Groupism – The next logical step?

Let’s face it, groupism happens everywhere. Neighborhood aunties have their fiercely competitive kitty party circles, Bollywood has always been famous for its clans and camps, the Democratic party is nicely divided into Obama and Clinton loyalists (or so the media claims) and even tiny tots in playschool have been known to prefer their chosen circle of best friends over other playmates! Why should we grownup folks be any different then? So I have my own little groups and social circles. There’s my office lunch group. And my lunchtime walkers group. A 4 o’clock tea break group. A circle of my music class friends. And then there is the neighborhood desi group.

Now there are some desis in America who look down upon other desis spending time together. Closed minds, herd mentality, unworldly, unsophisticated and so on, these are the labels hissed at us. But I, for one, couldn’t care less. I don’t find anything wrong in wanting to be with people of a similar background, people with whom I can identify better, with whom I can be completely comfortable. I might love trying out Greek and Lebanese cuisines, but at the end of a long tiring day, it is simple saru-anna (Kannada-speak for daal chawal) that I crave. In just the same way, I enjoy speaking with Americans and Mexicans and I love getting to know different cultures, but when I feel the need to indulge in a good old gossip-fest, when I feel the urge to celebrate my festivals, when I want to catch the latest Bollywood movie at the local theater, it is my desi girls group that I think of – always.

Honestly, I find no harm in it. It is a great comfort to have a surrogate family of sorts in a strange and distant land, believe me. But what got my goat today, was the discovery of a group within our group, a startling and unpleasant discovery that I was entirely unprepared for. We are all desis, we laugh at the same jokes and understand the same cultural connotations, we even speak a common desi language but at the end of the day, most of us are Indian Hindus and the others, not part of the so-called inner group, are Pakistanis, Indian Muslims and Christians, I was told. And that is all that matters in certain situations, it seems. Which explains why the latter have not been invited to dinner at a friend’s home next week. No plausible-sounding excuse was given, no attempt at secrecy was made. They were simply not invited and that was that!

The non-invitees have been graciously mum so far. Quite obviously, they must’ve been hurt but are probably too decent to mention it. Then there is the hostess. I know her fairly well. She is a friend and a very nice person in every other respect. Warm, friendly and helpful, she is the oldest in the group and fills the mother hen role perfectly. But I know she is from a very orthodox South Indian family. The kind where ‘madi’ is still practiced, I suppose. Coming from such a family myself (in parts at least, most of the younger generation is fairly enlightened, hope), I can see where she is coming from. And the dinner is being held on a festival day, a pooja is the highlight of the evening, which is probably her excuse.

But although I can understand where this lady is coming from, I simply cannot condone what she is doing. I discussed this with another friend I am close too, someone who has been invited and was glad to know the friend agrees with me and had, in fact, openly questioned our hostess on the omission. (She is far closer to the lady in question than I am, I suppose.) And the hostess had been pretty matter-of-fact, explaining that she knew her behavior to be ‘somewhat wrong’, yet ‘she just couldn’t bring herself to invite non-Hindus home for a festival’!

The friend and I debated over our options for a while. Do we decline to attend the dinner on a matter of principle? But what difference would it make? We would hurt our hostess and embarrass our other friends, including, and perhaps especially, the non-invitees. So why create a scene? And who are we to dictate the guestlist to our friend, my liberal and contrary soul asked me? It is her home and she should be allowed to define her own values. And I hate to sound shallow, but I love the Ganpati festival with its aartis and rituals, I love to dress up for festive occasions, and I love our hostess’ food! Do I give up all this fun just to prove a point?

Besides, isn’t our hostess just taking the concept of groupism to its next logical level? If I am okay with having a desi friends group, why am I making a big deal if someone else wishes to have an exclusive dinner party with her Hindu friends? Who am I to decide just what level of groupism is acceptable? I think the difference is that (I hope) I do not hurt anyone when I spend time with my ‘desi group’ – I’m not consciously excluding anyone – no non-desi I know has shown even a remote desire to join our group!

