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A woman wearing Indian jewelry and bindi.

By Prakhar Patidar

Much like the originally offensive slang "curry", the diasporic youth of India (as well as other South-Asian countries with similar cultures) have reclaimed the word "desi" as a representation of their ethnicity. Desi; a Hindi word, which by definition means "of the indigenous land" has grown from its Sanskrit roots to be accommodated in Cambridge English Dictionary as:


Desi (n) a person who comes from or whose family comes from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh but who lives in another country

There is a reason for this shift in, or better yet, addition to the original meaning and nothing better than popular culture to help us understand what it means to be desi. The essence of being desi is a genre in itself explored in the mainstream media: from Lily Singh's satirical representation of a brown family to Mindy Kaling's gradual move towards the rightful representation of the Indian diaspora.

The internet with memes as its language of communication is a good place to start. Subtle Curry Traits is a large community of individuals from and related to South Asia, active on Facebook as well as Instagram that highlight the highs and lows of being desi. A scroll would give you a good insight into what it means to be desi. In fact, "being desi", "brown families be like", "are you even brown/desi if.." are highly popular templates used by the members to humorously speak about their cultural practices and heritage.

Exhibit A: Brown cultures are known for arranged marriages being more accepted and common than love marriages. What is a better way to satirise that than with a meme?

We all have been on the internet to know that memes need not adhere to particular themes; they can be about anything and everything but, a few things are celebrated in desi memes more than others: desi families, brown parents, biryani, Bollywood and desi households. And isn't it wonderful to be reassured that your family is not the only one so typically brown?

The repository of desi experiences isn't just limited to memes. Jhumpa Lahiri, Rohinton Mistry, amongst many other diasporic writers, has been writing for years about the tryst of belonging to two cultures. Filmmakers such as Mira Nair, Shonali Bose, etc, have successfully brought desi lives to the silver screen. YouTubers and social media personalities have made careers out of "being desi". Though the western interpretation and representation of desi people hasn't always been up to the mark, the new wave of diversity and mindful representation is here to change what it means to be a desi in popular culture.


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