Monday, January 01, 2007

The thing about desi parties

When audiences see movies and read books such as Little Women, or Pride and Prejudice they see an era of time long ago. Of girls awaiting courtship, of women in extravagant gowns whispering about the comings and goings of the local socialite. But for desis, such movies do not represent times long ago, instead it represents the here and now. At any given desi wedding one can find the carefully made up girl with the small gold set and hair swept up, standing nonchalantly hoping an auntie will take notice for her son, or better yet, hoping to catch the gaze of the son himself. Just like any Jane Austin novel you will find carefully made hairstyles, embroidered clothing with sequins and frills. You'll find air kisses and smiles and whispering behind closed doors. This sort of atmosphere should objectively speaking be cherished because it is of a waning era and should be enjoyed while it exists.

I love many aspects of being desi. I love the gold jewelry and the colorful greens, reds, and yellow clothing, the henna decorated hands, the songs, the saris. I love the respect for elders, and the hospitality. But there is something about desi dinner parties, particularly those of my parents generation, that throw me off and leave me feeling a bit desolate. I try to hide it as well as I can because my parents love them, and love bringing us along if we are visiting. But inside, there is something that aches after parties such as these, a sort of emptiness. After thinking about it, I came up with a few reasons.

1. Gossip, gossip, gossip. I will not deny I have gossiped in my life. Its not something I'm proud of and since childhood I have tried abstaining from it. I do think there is a different between venting (i.e. expressing frustration because the situation affects you) and another to talk about someone else for the pure sake of taking apart their outfit, their demeanor or speculating about their life. I try to refrain from the former but I make it my personal mission to not engage in the latter. Does not the Quran say that gossiping is akin to biting the flesh off your dead brothers back? There is a reason why gossip is also referred to as backbiting. But desi parties are a caldourn of gossip. Almost every corner you turn, almost every voice you hear. She could be clad in hijab or wearing a sleeveless sari but you can hear the gossip. What is she wearing? Why is she talking to him? Did you hear they are having marriage problems? I see Auntie X hug Auntie Y and say how nice she looks and ten minutes later see Auntie X tell Auntie Z how bad Auntie Y's outfit is. As I sit quietly taking it all in, I can't help but feel the negativity overwhelming me.

2. Idle chit-chat. If being charming involves being able to stand at dinner parties and engage in mindless chit chat, I am decidedly as uncharming as they come. "How are you" "How is school" "No we don't have kids yet" "Yes I know we should" Is your husband a doctor? It. gets. exhausting. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out, and meeting people. But sincerity is an essential component. A desire to have a meaningful conversation, not talk for the sake of chatter. Not talking simply to gather new information to run off and gossip about with others. After an hour of such chatter I feel as though my mouth is dry from the discourse and my soul slightly depleted from the exchange.

3. Tardiness. There is a saying called "Third World Standard Time" or "desi standard time" or "fashionably late" Essentially, if you are invited to a party at 7pm. No one, not even the hosts, will be ready at 7pm. 7pm translates to 9pm which translates to dinner served around 10-11pm. Which translates to Aisha whose mood is directly linked to food consumption or lack thereof (former: happy, latter: grumpy) growing decidedly of the latter mentality through and through. On a more serious note, the knowledge that all events and gatherings will start late encourage even those who would normally come on time to appear late as well.

4. The Fact that I am a particularly sensitive elephant. By which I mean I remember everything. If I heard the gossip that you began that involved me or a dear loved one, I can't pretend I adore you to pieces. But that is a way of life at desi parties: X said Y about Z. Z and X still hug and air kiss like they are buddies though later they will gossip viciously about one another. I can't do it. I am incapable. My mouth refuses to turn upwards to form the obligatory smile, my arms refuses to open in a gesture of embrace. Of course, if we talked about it and resolved the differences thats a different story.

5. The cliques. I can only imagine what it must be like to not be desi and have to try to find your place in desi society parties. As soon as you enter one the lines are drawn and the cliques are clearly outlined. Islam is about brotherhood and unity and togetherness but you'd be hard pressed to see these qualities at most desi parties. Instead a newcomer will stand at the sidelines attempting to strike conversation only to be rebuffed because the person they approached already has their own friends thank you very much and do not need another. And yes, I actually have heard someone actually say this to a girl who tried to reach out to someone at a party.

6. My time is valuable and I jealously guard it. If law school has taught me one thing it is that time is all that life consists of. No more, and no less. It should be spent with those who are sincere to me, and those I feel sincerity towards as well.

This post is cross posted at nisaa, a great new group blog for Muslim women.

21 comments:

mystic-soul said...

Very nicely written article. (For ditto reasons last night - 2 of my cousins got very upset - as I decide to stay away from desi 'new year party')

But what I found not only desis but all parties are alike. Humans are same in every culture.

koonj said...

Ah, the never-to-be-lost art of gossip.

