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The Indian Invasion Theory

The Indian Invasion Theory

June 29, 2013
You know something's up when American television notices you.

"Welcome back," said my friend a few months ago. I had returned to the US after four years. "Things are different here now. There are Indian characters all over television!"

This is definitely not the America I used to know. Something happened here in the four years I was gone. I had moved to America in 1999 as an undergraduate student, and I had gone on to live here for ten years. A lot of things happened in that time - MP3 music, Ricky Martin, and the War on Terror. I left America a few days after the country's first Black vaguely-Muslim/Arab-sounding president won the election. I was a Muslim but most Americans didn't realise it because I looked very Indian. I was almost grateful - Indians were invisible in those days. India was the new Switzerland - neutral, inoffensive, safe. Mine was the golden passport. The only Indian person most Americans were familiar with then was Appu, the character from "The Simpsons." "Thank you, come again." A handful of Americans had heard of this new thing called "Bollywood," and all the college kids were very curious about the Kamasutra and "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle," but for the most part, the Indian community in America was benign.

Boy, has that changed.

There is definitely one Indian person hovering around somewhere on every major television show. For someone who has just returned to the US after being away for a few years, it's startling. It's startling to be noticed. Indian people are what gay men were to American television in the 2000s - they are the new super-hit formula! They are to American television what "No. 1" was to Akshay Kumar and Govinda was to David Dhawan.

My first few months back in the US I had got into the habit of calling out any Indian person I saw on television (it could've worked as a drinking game). Raj and Priya in "The Big Bang Theory," Timmy in "Rules of Engagement," Tom in "Parks and Recreation," Abed in "Community," Kevin in "How I Met Your Mother," Jonathan on "30 Rock." A girl on "Community" once gushed about handsome, Indian doctors, and in one episode, the cast of "Rules of Engagement" performed a Bollywood-style dance. Raj, who has the most authentic Indian accent on television, keeps dropping references to India in an otherwise thoroughly White American show. I almost jumped when he moped about being on an H1B work visa. Been there!

Television advertisements have also started featuring more than their usual share of Indian-looking models. I've almost stopped feeling surprised at the presence of an Indian-looking person in any group of racially diverse models being marketed as the typical American customers. I remember one Indian fellow in a pizza chain commercial - he even had lines! Vonage had dedicated one whole commercial to a middle-aged Indian lady who happily trilled "Abbhi Na Jaao Chhorhkar" as she talked about how she used Vonage's international calling service to keep in touch with her mom in India. I now find waxing and threading parlours in mainstream malls - since when did people in America start doing their eyebrows and upper lips!? Regular movie theaters like the AMC where I live in St. Louis carry Hindi movies almost every week. Last week they were showing Yamla Pagla Deewana 2. What! I'd spent over a year in Delhi before returning to America, and I feel like I am still there!

All this might not mean anything to you unless you understand that America is a very television-oriented society. Trends on television get absorbed into regular society very quickly, and some people treat their favourite fictional characters as real people. They feel for them, they root for them, they buy a lot (a LOT) of their merchandise. Some people even want to BE like them. To many people, television is reality; people learn about the world - what is right, what is wrong, what is acceptable - through television. As a medium, television reflects the society it arises from.

I wonder what all of this means for the Indian community in America. They have obviously reached some sort of tipping point. Maybe the first couple of American-born generations have found their footing in this country. Maybe Indian people represent some sort of important consumer bloc here.

When I first came to the US, most Americans used to hear "Indian" and think "Native-American." I think that's changing now. A few weeks ago, an old, White American couple from a very small town came in to see my husband at the hospital where he works, and they were delighted to discover that he was from India. "Like Raj!" they said. "He says "indeed" a lot - do you say it too?"


  • The NRI
    The NRI
    04.07.13 03:08 AM
    I would like to remind readers that we will not tolerate personal attacks on our writing team. If you have a point of view that is at variance with an individual author then you can either

    a. Put forward your counter argument in the comments column but without making personal references to said author; or

    b. Go and find another site to follow

    Such cowardly behaviour is all very easy when you are hiding behind the anonymity of an online screen name - not a privilege the author enjoys. In the past I have let things slide, but no more.

