Confessions and Questions of a New Blogger

I feel pretty new to the world of blogging, and still find myself having to google and wikipedia unfamiliar terms. Just for laughs, I thought I’d share some of the more obvious terms which baffled me when I first started:

Bangla

How could I not pick the meaning of this one right? It came up in one of the first comments on my blog. I considered answering with the question “what’s bangla?”, but decided I better google it first in case the answer was really obvious and I came across as the most ignorant intercultural blogger in the virtual universe.

Am hoping I have enough virtual street cred now to admit to this without it destroying my rep 🙂 I AM culturally aware, I swear I am!!

Desi

I’ve never heard/seen the word ‘desi’ used outside the online world. Before I started reading Desi-Link blogs, I’d only ever heard the word ‘bidesi/videsi’, which means ‘foreigner’ in my parents’ language. But as it’s not an everyday word, and hardly holds any currency when you’re living in bedesh itself (unless you want to go around calling everything and everyone bedesi), my parents never used this word at home and I heard it for the first time in South Asia. It never occurred to me that it might be linked to the word desi when I first saw desi online. Thank goodness Google is around to tell me what desi means, hey?

Still, even after I knew the meaning of both terms, it took a few months for the link between ‘desi’ and ‘bedesi’ to click, which actually happened very recently (hence this post). I’m comfortable with the knowledge that I’m not the most linguistically talented individual, but c’mon brain…it’s such an obvious connection. (Indeed, despite knowing ‘desi’ and ‘bidesi’, I still had to google ‘pardesi’ when I first came across it a couple of months ago).

Ironically, just like the word ‘bedesi’ (foreigner) seems to have more meaning and use in one’s home country, I get the feeling ‘desi’ is a word used more outside of South Asian than inside it…? Given the region is so linguistically, culturally and religiously diverse (not to mention politically fraught), this pan-subcontinental identity doesn’t really make sense until you’re taken right out of context, and commonalities take on more meaning than differences (at least for some) as you try to make yourself feel at home in bedesh. (…?)

I’m not sure how widely desi is used in Australia. I’ve certainly never heard it used amongst my family or friends. Those friends who do identify strongly with their South Asian heritage are more likely to come out and say “I’m India” or “I’m Fijian-India” (etc.). So I’m curious to know…does anybody actually use this term in conversation in Australia or elsewhere? Or is it a word that tends to be thrown around more online, where we do need shorthands for defining identity, blogging context, subject matter and so on?

ABCD

I never paid much attention to this term, assuming it was a variant of ABC – Australian Born Chinese – when I first saw it. But it kept coming up in the intercultural blogging sphere, even when no ABCs were involved, and imagine my shock when I discovered it stands for Australian (or American) Born Confused Desi. I mean, why are you automatically labelled as confused if your parents are South Asian, but not if your parents are East Asian? or white? I was as confused as any teen growing up, but I never linked it to my parents’ cultural background. Because that’s what growing up and life and existence is all about, for anyone, from anywhere – sorting out who you are. (In fact, some would say this existential and self-reflexive aspect to human existence is what distinguishes us from animals, at least to our knowledge…confusion regarding identity is hardly exclusive to South Asians, it’s a distinguishing factor of our humanity).

That said, I do understand the need to identify with others like you, to find a community for yourself (because we are social beings, and community is central way of finding ourselves), and to have a language which lets you readily share you pain and your joys to somebody who immediately understands, because they too have South Asian parents, what you’re going through.

Again I am curious – does anybody out there actually consider themselves to be an ABCD? Is there something about having South Asian parents that gives a distinctively desi spin on existential confusion?

And a shout-out to a reader -The Ideal Indian Woman?

Until a reader commented on this blog under the name Bharatiya Nari, I’d never heard this phrase. Initally I thought it was your actual name! Then I saw a few unseemly google searches referencing the ‘name’ (nothing unusual – most of the search hits this blog gets are from unseemly search terms), and I realised there was much more meaning to it than I’d first assumed. After a brief stint on Google, I’ve come up with “woman”, “good Indian wife”, even some articles about feminism and hardcore rightwing Hindu mens’ rights stuff. Is ‘woman’ just synonymous with ‘good wife’ in India? Is this phrase/ideal common in most Indian languages? I should probably do my research but I’m gonna be lazy and ask if somebody knows what this phrase means (or at least what it means to you), and why it appears in such wide-ranging subject matter? Your thoughts are much appreciated!

