Saturday, October 06, 2007

i'm no expat

This is a little piece I wrote for Time Out Delhi. Hopefully people took it in the spirit in which it was intended.

White Indian

I'm not an expat. I'm a white Indian. I don't brunch at the Hyatt. I don't skip town every June. I don't have kids enrolled in the American school. I don't have a housing allowance, driver or a cook. I don't say, “India is a difficult place to live, but frankly I don't know how I'm going to survive without all the help when we go back.”

It's not a point of pride. I'm just broke. I drive an eight-year-old white Maruti 800 with a massive dent in the driver's side door (don't get me started). I fly Air Deccan. I drink IMFL. I pay a little more than 10,000 a month in rent. I wobble and say yaar. I know a shameful percentage of the lyrics to “Mindblowing Mahiya.” I even have the Person of Indian Origin card. Designed for non-resident Indians, it's made me a resident non-Indian. Sometimes, in the depths of despair, I contemplate buy property in some wasteland on the road to Faridabad or beyond Ghaziabad or Rohini—places I've never been. I may never leave.

I don't know how this happened. It had something to do with quitting my job as a drone at a “financial newswire” (I used to dream of inventing a computer program to replace myself—it seemed so obvious). I was in Hong Kong, which was too expensive a place to be unemployed. I spoke Chinese, but my fiancee (now wife) did not, and China's notoriously inhospitable stance toward journalists made the simple crossover into the mainland seem much more difficult than migrating to India. Here, I've discovered as a white Indian (and freelancer), the rules are flexible. You don't comply; you do jugaad.

I don't want to complain about the country that embraced me. But it's not easy being a white Indian. Most people think I'm rich and don't know what anything costs, that I have a direct line (like the Bat phone) to the visa officers at the US embassy, that I must be finding Indian food too spicy, or that we have a deep personal bond because they have a cousin who is working in Houston. These things are trying. My neighbors know better. They think I'm a bum, or a shamelessly overgrown trust fund kid. I don't leave the house; ergo, I don't work. I'm always carrying crates of Kingfisher up the four flights of stairs to my rooftop lair. There's loud music and doors slamming at odd times of night (3 a.m., 4 a.m.--even when the puja hour begins and the guys show up for the laughing club).

And I do love the place, albeit in a repressed, white Indian kind of way. There is something wonderful about the smell of Delhi's burnt air in the summer, something inspiring about the street kids who laugh and smile when they see my newly shaven head. Indians are much wittier than Americans, whose humor relies on a sarcasm that belies an essentially naive view of the world. I revel in snatches of overheard conversations: “He is a sportsman... but only at night!” TK, TK. I like running red lights, driving like a prick and cursing at the other drivers for driving like pricks. I enjoy Delhi passtimes like drinking late night whisky in a car parked outside Salim's and booking future drinks at happy hour prices just before deadline. I “white guy” my way into things—a variation on the old Delhi version of the “do you know who I am?” I earn in dollars and spend in rupees. I ask you: For a hack, what could be better?

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

congrats on "mastering" the surf, Jason. I just spent the last hour catching up on your postings and video... personally, I'm just doing the passive kind of surfing trying to burn off an ill-timed cup of java and trying not to wake up the kids..... and yeah, I'm no expat either. Julian

Jason Overdorf said...

Hey Julian,
Good to hear from you! The Holloman is scheduled to arrive in Delhi on Oct. 25!

anangbhai said...

If I talked to Americans the way i talk to my friends in Hindi they'd think I was a prick. And wonder why I ended each sentence with a 'baaanjo.'
You should make your post on good drinking holes in Delhi into a permanent link on the front page and keep updating it.

Mayuresh Gaikwad said...

Forget black / white /brown /any color.... I am convinved that you are Indian.....coz ....

You know the word "jugaad".... :)

I am yet to get a translation of this word in any other language, but Hindi.

neha kaul said...

JUGAAD???
care 2 elaborate 4 the uninitiated..

Vinod Khare said...

If you know what jugaad is then you're definitely Indian! He he.

Blue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue said...

Loved the post. I've only been in India long enough that I still fall into the "tourist" category, but... if given the chance, will totally do the same thing.

Rock on.

TTG said...

Ok First off to the unititated:

Jugaad = Workaround in English
But the most accurate term in English comes from computer science - Jugaad = a "hack" in the computer programming sense of the word.

Second - Jason, now that I know what you look like, I will hunt you down in a Delhi bar, and split a round drinks with you. See you soon.

Akhil said...

Nice post that. "...driving like a prick and cursing at the other drivers for driving like pricks." Now that's a very important thing to do when you are on Indian roads.

And yes, jugaad is difficult to define but if you are in India, you'll learn to practice it. Who wants the definition?

Deepak said...

am going to be a regular to your blog now..

Deepak

rahul said...

great..this shows that u don't have to be wheatish complexion 'indian looking' to feel like an indian.....pity some of ur NRIs don't feel the same

Richa said...

"I earn in dollars and spend in rupees."

I wish I could do that...

Malaveeka said...

Aww. You say yaar? I do to. And I'm a South Indian. It's weird for us.

Very nice post.

Malaveeka said...

too*

small squirrel said...

hee, I am your south indian life doppelganger! excellent post. I have women here think I am wearing a mangalsutra and toe rings because I think they are cute, not because I am married to an indian. they think because I am white and live in bangalore I must be in IT. I must have bundles of case. I must have named my daughter an indian name cause I watched a lot of bollywood movies, but oh! the father looks... oh! they talk about me in kannada then blanch when I make a comment back to them. when I bring subzi and roti they ask if my maid made it, and when I say no they have no response. they pass me giant spoons at mealtime and oogle when I eat my rice and dal with my hands.

oh how fun! :)

deepa said...

loved this post. i grew up in delhi, live in singapore, and miss delhi all the time. especially the burnt air in summer..

Ashutosh said...

"indians are much wittier than americans"...hmmm you sure you being honest? because i think it's the opposite. unless you are related to Navjot Singh Sidhu

Jason Overdorf said...

Thanks for all the comments, guys! Looks like I should post more "personal" items. I'm going to try to put something up regarding the pain of Puja this week. (For non-Delhiwallahs, that's Durga Puja, a big Hindu celebration that for some reason is headquartered right outside my apartment window).

mike said...

that was hilarious, jason. made me miss delhi all over again.

N said...

Great post Jason.
I wonder what is your opinion about the recent influx of losers-unemployed/unemployable bums, sundry "artists", who land up in India and treated like royalty because they are white...
You know the kind who land up in expat nite at Urban Pind
PS- i am a bit cheesed of because I was refused entry to Urban Pind on expat nite.. i left with mutterings of dogs and Indian not allowed, British raj not gone etc etc

carmela ferraro said...

Hi,
I'm a feature writer doing a story about good neighbours. There's stacks of these in Europe,Aus and the US, but I'm told Asia is too family focused to have special neighbours that they can rely them, that nurture them etc. Is anyone interested in proving them wrong?
I hope so because it would be great to get an Asian perspective in the western media for a change!
Cheers, Carmela

Starving Artist Hippie said...

" wonder what is your opinion about the recent influx of losers-unemployed/unemployable bums, sundry "artists", who land up in India and treated like royalty because they are white..."

.... Is this true? If so I'm booking a flight to India a.s.a.p!

Joey said...

Hey i'm also a white indian, pio card holder, originally from Ireland, but now living here with my Indian fiancee.....everything u said in your blog rang true for me... :) I'm not alone...thank god