Sumati Huber helps us navigate its intricacies.
Considering the size of our population, it’s not always easy to remember everyone’s history, job title, or personal story (although no one will ever forget that one time you wore that too-short dress). So sometimes we have to resort to superficial small talk when we encounter our fellow Indians because simply being cordial and unobtrusive is not in our nature. Next time you hear one of the following trivial phrases from a member of society, know that the intention of what is said is probably:
“How much did you pay for that?”
Translation: “You really got ripped off for that! I’m cringing inside because I know a place where you could have gotten a much better deal. Prices are merely a suggestion. Don’t you know how to bargain? I will make a mental note to send you the name of my guy who finds me the best of everything at a much lower price because even though it’s not my money, I am offended you are wasting yours!”
“How are the little ones?”
Translation: “I don’t actually remember the names of your children, but I did come to see you at the hospital right after they stitched you up from your C-section. That was a great gathering for us to enjoy the catered food and chai which you couldn’t consume! And remember how I told you to get plenty of rest but you couldn’t because my auntie friends and I were all hovering around you? Not to mention how we were constantly coming in and out of the hospital room? Anyway, hope your kids are great or at the very least you have a good nanny!”
“Where are you planning to send your child to school?”
Translation: “It doesn’t matter what your answer is because my Raja is at the top of his class in the best school and is definitely on the fast track to becoming an astronaut or something amazing that no other kid could dream of. He was born knowing how to run, is fluent in eight languages, and works as a self-taught doctor in his free time… look at this kid who still doesn’t know how to sit on the swing without having to be pushed by someone!”
“You are looking dull/tired today.”
Translation: “It is beyond me to focus on anything else besides your appearance. The state of your face already indicates your mental health, your diet, how well you slept last night and if you’re annoyed at your husband. So really, this comment is very loaded and tells me all that I need to know. Now prepare yourself as I start offering my unsolicited tips for skincare and home remedies to make you glow even though I have absolutely no medical training except for WhatsApp University.”
“Wow, you actually look very nice when you get dressed up!”
Translation: “You should make this effort every day no matter the occasion. Girls today really don’t value the importance of looking good at all times. In our day we wore a gold-embroidered sari even if we just stayed home to tell the maid that her food was too salty. This explains why you aren’t married yet. Which boy wants someone who always looks like she just rolled out of bed, such a waste!”
“You’ve gained some weight.”
Translation: “You’ve gained some weight. But don’t say no to the fried snacks I’m about to offer you so I can say the same thing the next time I see you.”
An unreformed party girl and mother of two, writer, editor and observer Sumati Huber tries to make sense of our unique Thai-Indian society and the aunties that she will one day become.