At the end of the day…

I’m hoping I’m not alone in this, and I’d love to know what ‘new’ terms you guys have come across in your blogging adventures (including reading and commenting). There’s this entire vocabulary out there to help frame certain experiences through the lens of culture (especially when it comes to migrant/intercultural/second gen stuff). And as I’ve already said, having a language which helps express your experiences in a shared idiom goes a long way in doubling the joy, halving the pain and feeling less isolated when things seem tough.

I can’t say I will ever own the term desi myself though…it seems to confer this really strong sense of identity which I can’t/don’t/won’t relate to. The phrase South Asian (which I prefer and use in this blog) is just as generalising, but in my mind it points more to heritage than identity, and is less prescriptive and presumptive. At the very least, saying “I have South Asian parents” doesn’t automatically imply that I’m confused!

I am not confused thank you very much…only when it comes to desi words and phrases 😉

13 Comments

Filed under Adolescence, Blogging, Cultural Difference

13 responses to “Confessions and Questions of a New Blogger

  1. lkafle

    you are a true blogger I admire you much

  2. americanepali

    I have the sense that Nepalis don’t really use “desi” in the same way that Indians and Pakistanis do. I didn’t really know “desi” (or “gori” for that matter) until I started blogging and getting more connected to the online “desi/pardesi” community because none of the Nepalis I knew ever used those words.

    • I think so too…though I’ve never heard any Indians use desi here either (except for online). Gori is definitely one of those words which carries a very specific meaning in the blogosphere (except I was never confused about that one!). I’ve never heard any white DILs being called ‘gori’ by family members – in my (limited) experience, people tend to say “my bhuwari is from Canada/Australia/America” and so on – i.e. they don’t use such a generalising term for a close family member. Usually in everyday conversation gori means fair skinned and hence beautiful South Asian girl (and it’s used more as an adjective than a noun…? OK, now I’m getting pedantic). And also, maybe in Nepali ‘khuire’ is more commonly used to refer to white people? When people do use gori/gora to refer to westerners (i.e. as a general group, not when describing their white family members), I often feel like it can be a bit derogatory. It’s interesting how the word seems to have taken on a whole new life and meaning in the blogosphere… I guess similar questions can be asked about identifying as ‘gori’ as they can about identifying as ‘desi’.

  3. lkafle

    hehe true , we nepalese use the term “Bideshi” (Foreigner) instead of Deshi but its similar

  4. Pardesi – I didn’t google coz I’m lazy lol. I got lucky and it was paired with desi so I deducted that it means ‘not desi’ lol. I google a lot though, or ask hubby because I get comments from Indians and I’m not that hip to the culture yet lol. It’s fun to learn, isn’t it?!

  5. Interesting post taswin !
    Regarding ABCD, like I had once said in a post, the first time I’d heard it was after about a couple years in the US, after which I saw it used/referred to in many Indian-American type movies. I haven’t ever seen someone refer to themselves as an ABCD, but that could be because the sort of negative connotation the word carries, and no-one likes negative labels. However, I have seen/heard plenty of people refer to some kids as ABCD’s, mainly to distinguish them from Indian kids from India in a discussion.

    Desi – I too had never heard this term used when in India, the first time I heard it was in the US. I dunno about the Nepali community’s usage of it, but definitely in the Indian-pakistani-shrilankan circles this is very widely used. I think the thing is, that people from these south asian countries, met in a foreign land, and could relate better to each other than to the locals, and hence wanted a word to identify themselves as a group, rather than along country lines. AS far as this word is concerned, I’ve heard it being used plenty of times , I’ve used it myself, in routine conversation like, that’s a desi dominated neighborhood, or something. So atleast in the US, I’ve seen/heard many people actually use it, and it’s not just an online thing.
    I dunno why, but I haven’t seen it in a negative sort of way. You are right that south asian can do the job just as well as desi can, but maybe this is a difference of opinion because of being raised in different parts of the world, the word south asian doesn’t have familarity, any closeness, it sounds very clinical, very political, very politically correct, and more like a term given by a westerner, than our own. Desi, is a word that has roots in Hindi a south asian language, so maybe that’s why people find it more endearing than any other term.