But the question remains – where do we draw the line? Is my friend perfectly justified in her own viewpoint? Am I making a big issue out of nothing? Or am I being apathetic and trying to talk my way out of a difficult situation? What do you think friends?

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23 responses to “Groupism – The next logical step?

  1. Not justified, I would say. And certainly not if the excluded friends are being excluded only because of a different religion or caste. Different people from different parts our country have varying religious perceptions and practices. My religion is all-inclusive. My God didn’t tell me to differentiate between people because they believe in another God perhaps.

    And then, isn’t it common to go wish your Muslims friend on Eid and your Christian friend on Christmas? It wouldn’t be very nice to be excluded from their celebration because you’re a Hindu.

  2. Hmm Tricky one..I don`t agree with your friend..I had a puja recently and called a couple of muslim friends and though they were a lil lost they certainly were not uncomfortable..but ultimately its the hostess` call-her house and her party..though I can relate to your dilemma-one feels one is somehow endorsing such views by being a part of such a party..only if life was not so complicated;-)

  3. I don’t like groupism at all. Particularly groupism based on religion or class or region. However some people are like that only, but not my closest friends. If I like to keep people out at times, it’s those who are nasty and bitchy.

  4. Though the hostess was wrong, she has a right to decide who all she wants in her guest list. However, she ought to be told sometime later that it was not a very good gesture, especially in pardes. Ghettoisation, groupism is common especially among immigrants and expatriates; but at the same time, but it should join rather than segregate.

  5. It’s true that it’s her party and she gets to decide who she calls! Your friends will eventually realise that (probably already do) that you are all – each of you, is different. Whenever there is an occasion, you make sure you call everybody you like, irrespective of religion etc. Your friend will see how much nicer it is to celebrate when everybody is included.
    If you feel there are others who feel the way you do about this elderly friend maybe a few of them could talk to her…though in these matters talking does not help.

  6. my first time here…
    Nicely written! you pretty much analyzed all possibilities!
    As far as desis hanging out with desis, yup it is the most comfortable and natural thing to do, as it is easier to relate to people from the same background. But if one hangs out ‘only’ with desis, then that shows a somewhat closed mind or a lack of enthusiasm for other cultures…

    Religious beliefs are subjective issues. So, is your friend completely justified?…I would say not completely…esp if the non-hindu friends feel bad about the situation.
    I have seen cases where my hindu friends have invited their non-hindu friends say for diwali celebrations, but the latter have felt very uncomfortable. So it all depends on both parties I guess. The right thing for a host to do would be to invite them and also let them know that they needn’t oblige if it felt uncomfortable…or if they are not invited at least to politely let them know why, so that they don’t feel ostracized…

  7. I’ve seen it here too. But the ones I’ve seen is based on the husband’s role in the office…which I find equally disgusting! People have come asking for me just cos my husband is a project manager ! And I was under the impression that all this happened only in Govt offices and their families!
    I dont think you have a say in who is included in her guest list. Unfortunately, we cannot change the way people think. We can only give them a perspective.

  8. Whoa! You guys are awesome, so many well-thought points of view – thanks friends!

    I agree D, it wouldn’t be nice at all. Which was my original point – but then I got to thinking, we are so quick to point out other’s prejudices, could it be that we are guilty of a different/milder form of the prejudice ourselves – and hence the post. But to get back to your point, I agree a 100%. And I am so envious of the pride and total faith you have in your own religion – I wish I could feel the same.

    Right on Aarti, if only…! And I truly admire your stance.

    You said it Nita – those are the people to avoid, but I rarely find the guts to exclude them either!

    Wise and succinct as well, Mampi AND IndianHomemaker! Yes, we plan to let her know our feelings in a sensitive way sometime. Lets see how it goes.

