eat and leave, while
we women find ourselves cajoled into staying the whole time, wearing
traditional itchy dresses, and struggling to maintain fresh lipstick
at all times. Above all else, many of these gatherings follow the
same, predictable format:
Though recently we have seen great reform in Desi standard time
policies, in many parts of the country, the standards have not changed.
This means that if we are invited to a party at 6:30 p.m., we show
up no earlier than 8:00 p.m.
Warning: Showing up early is usually awkward!
Once, I attempted to actually show up on time to a 6:00 p.m. dinner
invitation and found my host opening the door with a towel in her
hair, while her husband was frying the last of the samosas.
As I awkwardly sat in the living room flipping through a Reader’s
Digest from 1997, the family got ready, finished cleaning their
house, bathing their kids, and hiding their ready-made samosa
bags. I vowed never to show up on time again.
The Small Talk
After an initial set of greetings and hugs, a customary round of
compliments go around the room, with each aunty complimenting the
other’s outfit/jewelry/shoes in a sort of self-enforcing "support
group" manner. Usually, such compliment sessions branch into
mini-arguments of who looks better or has better clothes.
After the support-group behavior subsides—though it usually
continues sporadically until the end of the evening—Desi dinner
party conversations usually fall within a narrow band of subjects:
Recipes for South Asian dishes
Detailed Bollywood gossip
South Asian fashions
Women X's scandalous daughter who married Y
Women Z’s scandalous son who decided to drop pre-med and become
South Asian cricket teams
Warning to unmarried girls: Vulnerables like you
(and me!) are prime targets in these arenas. We brace ourselves
for relentless comments on weight…
Are beti, tum kitni moti hogayi ho?
(Oh daughter! How fat you have become!)
Allah, tum kitni dubli ho gayi ho! AB tum achi
(Lord! How skinny you have become, NOW you look good)
Uh thanks for implying I looked bad before?
Or comments on our skin or complexions…
Tumhara library mein padte padte rang gora
(From sitting in the library and studying so much you have gotten
so fair, thank God!)
Can we not thank God that I passed my first semester of law school?
ARRE! Tumhare moon peh kyaa nikla hai!?
(Oh my! What is this thing on your face?)
Any minute pimple?
…and finally, comments on how 1) if unmarried, you should
get married 2) if married and childless, you should have a child
or 3) if you have a child over 15, you should start thinking about
that child’s marriage.
If you are a girl, you should sit through all talks
with a serene smile on your face. Never look bored, and God help
you, NEVER question the Bollywood fact exchange (unless you have
been spending four hours or more a day watching Zee TV, too). From
watching my male relatives, I have realized that if you are a boy,
it is usually acceptable for you to go into another room and play
with the host's six-year-old son's PlayStation. Or, you can simply
eat, excuse yourself saying "I have to study," compliment
the food, and leave. If you are a girl, usually saying "I have
to study" will result in a lecture on how it is more important
for you to "expose yourself to society" and "meet
people”— all of which implies that finding a suitable
boy trumps studying.
Khana (Food) Rules
Food. The beginning, middle and end of all Desi parties. From the
delicate serving of punch at the beginning, to the samosa
appetizers, onto heaps of biryani (flavored rice dish)
and buttery naan (flat bread), topped off with sugar-saturated
sweets, puddings and deserts, ending with heavily creamed chai
(tea) and a final, much-needed digestion aid—sawf.
1. Men must be served first.
The concept of "ladies first" is simply nonexistent at
a Desi dinner party. Who cares that children are crying in the "women’s
section?” It doesn't matter that they have been slaving in
their kitchens since 5:00 a.m. Men will always eat first. They will
typically say "Bhabhi, khana bahut acha hai"
(“Sister, the food is great”), and heap their plates,
not giving a second thought to the intricately decorated biryani,
the flower cut radishes, or the color coordinated Lennox China presentation.
Their main goal is to return to talking about Israel. By the time
the women get to the food, it has splashed all over the tablecloth,
the seven layer pudding is now mush, and it’s time to start
washing the men's dishes and serving them tea.
2. If the host has a daughter, she will inevitably
"Beta, tumne kya banaya?" (“Daughter, what
did you cook?”). It doesn't matter if you are 10 or 20; a
med student or on a traveling soccer team; if you cleaned the house
all day, or shined the silverware; if you polished the leaves on
the fake plant or if you made the salad. If you didn't partake in
the cooking of the Desi food you will hear: “Arre! Jawan
beti hone ka phir kya faida hua!” (“Oh my! Then
what is the point of having a grown-up daughter?!”)
To this, I usually think: “I have been up
since 8:00 a.m. mopping the floor that you have now chosen to scratch
with your three-inch heels. I will be staying up until 12:00 a.m.—after
you leave—washing the 100-piece Lennox crystal set my parents
chose to use—which is not dishwasher safe—and
I will manage to ace my law school final tomorrow.
In reality I say with a nervous giggle, “Uhh..errr...Aunty...I
...uh...cut the vegetables.”
Aunty walks away shaking her head, and I add a
big red pepper to her biryani—sweet revenge.
3. If you don't eat for three, the host will be
offended (and other etiquette)
A. If you want more food, say you don’t and people will put
spoonfuls more on your plate anyway.
B. If you are a younger woman, and are—God
forbid—unmarried, your female relatives will collectively
sigh, raise their eyebrows and mention how the girls in Pakistan
are just so skinny these days while you add another heaping spoonful
of basmati rice onto your plate. Never go for seconds; instead,
wait for the host to ask you if you want more food, kindly decline
so you save face, and wait for the host to give you the food anyway.
C. If you don’t want any more food, put a
napkin on your plate to prevent the host from putting more in. Extremely
pushy hosts might make you a new plate, so beware. (Note: Napkins
are extremely good for covering the food you need to throw away—of
course food should be thrown away in emergency situations only.)