    Bharatiya Nari – Hmmm, interesting that you’d never heard that term before, growing up in India, there’s no way to escape this and other such terms that stereotype women into brackets. The actual term is ‘Adarsh Bharatiya Nari’ which means ‘Ideal Indian Woman’. I dunno if woman= just wife, but I think in India it rather means, woman= either daughter, sister, wife, mother. She has to fit into one of those brackets. I think that phrase exists, but mostly in those type of shows/books/movies/articles/what have you, that try to fit women into outdated stereotypes, in a rapidly eveolving world. I don’t see any woman ever owning that phrase, including me, or anyone I know, nor do I see people even referring someone by that phrase…for eg ‘There goes the Adarsh Bharatiya Nari’..LOL…no, nobody really says that, it would be hilarious. I think it righly appears on rightwing stuff, because that is where it belongs, because only those who are super-conservative, and want to hold on desperately to an archaic definition of what is an Ideal Indian woman, would wanna use it, and label someone with it, most actual Bharatiya Nari’s (Indian women) have pretty much ignored it largely.

    Overall, I liked this post, because being a very new blogger myself, I too have come across references/words/phrases, etc which have been somewhat new to me, but somehow, now that you have asked to list them, I can’t think of any, but will come back and post if I do remember them, to me that was one of the best aspects of blogging/reading blogs, that is to understand new frames of references, new dimensions of thoughts, previously unknown to me.

    • Thanks for the comment Anjali! Very thoughtful 🙂
      You’re right re south asian, it is a cold phrase and has none of the familiarity that desi probably has to desi language speakers (damn my persistent political correctness…I was about to write “subcontinental language speakers”, but thought the better of it ;)) And it kinda makes me realise, I’d never used the phrase “south asian” to describe anything, until I started using it to describe my parents on this blog, just cos I felt that it would help me keep things that more anonymous.
      I would love to read you list of new words/phrases – learning them is definitely one of the fun things about blogging! One of my issues is that I keep seeing words/issues through the lens of english and/or issues that are common here in Australia. When I first saw ‘bangla’ for instance, the only word/meaning I could think of was ‘bangles’!! And when I first googled Bharatiya Nari, it came up on those feminist websites and was referred to as an impossible ideal, so I actually thought the term meant Indian feminist (I had picked up on Bharat = India), and was referencing a whole set of issues re being feminist and expanding choices for middle class women…e.g. juggling career with mothering/family responsibility in an overtly patriarchal context, which is the kind of issue that comes up for women here over and over again (except it’s a different, and perhaps more subtle, type of patriarchy in Australia). Anyway, I was obviously projecting my own views on the phrase and totally missed the point and context of those articles – which must happen a lot when I read blogs with unfamiliar terms, new frames of references and new dimensions of thought (you put it very nicely!). It was only after I googled it again to double check I was on the right track while I wrote this post, that I realised the meaning was more akin to ‘(ideal) Indian woman’. Thanks for clarifying 🙂

  6. lkafle

    grand references examples elaborative thanks

  7. O

    Hey

    I could be wrong but I think both abcd and desi are north American terms and are not particularly used in australia.

    I actually thought you had written bangle so I thought what’s to understand… But perhaps the word has something to do with bengali? I don’t know in what context the word was used..

  8. intercultured

    I find most of these terms very over-used all over blogosphere. Before I had any interest in blogs or indo/western relationships, I didn’t even know such words.

    I’ve never heard any Indian referring to other people as desi/gora/etc. in the real world.

    Not to mention, some of these terms are very disturbing, in a way they categorize people with little/no political correctness.

    For example ABCD is not even funny. Confused? With what? Having parents born in a different country than you, is not a crime, or a reason to be confused. Doesn’t even make sense.

    • Exactly 🙂
      Having parents born in a different country to you does not make you confused. Having parents with different values – or even having to juggle differing values for yourself – doesn’t necessarily mean you’re confused…everyone goes through this, not just immigrant kids.

  9. @taswin12
    I know what DH means but what does it actually stand for? On those kind of mother and baby websites I used to see DD, DS etc and again realised what they meant but what does the first D stand for?
    I worked out MIL.
    Bangla_desh. So you do see in London desi in Bengali script over shops. e.g. desi fish.

    (BTW Taswin12, my new site is live! I’m trying to write honestly and not be too academic because it is true that I do this to hide myself. So I will hopefully write more intellectually challenging things in time)

    @intercultured
    my husband said a similar thing, that things have moved on since identity politics and that the terminology sounds out of date. dunno, didn’t see it like that, maybe, will write some kind of analysis about what titles of blogs reveal and think a bit.

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