    Hi Jira, great to see you here and commenting! Exactly my thoughts – ‘Religious beliefs are subjective issues’ – which is why my dilemma. And yes, I would invite all my friends home but wouldn’t insist if someone felt uncomfortable. It’s difficult to judge such situations.

    You bet, it IS disgusting M! 😦

  9. Hi Devaki, first time commenting here.

    Nicely written, but a couple of things I’d like to point out:
    1. “….some desis in America who look down upon other desis spending time together…” I think the looking down part is for desis who spend time *exclusively* with other desis to the point of creating a bubble environment. They do exist.
    2. Your friend (the hostess) is wrong to not have invited other friends simply on the basis of their religion. I firmly believe in do unto others as you would have others do unto you. I’d hate to think that I wasn’t accepted because of my caste or religion or color or gender. I’d have thought you would have told the hostess (politely, no doubt) how you felt. You can’t make her do what you like, but you can give a better perspective on her actions.
    3. That being said, if I were you, I’d either (A) look for a new set of friends with beliefs more in line with my own or (B) if that was not possible, then start keeping a little emotional distance with this group because sooner or later this group is going to split causing a lot of hurt.

    I’m sorry my first comment on your blog has to sound so harsh. Its not directed at you believe me – its this whole groupism / clique-y environment thing that gets to me.

    Priya.

  10. Not at all Priya – I WAS looking for this sort of harsh and plain feedback – I really wanted to know what you guys think. And I am happy you gave me your honest opinion. Hmmm… lots of points to ponder over now. If I get a chance, I will let you know how it goes from here.

  11. Difficult question, that. I would simply throw another party to coincide with the weekend closest to this pooja, and to this party, i would invite EVERYONE. That hostess has the right to decide who she invites, and i have the right to decide for my house.

    We cannot decide the rights and wrongs of others. We are lucky if we can decide our own.

  12. Hi Devaki, I agree with Priya’s statement- I’ll quote an extreme example. I’m one of those who stays away from tight-knit desi groups coz I’ve seen terribe beaviour on display– people talking in their native tongue making offensive remarks about and in the presence of non-desis, asking ridiculously intrusive questions..Not every single person acts this way (and there are people from other countries who mimic this behaviour) but it’s definitely something I watch out for. Having said that, I don’t see how your friend was wrong- she was simply uncomfortable (to us- it’s for the wrong reason) and she probably tried to avoid the resulting unpleasantness had she invited everyone over. Is she justified? Absolutely! It’s just her opinion, after all, but sadly it’s for all the wrong reasons. Unless she consciously wants to snap out of her reverie herself, I feel no amount of telling her will help.

  13. This is so not done!

    I hate to know that so many of us, apparetly educated, intellegent world travellers still feel this way.

    If I were u, and my friend was doing it, i’d tell her she was completely wrong and shallow for doing this. Also, I hope the uninvited guests don’t take this to heart, its completely ur friend’s loss!

    If one is to take hinduism seriously, one has to know its inclusive, not exclusin\ve.
    The more people u upen ur heart to, more good karma you collect!

    Do try from ur end to make her see ur view point, it’ll be a noble thing to do.

    But u don’t really need to bunk the do even if she doesn’t change her mind.

  14. hi!

    lovely thought provoking post.

    The hostess does have the right to choose her own guest list.

    But I have only one query… in her holy texts where exactly does it say that someone from aonother religion may not watch the proceedings?

    Couldnt it have been simpler to ask the non hindu friends home just for dinner and not ask them to partake in the rituals (if any)?

    Dont we go into a church and stand or sit peacefully while the prayers are being said? They could have done much the same.

  15. It’s a tough situation to be in. I don’t support what your friend did. I think I would be upset if I get excluded from a group because of my religion or race or gender or color. She could have invited them for dinner and made them aware that there would be a pooja at the end of dinner and that they are free to not attend the pooja if it makes them uncomfortable. Not giving them the option to attend even the purely social aspect of the evening i.e. the dinner, is a bit mean spirited in my opinion.

