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?