I still remember some fancy-pants larki at college who told me "what're you thinkin', you're not in OUR group." There are indeed people like that alive, and serial killers, and psychopaths.

We try to get a meal BEFORE we go places now. I also have trouble anticipating how BIG the meal will be. We go to a "dinner" and get a snack. And then we have to chat. It drives me crazy.

But then as the aunties say, "if ve dont backbite, vat are ve going to talk about?" Hmm.

yaser said...

i know exactly what you're talking about. i get berated for even thinking like that by my parents (how dare you say such things, etc.), but they know it's true. some things never change.

eid mubarak =)

Anjum said...

yup, you've summarized the desi party thing pretty well. gossip and two-facedness (is that a word?) is so toxic, but prevalent! It's hard to even want to be part of such a community.

Wil Smith said...

I just love reading your posts. This one was no different. It seems that the desi community shares many of the problems that irk me so much about Canadian life. I think you handle it far better than I. I tend to the more acidic in my criticism, even though I consider myself a warm, caring and direct individual. usually too direct I'm told. I definately lack the tact neccessary for totally harmonious relationships.I usually don't mean to offend, only to expresse an opinion quickly and succinctly. It's only one opinion after all so I usually can't understand why I seem to cause such offense. I would prefer a good debate on the issue at hand than to be taken so negatively. As you said, time is our most valuable resource, why waste it.

khodadad said...

Very well written post, Aisha. This comes from a desi desi (I am from India originally and moved here a few years ago). Desis here, specially the generation I like to refer to as the 'uncle and auntie' generation, seem to more pretentious and egoistical than any place else. I would like to think the generation of desis to follow them will be much better than them, but I dont see that much of an improvement in their attitudes either from what I know.

Suroor said...

I have always followed "British Standard Time" and more than often when we reach "on time" at weddings we are the first people who are welcomed by the cleaners and sweepers!

You've inspired me to repost an old post on a meal with desis from my pervious blog.

You hit the nail on its head while keeping your tongue firmly in your cheek :) Well done!

wayfarer said...

You get a big loud alhamdulillah for everything you just said! ALL of it. So true, so annoying and so unislamic.

Tee said...

I love your Desi Jane Austin comparisons. It's all very romantic :)

I'm also a "senstive elephant", as you put it.

I am very forgiving if things are cleared up, apologies are made, etc. But with people like my MIL who insult without apology and then are 2 faced by PRETENDING to be nice to my face, I can't handle it.

I've noticed some Hispanic women to be like these Desi Aunties you describe. And most of them claim to be good Catholics but the majority of their time is spent gossiping.

I'm sure there are people in every race like this but it certainly seems more prevalent in some cultures than in others.

The world would be a better place if people actually tried to follow the tenants of their religion, whether they be Jew, Muslim or Christian.

mezba said...

I am always on time to parties, and often have the hosts still flummoxing in their home clothes as they try to attend, obviously flustered. I always stress in those situations that I came on their specified time. It has now become a habit for these people when they give me the time to say 'Well we are saying 7 pm but we know guests will start coming at 9....'

karrvakarela said...

You've articulated so well exactly what I've been thinking these past few days. With Eid and the New Year running up side by side, there's been a spate of parties and everywhere you go you meet the same people, recycling the same tired jokes, the same vicious gossip. What's bizarre is that these are otherwise really nice people; decent, educated, warm-hearted. And yet put them together in company and they become so trivial.

I'm not sure why that needs to happen.

aragorn said...

about being the sensitive elephant... i have another easy way to deal with it... be a dumb like me.... then you wont remember what ppl said about u....:P...

Aisha said...

I've been travelling today, sorry have not responded!!

Mystic, thanks :) but you are right. I know that this is not just a desi problem. I've had friends from many different groups have similar issues. I think it happens when there are large groups of people woven together as "friends" under a common bond. Maybe its akin to the worldwide fascination with celeb gossip, only here its about ppl we know..

Koonj, I have heard aunties say that as well!!!! Hmm, your own life? Politics? Islam? A good book? your children? hmmm the possibilities are endless :)

Yaser welcome to the blog and thanks for commenting! Eid Mubarak to you as well!

Anjum, it does have redeeming qualities as well but it can be trying. My dad always points out that in such gatherings you may perchance come around the one diamond in the rough... they have had such luck and created a great social circle out of it that they try to hang out with more than other circls and it woudlnt have been possible without enduring a few bad parties..

Wil, that's really tough... its hard to find the balance.. because one wants friendships and social circle, but then how to do that while remaining true to yourself and not compromosing the self.

Khodadad did you find the auntie/uncles in India to be different in these areas than their counterparts in the US?

Aisha said...

Suroor shall be checking it out as soon as I'm done here :) I'm glad it reminded you.

Wayfarer, I know we have discussed this issue in the past, its frustrating!