  16. Happy Ganesh Chathurthi! Meant to wish you yesterday, but….
    I know it was a working day, but didi you manage to celebrate the festival ? Expected a post you know..(Yes. I’ve read ur other post on the same. Thatz why I want some more) ;-))

  17. My first time here as well and could not help but leave a comment since this post is after my own heart!
    The only reason I try not to be part of such desi groups is that these groups are very region/language/community centric.More often that not,a non-Kannada person in a predominantly say Telugu group finds himself totally out of place since the others seldom try and make an effort to include everyone present.It may not even be conscious.I guess it is natural that you switch to your local tongue with people from your hometown.I have seen it happen to extreme degrees and hence my reservations.
    About not inviting the non-Hindu friend,well,that’s plain wrong.No excuses here I am afraid.My arguments will be pretty much the same as everyone else so I have nothing new to articulate 🙂
    I totally understand your dilemma though.

  18. CW – You echo my live-and-let-live bleeding heart liberal self. 🙂 But my other crusader self is still outraged at the injustice! On a more serious note, you are probably right – a friend, especially one much younger to her, giving advice may not help.

    Yeah, not done! I agree, Chandni. Thanks for the sensible advice.

    I doubt if she has ever read a holy text before forming this opinion Pinku. Most of it is simply age-old prejudice, isn’t it?

    Hey, thanks Chakli! I will do a post on it – soon. 🙂 And it IS mean to exclude people like that, that’s my biggest (and shallow) issue with this whole thing…

    Wish you the same Akhila! Oh, I wish I could find the time to do the Ganesh Chaturthi post! This week is crazy! Not much of a celebration either. So which post did you read? I have two. 🙂

    Hi I Love Lucy! I have seen you around, at Snippet’s blog perhaps? Nice to see you here! And we all think pretty much the same looks like. Now if only people I meet outside the blogosphere were more like you guys! 🙂

  19. Hmmm…tough one. The answer would depend on how devout your Muslim/Christian friends are or how seriously they take their faith. If they are the devout kind, then it is probably not a good idea to invite them, even if it seems “regressive” or “exclusive” – reason being, that there’s a central tenet against idol-worship in Abrahamic religions, so if you invite them, they may not say no out of politeness, but then, will be uncomfortable (as some said) attending the religious ceremony. So while you may be thinking it’s liberal and progressive to be inclusive, in a way, it is also imposing your liberal/inclusive view on to your friends – a forced kind of liberalism, which they may not be comfortable with, or share in the first place.

    If they are not the devout kind who don’t firmly believe in the tenet of “no idol-worship,” then it would probably be fine to invite them.

    The best way is to ask them directly about this and their feelings – honesty is the best policy, instead of second-guessing and guilt-tripping oneself over what is liberal and what is not. Another way would be to ask them if they have attended a Hindu puja ceremony in the past, or see if they invite you over for their religious ceremonies.

    I personally am not a big fan of this “big brother” approach of forced inclusiveness in the name of liberalism that some Hindus have, and the eagerness they show to prove their progressive nature – though it is coming from a good place.

    If I were going to a steak house for dinner with some friends, I wouldn’t invite my vegetarian friend just in the name of inclusiveness or liberalism, would I? 🙂
    Doesn’t mean I’m being regressive – it’s just respecting the fact that he doesn’t eat meat and wouldn’t enjoy the trip.
    But I would definitely invite my vegetarian friend when I went to a vegetarian restaurant where I know for sure that he – and I – would have a good time. 🙂

    Just my two cents.

  20. That’s an interesting point of view Amit. I never thought of it that way. I doubt whether our hostess had this in mind when she made her decision, but you do have a point. I should keep this in mind if I ever host a religious function/party. And yes, if you think of it that way and exclude someone to spare their feelings, I won’t argue with you at all!

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