Geronimo type people in the average American’s consciousness. Then around the late 60s and 70s brown, turbaned or “dot-ted” people started making their presence felt, slowly stealing the term away from native Americans and causing some confusion in filling out official forms and subconscious imagery . Now since The Simpson’s Apu, outsourcing, Outsourced and Slumdog Millionaire, the term Indian raises a whole lot of varied images all to do with the subcontinent’s people. This has been both a blessing and curse for the south Asian in America, because now although he doesn’t have to field questions about his choice of head gear (or lack thereof) for the umpteenth time, he has to explain how although he is Indian, the language he speaks at home isn’t. Moreover, despite being just one in a billion (quite literally), he is expected to speak with authority for all Indians about anything remotely Indian. But even the most trivia-loving, quiz conoissuer among us doesn’t know everything. More importantly, an Indian’s views and opinions about current affairs, economics, sociology, politics, sports and entertainment trends prevalent in India, is just that. The individual’s view, not to be confused as a representation of the view of all indians taken together. As a people,we love to extrapolate and generalize, but even the most didactic amongst us doesn’t speak for the remaining billion or so of our brethen.  Having said that, there are however, some myths and exaggerations that make great sitcom material but are nevertheless not universally true. To separate the fact from fiction, is the purpose of this post. So without further ado, here they are:

1. Bollywood is not Indian Cinema.  Well, it is part of Indian Cinema, but there a whole other larger part that is equally famous in its own way. For eg: There is the phenomenon (cant call him an actor, for obvious reasons!) from Kollywood called Thalaivar. The irreverant would call him Rajnikanth, the south- sensation who breaks box office records with every movie he makes. He is quite popular in a lot of countries, as far west as Turkey and east as Japan. But to you, the average american, he is an Indian McGyver. For the artistically minded there is Tollywood and  Satyajit Ray, who incidentally won the Academy award for lifetime acheivement.

2. Although most of the country is Cricket mad, there is a sizeable portion of it that is soccer mad, tennis mad and also not-into-sports-with-a-passion mad. So dont assume, every Indian you meet is going to be able to describe every nuance of the game at great length. An aside about Cricket: it is NOT 5 days long and yes there are tea breaks but they dont drink tea.

3. We dont all speak “Indian”. I dont know how many languages there are, but there are at least 15**. So if you want to ask us about language at all, dont ask “do you speak Indian” but “what language do you speak?” That can keep the conversation going pretty well. Unless you dont want it to, then avoid the language topic.

4. Talking of languages, there is no one unique Indian accent in English. There are as many Indian accents as there are states. In fact you can mostly tell which region an Indian is from his English accent. Very much like southern or midwestern accents in the US. For eg, generally speaking, north Indians stress their” Th” as in “Thirteen” which becomes :”THateen” and south Indians mostly cant distinguish between their “v”s and “w” s as in “vhere is the vater?”

5.Not all Indians do the “head bob”. Besides “head bob” is not an Indian thing, lots of south Asians do it. It is prevelant among some Sri Lankans, Thai, Burmese and I am sure some Singaporeans. While we are on the topic of head bob, let me explain it to you. It is not a simple yes, it is an “ok” or “alright”. Any factual statement gets a nod or shake (depending on its veracity) everything else that requires your acquicence gets a bob.
Here is how you would use it:

Qn: Do you have 10 fingers?

Ans: nod

Qn: Do snakes have legs?

Ans: head shake

Qn: Do you want to go dancing tonight?

Ans: Head bob

6. Not everyone in India has an arranged marriage. Not all arranged marriages are between people who have never met. Not all Indian women you meet are married with children irrespective of her age. But most importantly, most Indian marriages DO NOT spontaneously erupt in song and dance. Also grooms don’t always ride up in a horse or elephant.

7. Kamasutra and casteism are not the main points of Hinduism. Nor are all muslims in India terrorists supporters. Also, these are not the only religions in India. Apart from Christians, there are also Jews, Buddhists, Jains, Zoarashtrians,Sikhs and others I am sure I have missed. Although we dont all co-exist peacefully, we dont actively hate each other either.

8. We are not a nation of geeks. In fact there is a sizeable fraction of the educated among us who want nothing more to do with computers than blog and web surf!

* Title adapted from B. Shaw’s “An Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism”.

**Just by counting out the ones I could remember off the top of my head. I am sure there is an official number, I cant be bothered to look it up.



  1. Oh! I guess it has been a long time since I have seen a rupee note 😀 Also how did you read this one without mentally editing it? The typos in this is so cringe-inducing!!

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