Our funny bone seems to have become something of a bone of contention going by the reaction of residents of Indian origin in Edison, New Jersey. Writing for Time magazine, Joel Stein expressed his candid sentiments on returning to his hometown after a considerable period to find it overrun by Indians. His amusing remarks about how the town could not even coin an insult beyond dot heads to describe Indians and references to spicy food seem to stick in the gullet of our brethren in the US. Living for so long in a country where making fun of people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds does wonders for television ratings, it’s surprising that our compatriots should be so anal about a few jokes on them.
Why do we feel so insecure if people talk about our eight-armed goddesses or elephant gods? Let’s be honest, it is a bit outré in other cultures. If at all we must react when others take the mickey out of us, we should do so in kind instead of getting our loincloths in such a righteous twist. The inability to see things funny side up seems ingrained in our psyche. It is wonder that after so many years of being ruled by the Brits, some of their ability to see humour in all people and situations has not rubbed off on us though other less desirable traits have. The Queen may have said ‘we are not amused’ but the Brits spare no one in their savage satire and wit. The Queen mother’s fondness for a drop or two of gin and racehorses kept stand-up comedians in business for years.
Can’t quite see jokes about, say, President Pratibha Patil’s fondness for communing with spirits see people rolling the aisles here unless they want a few days in the cooler under some obscure act on insulting the nation. Now many may accuse Stein of prejudice and rightly so. But when it comes to biases, we have them in all shapes, sizes and colours. Scratch any of us and you’ll find a healthy disdain for people who are not ‘like us’. The Bongs don’t like the Marwaris, the Mallus don’t like the Tamils, the Oriyas don’t like Biharis and the Kashmiris hate everyone. It would be a good idea to vent your spleen through some acerbic humour than sitting around simmering with resentment. Indians should welcome these attacks on them in the US, at least we count enough to merit a bit of healthy prejudice. Let’s lighten up a bit. Have you heard this one? An Indian walks into a bar in Jackson Heights with a penguin… Maybe another time when we feel a little more like letting our hair down.