When I first came to the U.S., Americans asked me about that “dot on the forehead.” Now, Madonna wears a bindi. Bollywood borrows Hollywood plotlines (well, two or three for one three-hour film). Now, the Kronos Quartet reinterprets Bollywood composer R.D. Burman. Birthday cards are reproducing old kitschy Indian matchbox covers. Body-hugging T-shirts worn by gay guys in the Castro say “San Francisco” in Devnagari script. There are even Bollywood appreciation classes at universities. My kitsch has become their cool.
Of course, not everything has been alchemized into cool. My big, fat Indian wedding might be hot (“I want one,” a gay man with a Southern accent told me at my neighborhood lesbian bar while sipping a sweet cocktail), but it doesn’t mean the Indian cabdriver, the 7/11 clerk or the Gujarati storeowner are any more acceptable.
Our Krishnas and curries are now public property to be sampled, remixed, chewed up and spat out as millions of cookie-cutter lunch boxes. (Probably Made in China).
It almost makes me nostalgic for the old days when people came up to me and said, “You are from Calcutta? My doctor is Indian. Dr. Harry Patel. I think he’s from that other big city—Bombay?” And they would pause expectantly, as if waiting for me to recognize Dr. Patel. Now, they want to know what restaurant I would recommend in the Bay Area for “authentic Indian food, you know, a hole-in-the-wall place where Indians go, not your white-people-Maharaja-Thali stuff.”
And I am wondering, do I want to tell you?
—Sandip Roy, “My Kitsch is Their Cool,” Colorlines
(Image Credit: Colorlines)