    If you are unsure whether this message is aimed at you, I will make sure to let you know the next time you step out of line.

    03.07.13 11:59 PM
    The only thing that I can say about most yanks, they live in a bubble (dream world).

    I think Naina has valid points when it comes to US.

    Last, US TV has run out of people that they can laugh at, therefore we are the new Chavs. And if you watch that sort of TV, you have bad taste in TV.
  • Rajpriya
    03.07.13 11:35 AM
    Nevertheless in the sense that ducks cannot “Talk like a Lady nor Walk like a Lady” you make your point very clear. Well Ducks at least don't practice exhibitionism and they would never suffer from NPD.

    There are Dons who think they have Keys to wisdom when they try joining the Horses’ family. However, soon we know they are so different when they bray because they can’t Neigh.

    The story is more of an announcement of an Indian moving to the US with so much written but nothing really said.

    That was one of the worst videos I have ever seen. I will never forgive you for making me go through such a horrible ordeal.
  • Naina
    03.07.13 10:18 AM
    I was also surprised by the statement “I was a Muslim but most Americans didn’t realize it because I looked very Indian”. The underlying attitude is not very commendable.
    Khadija was born in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh in India. She was raised in Muscat, Oman, in the Midde East. She spent her 20s in America and a brief period in Canada. Then she went back home to Oman and India to figure out where home was.” Maybe she started acquiring Arab identity? And since most Arabs are muslims, she wanted to be recognized as muslim?
    She has a photo of herself as well as a video of her parents playing caroms - check website
    The video has background music from Satte Pe Satta, a Hindi film ( released in 1982 ), featuring Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini and others. Clearly Khadija is oozing with Indianness! Just looking at these pictures, one will conclude that she and her family are from India. If a person looks like a duck, talks like a duck, and walks like a duck, then that person is a duck!
  • Rajpriya
    03.07.13 08:24 AM
    Your comment: Short and sweet you judge the Indians better than those Indians who judge Indians. Crossing the Indian border gives them so much of a superior feeling.

    With so many Indians dying to be in the US of A, it’s no surprise 4 years later being in America one get the feeling you are back in India. With me being Raj and Priya rolled into one do have my own Big Bang Theory.

    With this article throwing so many references to India and Indians I have strange feeling that an Indian mentality could never be changed but continues to see India everywhere in America.

    I read somewhere that it is better to conceal one’s knowledge than to repeatedly reveal one’s ignorance. However the invading Indians cannot give up the habits they are born with.

    I really do not understand what the following statement really means.

    “I was a Muslim but most Americans didn’t realise it because I looked very Indian”.

    A true Muslim would never want to look or be seen as something different. Yes! Indians were invisible those days. It was because Photoshop and social media were invented much later and boosting one’s ego became so easy.

    The Invisible Indians were attractive in many ways with out making any deafening efforts of drum beating similar to that at Edgbaston, UK recently. However, it helps Indians win Trophies on foreign soil.

    Does any one know the difference between being an Indian Doctor and being his wife in America? While the Doctors work hard the wives go looking for everything that's Indian.

    I happen to watch a Sri Lankan movie called “Banda Comes to Town” long time ago. Indeed! This article provides the same kind of Humor.
  • Naina
    30.06.13 03:33 AM

    What you failed to recognize is that the 'Indians' who are being 'noticed' are different from the "invisible" Indians of "those days" . The earlier invisible Indians were highly skilled, highly educated first generation Indian immigrants who were highly disciplined (by Indian standards)to pursue their chosen avocation without much fanfare. The ones that are in the limelight now are second generation ethnics, who had their schooling and upbringing in the USA. Naturally, they don't have the kind of inhibitions that characterized their parents. And, they are just following the "American" way of life.


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