A non-review of NBC’s new sitcom “Outsourced”

The American television network channel NBC just started airing a television sitcom called Outsourced about a couple of Americans who move to India to run a call-center full of Indians selling novelty items to clients back home in America. I’ve watched the pilot episode and a few others since then.

As you know, I’m a desi. And from my perspective I’ve thought for while about writing a review about the sitcom. But I’d like to perform a simple experiment instead. Read the following sentences on racial and cultural stereotypes and think about them.

Indians don’t have any food. They are dirty. They defecate on the street.

Americans are unemployable. They are materialistic. They deal drugs on the street.

Some Indians and Americans certainly do fit these stereotypes. But definitely not all of them.

So do any of these stereotypes offend you? Are you indifferent to them? Do you just laugh off as ignorant nonsense?

Now look at the cartoon below which I created. You might find it funny as an Indian or as an American. Or as an Indian or as an American you might find it deeply offensive.

I do not know where you’re coming from. Perhaps, your job got shipped to India. Perhaps, you felt insulted when someone treated you differently because of the color of your skin. I am not saying it doesn’t happen. And I can definitely try to empathize with you either way regardless of your nationality or ethnicity.

I also understand your viewpoint if you laugh at others. I admire you if you can laugh at yourself.

But keep repeating the stereotypes you find funny now over and over again. Don’t you find them kind of annoying now? Like uninspired stupor masquerading as humorous banter?

That is my problem with Outsourced.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

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How to pronounce Hindu Bengali names

“Hi, can I speak to an Arabian?”

“Excuse me?”

“Hi, I’m trying to reach an Arabian.”

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I am an Indian.”

“No, I mean is this the phone of Mr. An-arabian er… I’m not even going to try to pronounce your last name.”

“Ah, if you’re looking for Anirban, then yes. This is Anirban speaking.”

“Hi, I’m Betty calling about an exciting offer for a Visa credit card that will let you transfer balances from high-interest rate accounts.”

“Uhm about the offer. Well, you may very well be batty, but I’ll still decline. I already have more credit cards than I know what to do with.”

_________________

Sigh! I guess if this call had originated from a call-center in India, it probably would have been worse. Of course, I’d be able to tell from the fake accent. On the bright side that would have provided me an opportunity to immediately launch an insult-laden tirade in Hindi.

Granted, the spelling isn’t intuitive. Bengalis pronounce Anirban as On-ear-bahn and “Anirban” is neither fully Sanskritized nor Bengalified. But I’m so used to variants that are acceptable that I don’t mind anymore. North Indian friends have called me Aneer-bon. In North America, I’ll take that any day. I’ve been called many other things out here such as Aniraban, which makes me cringe, since I’m not really like the infamous mythical ruler of Lanka (well, there is nothing if there is no hope).

But seriously, how hard is it to pronounce Anirban? No, seriously. Compared to being called an Arabian, I’ll take Awnir-bahn or A-near-ban any day (not that there is anything wrong with being an Arabian if it is by birth or er… choice).

First, our names get mangled. Then to add insult to injury, we find out that there is an NFL team from Cincinnati called the Beng-uhls. For crying out loud, where do you get the gall? It isn’t West Bangle or Royal Ben-gull Tiger. Please, it is Ben-gaul and we are Bengollys or Bengolese (if you need to rhyme it with Congolese).

I’ve heard many horror stories about slaughtered Bengali names. For example, a North American was once visiting the ashram of a sage in West Bengal. The name of the mystic, Swami Nandanananda is a mouthful even by desi standards, but I’d break it down into Nandan and ananda and say it slowly. The North American devotee tried pronouncing it “Nandanandanandanandananda…” and went into an infinite loop. Or so I’ve heard. Don’t quote me.

Okay, I made it up.

Granted that Bengalis with Hindu names have a much easier time fitting in than some of our South Indian compatriots, but I’m still be hard pressed to find a Bengali in North America who hasn’t shortened his “good name” or gone with his nickname like good old Gogol in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. Is it our fault that our parents put so much effort into finding involved names from obscure Sanskrit texts?

As for me, for now I’m going with Ani.

© Text, 2010-2012

A series of open letters

It is the season for ranting. Actually, every season is the season for ranting. Not wanting to be left out, I’ve decided to post a few open letters to choice individuals. Every situation is true unless it it addressed to you (in which case the resemblance is purely fictional).

____________________

Dear Paul:

I appreciate your taking a keen interest in Indian cuisine. Contrary to Western customs, most desis do not eat samosas with a knife and a fork. I also have to warn you about the cooking DVD that you recently rented. You might be slightly disappointed when you find that Sholay does not have any recipes for curried chickpeas.

I’m sure you also know that “Hindus” refer to people and “Hindi” to the language (unless of course you’re talking about Varun Gandhi who is a Hindi who speaks Hindu).

Thanks,
Your Indian Friend

____________________

Dear IT Colleague:

You’re making a horrible mistake. It wasn’t me that looked at those sites. I may have downloaded some programs, but I am 110% sure that this has not impacted my efficiency or that of my computer. Also, please find a small token of my gratitude in your mailbox.

