Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Desi Culture Today

I've been reading this book titled "Desis in the House" which I had hoped would provide some interesting insights into the New York Desi scene. I've only been to NYC once, but everything I've heard about the Indian community in that metro area and the general community there leads me to believe that what I'm used to in Desi culture may be quite different in NY. The book had been a recommendation on Not Really Indian so I gave it a chance. Sorry to say that I'm having a hard time finishing. While I may end up finishing the entire read, I doubt I'll find much to like about it. To be honest, even after reading this far in, I'm still not sure of what the author is trying to prove (as in What's her Point??)

I had expected the author to relate anecdotal experiences from interviews back to her own studies in anthropology and the South Asian Diaspora. I had expected the author to try to make sense of what she heard while interviewing desi parties regulars. Something as vibrant as Desi Culture in a city as energetic as NYC couldn't be turned into a pedantic lecture, could it? OF COURSE IT CAN. While I'm far from done reading this study, I don't think I've really gotten anything out of it. The author has brought up some interesting questions about the place of desis in a White/Caucasian & Black/African-American world. She's also brought up the topic of Indian gender roles and how they've reared their head in today's NYC. But instead of writing something meant to help readers understand themselves (or the desi community) better, she's taken this opportunity to write a 200 page anthro research paper. Those topics she brought up have been drowned in jargon and citations. The author has taken more time citing other anthro research and how it could be applied to her work than actually trying to relate what she has learned from her interviews and from her own experiences. As the author loves to use the term "remix", I'll apply it to her study...she's remixed the studies of many other people, adding in a sampling of interviews, and come up with something relating to the NYC club desi experience. The problem is she has focused too much on the terminology and methodology rather than the experience itself.

I've already mentioned what I had expected from this book, so I should also mention that if the author intended to write an exacting journal paper, then more power to her. However, my personal recommendation on this is to not bother. There are many other studies out there so I would suggest looking at those. If you really want to wade through the jargon found in this study, then more power to you.

On a related matter. I don't know if this is the author's doing, the editor's, or the publisher's, but even though this book is all about anthro studies and jargon, the titles throughout the book - chapters, sections, even the book itself - are very casual. Such titles pulled me in since they're quite enticing, but the content itself is quite different. I mean, who would't be pulled in by titles like "Desis in the House" and "To Be Young, Brown, and Hip." If anyone succeeded, it's the marketing department.

To end...I'm going to give this study two more chances. I'll be reading through the next few sections. If delving deeper into the pit changes my mind, I'll be honest and show you the egg on my face. I really do want to get more out of this book, if nothing else, because I paid $20 for it! For now, you're looking at a skeptic.

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