Tee, that is very difficult. I dont know why it is that way, but I can't seem to forgive and forget. I know that it is a virtue to turn the other cheek but I can't do it. How do you interact with your MIL then? At least those I feel this way about dont live with me. How do you live day in and day out with someone like that? Ok. I mean I know its frustrating!! :) But, how do you manage to keep it toned down for the sake of family harmony.

Mezba, LOL. My parents are always those people too!!! :) We always come on time. Now that we're grown we kind of try to mae them stay behind a little bit because we hate being the first ones there with the hosts still in curlers :)

Karrvakarela, welcome to the blog and thanks for commenting! :)YOU said it so WELLLL. Why do otherwise intelligent people suddenly grow so trivial? I completely agree. I see it time and time again and its befuddling...

Aragorn, no you're not dumb, you're a guy :) My husband doesnt let things get to him and rarely recalls such situations unlike me who has them unwillingly filed in my mental storage cabinet :)

HijabMan said...

So, for New Years Eve, an aunt of mine had a bit of a get-together. I usually don't attend these things-- I'd rather be in front of a computer, frankly (signs of addiction? or signs of not enjoying desi parties, heh)

So I walk in. I eat the food (the best part) and then sit in the middle of the men discussing something Islam-related (when they probably shouldn't be, seeing as how at least one of them thinks that the Qur'an states that there is 1/3 men and 2/3rd jinn, on earth)

And the Aunties, well, they are mostly married, and the younger women my age are playing Antakshari (sp?). Which leaves me.. guy who speaks no urdu except "mujhe pyar tum kitna khartey hoh" (word to the wise, don't say that to an auntie, she'll give you a thuppr!)
Alone in a room with a plate full of food and a full belly.

It's why i bring a camera to these things. So i have something to do.

I ended up driving home after 30 minutes, with the scrabble board I brought untouched.

And then the first things I heard at midnight? Sirens streaming by my apartment. New Years in West Philly. Gotta love it!

Yesterday, I listened to the theme song from Beverly Hills Cop, and I thought of Aishaiqbal.blogspot.com

ruby said...

Someone who understands! *dances with happiness* Nobody is ever on time...except my dad who is Mr. Punctual. We always eat first b/c 11 is too late and the food is always too spicy/oily. And, when not starving, I can more politely handle rudeness in the form of "So why aren't you married? or "How much money do you make?"....

Bee Amma said...

Eid Mubarak!

khonika said...

Desi parties can be stressful! You have to be careful about what outfit to wear (i know ppl who never wears the same outfit twice!), who to mingle/not mingle with, and ofcourse the gossips! I'm relieved when its time to go home.

Tee said...

Aisha, I think that the bottom line is that I don't like confrontation. I'm the kind of person who will eat the fish even if I ordered chicken. Some people think that's being a doormat but I'm a middle child and I think it's just my nature to be laid back and try to keep the peace.

So, when it comes to MIL - even if I do not actually like her, for the sake of peace I'm able to stay cool. I also know the repurcussions for not keeping my cool. The momentary elation of releasing any negativity aren't worth the weeks of arguments and tension. (Especially when I know my two precious children are the ultimate victims and audience to this dysfunction.)

I also always have the goal of being the bigger person - of never giving her ammunition. She can dislike me and say whatever negative thing she wants - but as long as she lacks proof - as long as I treat her as God expects me to treat others - she is in the wrong.

In the Bible it says:

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.

"BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD."

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

I guess ultimatly we can only worry about our own actions and reactions. We can only determine what decisions we make and if it is in keeping with our own moral code.

Other people will have to find their own ways. One day we will all have to answer for what we didn't do right, and hopefully be rewarded for what we did.

Aisha said...

Hijabman, antakshari? That is as fobulous as it comes. Wow. I dont know what I'd do if hat happened. In the past they allow me to sing American music. I feel like the special ed kid none the less. I'm glad Bevery Hills reminds you of my blog. Completely random, but why not :)

Ruby, welome to the blog and thanks for commenting! if I lived in FL near my folks so I had to go to such events regularly I think I too would eat before I left. Two weeddings we went to and both days we ate after 10:30pm! That is unhealthy, particularly the type of food served!!!

BeeAmma, Eid Mubarak :)

Khonika: Its sort of depressing b/ it should not be that way... :(

Tee, I think you raise a really good point about not giving soeone else ammo against you. If she an omplain but have nothing to bak it up then that is beter for you. Good for you Tee. Its a virtue to be that way.

Anonymous said...

Desis have this tendency to compare themselves with thier friends- who has the better car, who has more gold jewellry,who owns the more expensive salwar kameez and saris, the fancier house, the better kids, and this is the part I hate.Everything has to be a competition where success is defined by how jealous your friends of you. Parents say "Why can't you be like X" "If she could go to medical school, why can't you?" Parents just don't seem to realize that not all kids are the same, and that everyone has different talents and strong points. Why can't we be happy with what God gave us?

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