Thanks,
Anxious Coworker

____________________

Dear Isabella:

Thanks for replacing the soap in the hotel bathroom. I’m storing them and will gift to relatives when I visit India. Before I arrived I had no clue what “white ginger” was, but I certainly smelled like one at the Expo. Tomorrow please provide towels that are not white. White does not go well with my bathroom walls.

Thanks,
Hotel Guest

____________________

Dear Client:

Thank you for your quote. I am currently lying on a beach in Maui exploring options to optimize efficiency and cost-benefit using a forward-thinking approach. I did notice that your email was tagged with “High Importance”. Obviously, I am going to drop this Mai Tai to go the nearest phone-booth to change into my superhero costume.

Warm personal regards,
Your Personal Financial Advisor

____________________

Dear Suzanne:

The food was inedible and the service was non-existent, but because you drew a goofy face on the bill and wrote “Thanks”, go ahead and expect a 25% tip. Or maybe, I’ll tip you for the service I expect next time.

Cheers,
Customer

____________________

Dear Coworker:

Please perform an appendectomy to remove the 5 appendices in this project proposal. I’ll only read the “the meat of your argument” anyways. Also, please pick up the landscape photo of your trip to Coney Island with a unbelievably young lady which I found next to the network color printer.

Finally, missing a spot shaving was a calculated ploy to allow you to fixate on my face instead of spooking me with your usual shifty glances. Now, I can stare at the mole on your face with a clear conscience.

Best regards,
Smarter Colleague

____________________

To Whoever Stole My Bose in-ear Headphones:

As you know by now, I have earwax.

Happy listening!
Music-lover

____________________

Dear Magazine-Delivery Man:

Thanks for stealing or forgetting  to deliver my copy of The Economist for 2 months. I read it on the Metro over people’s shoulders anyways.

Grateful Reader
____________________

Dear Motivational Speaker:

I have polydipsia and polyuria which means that I drink a lot of water and go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes. So, don’t take it personally if I have to leave in the middle of your exciting talk.

Apologies in advance,
Client

____________________

Dear Charity-worker:

I understand that raising awareness of the obesity epidemic is a wonderful cause. Can I help it by buying two boxes of glazed donuts?

Greedily yours,
Fatuous Fatso

____________________

Dear Idiotic Acquaintance from College:

Calm down, dude! If I ignored you on Instant Messenger, I have every right to be angry if you think I am ignoring you. How were you supposed to know that I wasn’t out to lunch?

Please don’t send the following message to my work email address: “One ppl send this msg he make million doller. One not send he feel bad. Plz u send msg 2 d 15 ppls on ur list n 30 min or u died in 2010.”

Finally, I don’t have any answer to the question you posted on Facebook, namely: “Kis dufar ne mera lappy spamity se infract kiya?”

Take care,
Your Fraand

Disclaimer: I have floated some of these ideas on Twitter too. The two quotes in the last letter are actual comments.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

How to write your own biography in Wikipedia. From the renowned author of “Deconstructing Quantum Sufi-Yoga”

Last night, the benevolent god mahi-mahi came to me in a vision and instructed me in a mix of Urdu-sounding Hindi, Hindi-sounding Urdu, Klingon, and C++ to form the Khudbakhud Uttarvedantic Wikipedia Society, a charitable organization exempt from US federal income tax under section 501(c)(3). As you know, articles in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia are among the top hits in internet search engines. The goal of our tax-exempt Society is to create our own biographies in Wikipedia and pass off to family members, jealous colleagues, prospective employers, and random, uninterested Facebook friends as evidence of our great standing in science and letters. In this guide, I will lead you in the art of creating your very own personalized Wikipedia autobiography.

One way to get on Wikipedia is to to actually do something worthy of recognition. You could write a bestseller or come up with a major scientific discovery and the world would most certainly notice. Someone would write a Wikipedia entry for you. But let’s be frank. I’m writing a blog and you’re sitting here reading it. Frankly, it ain’t gonna happen for either of us. Fortunately, Wikipedia is written by people like you and me, and so there are tons of mediocre people (just like you and me) who are writing their own over-hyped articles on Wikipedia as we speak. And even if you did have the talent to do something worthwhile in life, why would you take the trouble anyways? It is much easier to become notable through Wikipedia than to become notable and then get on Wikipedia.

Here are the steps to creating your own autobiography on Wikipedia:

Step 1. Start websites with legitimate-sounding domain names. In the mafia, you need a shop to act as a front. In the web popularity game, you need to get your name out on Google by posting comments with your name on as many websites and blogs as possible and starting a few fake websites of your own. If you’re a scientist, write about how great you are on your fake website New Sceintist, which sounds a lot like New Scientist. Steal html templates if you can. If it looks similar, it is just as good. Most people can’t read, so who will notice?

By getting your name out in cyberspace, you’re increasing your hits on Google, a primary index used to determine if you’ve done anything worthy of Wikipedia.

