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Subtle Curry Politics

Written by Shayari Devbarman

October 11th, 2020

The year 2019 saw a unifying development for Asians all around the world. Curry kids – as the younger millennials and GenZ from Southeast Asia call themselves – came together to form a group called ‘Subtle Asian Traits’ on several social media platforms. It promised solidarity through expression of shared cultural experiences. I was amused to see that another twenty something year old Asian living in the UK had experienced the same reaction from their parents on trivialities such as leaving the lights on when the room was not in use. With thousands of likes and comments on the posts, it was clear that the group provided a sense of belongingness to a large but disconnected group.

As what usually happens in real life with large groups, smaller virtual groups with more culturally distinct identities started branching out and gaining traction. The Facebook group ‘Subtle Curry Traits’, catering mostly to the Indian communities, had an exponential increase in the number of virtual eyes it was attracting. With memes on arranged marriages, frugal parents, high expectations, and engineering lifestyles circulating all over, residential Indians connected with the diaspora for the first time at such a large scale. A group, which usually oscillated from being insecure about their Indianness to trying to decolonize their minds, finally acknowledged their flaws and accepted their identity proudly through humour. As a community of young Indians identified ourselves as more progressive in our thought process than our parents on issues such as love, career choices and on how the world should function. For a while, I was satisfied with the group’s posts taking up most of the virtual real estate on my feed.

Example of a typical meme on the Subtle Curry Traits page

November 2019

The announcement of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the Modi Government  ruffled feathers of the entire country. Protests across the country, a large portion of which was led by students, alleged that the Act was discriminatory on grounds of religion and economic class. As the police intervention aided by the state spiralled further, more and more student communities started paying the brunt of expressing their views against the implementation of CAA. Following the steady decline of the situation and non-resolution of the issues, I turned to the Facebook group to find people who I could share my frustrations with.

Did I miss out on the posts on CAA?

I scanned the entire group for some prompt by any of the members on the turmoil which gripped the country, but it seemed like I was in a bubble where the CAA did not exist. Disappointed and wary, I granted them the benefit of doubt – that maybe I was too involved in the entire debate and it was not the case for the rest of the world.

Statement from the Subtle Curry Traits admin on the CAA protests.

February 2020

With tensions exponentially rising and culminating in the Delhi pogrom, Indian student bodies from Ivy Leagues like MIT also raised their concerns on the effects of CAA. This gave me hope as it disproved my earlier theory of me living in a bubble, divorced from the rest of the world. I went to check for some sort of a post on the literal and figurative fires in North East Delhi to be disappointed again.

Were they still not aware of the riots that led to all hells breaking loose?

The sanctity of social and religious fabric was being desecrated day by day with communal tensions rising. Hell, even John Oliver covered the topic on Last Week Tonight.

Surely, they would have heard about the clashes. Did it not matter to them? Was this not a shared experience that they wanted to discuss?

The silence on the group became deafening as I came to realize that maybe we are not as connected to our diaspora as I would have liked to imagine. I blamed it on the format of the group. Memes on such issues would not be ideal, I thought. Maybe everyone comes to this group to forget about the same issues, I reasoned. But still, I kept coming back, hoping that maybe today there would be an acknowledgment of the most important political movement of our times.

This unease led me to ask questions which were pertinent to my sense of belongingness to the group. I was feeling more and more distanced from the content being generated. Yes, I chuckled at the latest memes on Bollywood, Cricket and “Go Corona Go”, but was our connection just based on humour off the peculiarities of being an Indian? 

The largely apolitical silence that ensued on police brutality in the Jeyaraj-Fenix case, the migrant deaths during COVID, the equivocal nature of PM Cares fund made me question whether the diaspora is really in touch with the reality of being Indian in India. The convenient complacency went against the very foundation on which the group was formed – shared experiences of Indians. For a group claiming to be far more progressive and easy-going, the ease with which we side-stepped these discussions needed to be unravelled.

Feeling that the platform was the issue, I ventured to Instagram to look at what the Indian influencers were doing. One specific post which went viral was by an Indian origin British influencer Kamya. Kamya touches on the questions raised on Modi participating in the Ram Mandir bhoomi puja by condemning the ‘woke liberals’ for perpetuating ‘Hinduphobia’. While undoubtedly biased and misinformed, at least she used her social currency to create a dialogue on an Indian issue. Other influencers were quick to post about Juneteenth and Black Lives Matter, but few if any addressed the tensions in India. It was clear, they are willingly silent.

It is understandable that the diaspora would be more involved with the socio-political ethos of their country of habitation as they walk the tightrope of having complex ideas on belongingness. A lot of my NRI friends concur that they feel more at home in the airport lounges which promises them a hope of reaching a home they have always been looking for. This cultural dislocation reminded me of Ila from The Shadow Lines. Stuck in a complex intersection of cultural upbringing, none of her family members are able to understand her. She finds herself both exoticized by her relatives and made to feel insecure by her peers in London. 

The Indian diaspora seem to feel that there is this pressure on social media to address every single issue that plagues their country of residence. With the cancel culture climate in full swing, one wrong word would lead to an enraged fan base. As a fallout, they try to stay away from the political and embrace the cultural. 

However, is it not odd that verified influencers who talk about their love for Diljit Dosanjh songs post about their support for BLM and Juneteenth but not their Indian equivalent? Isn’t the cultural inherently intertwined with the political? Is this identity of being brown a fetishized one? Perhaps the disconcerting conclusion to this all is that our entire sense of connection with the diaspora was based on frivolous superficialities, not a resilient bond of what it really meant to be Indian. 

Experience Further: Although written to introduce the world to Lennon’s philosophical musings, ‘Nowhere Man’ captures the rootlessness of the diaspora. Lennon’s reinforcement of “Isn’t he a bit like you and me?” can be interpreted as the diaspora being a mirror image of the Indian community and yet not the original. Doesn’t have a point of view/Knows not where he’s going to/Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”

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Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

Kartik Sundar- Founder

Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

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We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture through investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society

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