Step 2. Make a list of important-sounding fake publications. This is the most important step. If you’ve ever written anything in life, you need to put it on Wikipedia. For example the essay you wrote on the cow in primary school should be written up as A post-modern analysis of the sociological and economic importance of Bos indicus var. dudhwali in the South Asian subcontinent. Anything will do, but you will need to use words such as “deconstruction,” “post-modern”, “quantum”, “paradigm”, as well as a smattering of South Asian keywords (preferably with religious connotations). That way later if your article is tagged for deletion, you can always challenge the Wikipedia editors. If they dispute the South Asian part, tell them they are perpetrating colonialist stereotypes. If they attack the science, appeal to the art. No one on the planet understands both Derrida and Bose-Einstein statistics.

It is as easy as 1-2-3. Follow my example. By putting some very esoteric words in the title of this article, I am enhancing my own reputation as a pundit. Web aggregators will pick it up and soon enough I will be known as an expert in Deconstruction, quantum mechanics, Sufism, and yoga. Repeat after me: “I am as smart as I fake myself out to be”.

If you haven’t done anything creative in your life, then use the approach of making up something extremely important. For example, say that your magnum opus is A Long History of the World (Vol I-XX). Always use Roman numerals for volumes and throw in some French or Latin if possible. If challenged to produce your work, say that it was originally written in a now-extinct Andamanese dialect and that the editor is being a racist, Eurocentric pig. If you’re a woman, claim to be the poor victim of a male-dominated society. You can’t lose!

Step 3. Create an account on Wikipedia. You’ll need an account to look legit. Without one, editors will flag your IP address. Choose something distinguished such as Rabindranath_Tagore or S_Radhakrishnan and put an embellished resume up on your page. For example, if you know that Achtung is not the sound of a German sneezing, mention on your page that you have native-level comprehension of the German language.

Step 4. Find a list of editors you can win over. For the most part Wikipedia is edited not by professional experts, but by hobbyists who know all the levels in Tekken, but not which side of the bread is buttered. Win them over by commenting on their personal pages. They don’t have money, power, or social lives. I mean, why else would they write for no recognition or money?

Step 5. Make some very basic edits on other Wikipedia articles. If the first thing you do is to write your own article, people will get suspicious. Do some very basic copyediting on one of the thousands of incomprehensible articles on the site first.

Step 6. Steal the template for an existing high-quality Wikipedia article on someone you admire. Wiki-markup is easy, but stealing is easier. Take an article written about a famous person in your discipline and use it as a template. It will have all the category tags built it and it is as easy as “plug and play”.

Step 7. You are who you want to be, so write creatively. Journalists are very good at this, but everyone should be instinctively good at using weasel-words. Use “many”, “most”. and other non-specific words to blast across how awesome you are. As you write, think carefully. If you ever sent your flop book to someone, say it was “well received” (omitting the fact that the postal service is efficient). If your mother really liked your painting, say “many experts found it breathtaking in scope and originality.” If you know multiple languages, then use non-Roman script for your works. Again, you are working on the vanishingly small odds that there is someone who is both a polymath and a Wikipedia junkie.

A final word of advice  for those lucky few in positions of power. Get your employees or students to do the work for you. Say that you are just about to work on their annual performance review or grade their test papers. You’ll be surprised at how common people who don’t deserve to be on Wikipedia grovel just to keep us celebrities happy!

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

A pyramid scheme that I am delighted to be a part of

A few days ago, I wrote a post about a world famous scam. In the meantime, the wonderful blogger who goes by the creative moniker Lazy Pineapple (“no fruit mostly humor…”) gave me a Beautiful Blogger Award. I figured she wasn’t talking about the way I look because she’s not a mean, cynical sort of creep like I am.

Makapu'u Beach

I mean it isn’t a real award like a gift-card from Amazon, but it is an honor that I accept with gratitude. Plus, it is better than the shirt I got recently which I’m using to clean up the kitchen. As part of the rules of the award, I am nominating a few other blogs for this award and mentioning seven things I find beautiful. There are so many amazing blogs out there and so many beautiful things that I could have a hard time trying to pick and choose, so I’ll go with the first seven I can think of. Detailed rules of the tag at the end of the post.

I nominate Sharmila, Gurdit Solitary Kid, Desi NinjaLEB, Jaky AstikRachit, Indrajit, and Shivani for the Beautiful Blogger Award.

Seven things I find beautiful that come to my mind in random order:

1) India-Pakistan Quarterfinal match in Bangalore at the 1996 World Cup

2) Warm rain beating against my face like splinters as I  accelerated on my bike in college

3) Picking up the first Tintin adventure I ever read in school – Tintin in Tibet.

4) First glimpse of Makapu’u Beach in Hawaii, 2009

Island in the Sky

5) Pindrop silence standing centimeters from death at Island in the Sky, 2009.

6) Knowing what love feels like for the first time and hanging on to it.

7) Sharing a bond with Life through biochemistry and evolution.

Rules of the tag:

1) Thank the person who gave you the award.
2) Paste the award on your blog.
3) Link the person who nominated you for the award.
4) Share 7 things you find to be beautiful around you.
5) Nominate 7 bloggers or more

Update: Darsh has just awarded me a similar award. I’d like to thank her for reading and recognizing my blog too!