You are what upsets you

I think nothing better reveals character than things that a person gets worked up about and is upset by. Perhaps that holds good at the level of the collective as well. I believe that people are more propelled to act on their revulsions than their attractions because the former protects them from harm and has survival value. People more often take to the streets against a negative (or a perceived negative) than for a positive. What brought this to mind was a recent column TIME magazine column by Joel Stein.

It seems many readers were sufficiently provoked to write to TIME about their displeasure, and in response TIME added a post script to the piece saying “We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by Joel Stein’s recent humor column “My Own Private India.” It was in no way intended to cause offense.” Stein added, “I truly feel stomach-sick that I hurt so many people,” and explained that he was uncomfortable about how Indian immigration to his hometown Edison NJ had changed it.

I too would be upset if my hometown was taken over by a bunch of immigrants who were not people like me. That’s human nature: we like people like us. So I can easily understand where Mr Stein is coming from. That he expresses his xenophobic thoughts in his column read by tens of thousands is surprising and refreshing in an age of hyper-active political correctness.

Here’s the odd part: the vast majority of people — including those who took offense at the column — will feel the same way if they were to put themselves in Mr Stein’s shoes. So, I think it is at least a little bit hypocritical that they are throwing stones at him. They could empathize with him and get on with their lives.

Instead, they are demanding that TIME remove the column and Stein apologize. (See this news item in The Pioneer of 7th June for more. I should mention that the item heading — “TIME apologizes to Indian-Americans” — is misleading. TIME regretted that the article upset some people; it did not regret the publication of the article. That distinction does make a difference.)

Anyhow, there you are. People not happy that someone has expressed an opinion that makes them a wee-bit uncomfortable. I suspect that there’s more than a little bit of truth in what Stein claims, and that is what is upsetting about the piece.

In the list of things that one should get upset about, Stein’s column must rate very low. His was just an opinion frankly — although a bit awkwardly — expressed about a matter of fact. If you consider the matter for a bit, Indians are immigrants in the US in such large numbers because they seek economic opportunities not available to them in India. The reasons for India’s backwardness and poverty should be the primary concerns of Indians and there’s where all the upset and outrage ought to be.

I don’t know why we Indians don’t get outraged by reports of massive endemic corruption by politicians. Why isn’t there huge popular protests about that? Why do people tolerate that? Why don’t Indians refuse to vote corrupt and criminal people into political office? Why does the country as a whole tolerate a despicably dishonest man as the prime minister who takes his orders from an Italian woman?

The reason India is poor is because the collective wisdom of the Indians elects “leaders” who are incompetent and cannot make choices that would create wealth. Immigration to developed economies is a way out for a tiny minority. They do that despite facing many hardships — including vicious attacks against them in print and in person.

We have to get our priorities right and get outraged by what the politicians are doing to the country, not by an opinion piece by a columnist who is merely pointing out that his hometown is not what it used to be.

Author: Atanu Dey


35 thoughts on “You are what upsets you”

  1. I think this issue has a somewhat eerie resemblance (albeit on a much lower scale) with that of the erstwhile gay/Maoist-supporting erstwhile Prof from IIT-H. The issue is not as much “possession” of opinion as it is about “expression” of opinion on a media-outlet with much respect and coverage. Funnily though, like you said, the same people would’ve had similar opinions, probably stronger and might’ve even tried to make a bigger deal of it than Stein. 😛


  2. Very coherent analysis. I can relate to this, this is what I exactly felt when I read the article and more when I read about all backlash. I was having this discussion with my GF and was unable to put across my points ( hypocrisy, JS has written about his home town and coincidently Indian immigrants are part of the transition etc)but my analysis wasn’t coherent like this one. probably now I’ll send this link to GF and other friends 😉


  3. the reaction inside USA was somewhat mild and overall Indian americans left it at that. Thats typical hindu mindset I subsume. The importance of India is catching up with the western leadership and not surprisingly the newly elected British PM is making a ‘big’ trip to India with a third of his cabinet later this month. Indians are very much integrated in all the nations they ever migrated to. Trinidad elected an Indian Origin lady as its current PM, largely went unreported in India.The Stein piece is supported to be a satire, but met with a train wreck.Much ado about nothing- a population hardly making up one percent of Americans.


  4. What upsets me is this: Government considering new laws to deal with “Honour Killings”. This is what we have done to most of our social problems- passed more laws, and neglected enforcement or making sure that the law is good (enforceable, common sensical etc.). Because, passing laws is cheap. Passing good laws and enforcing them is difficult.

    The so-called “Honour Killings” can easily be dealt with by treating them as murder. Khap Panchayats should be treated as murder instigators, while the actual killers should be treated as murderers. How complicated is that? Enforcing this should be a bigger priority.


  5. I agree with the point mentioned in the article. Moreover, I partially agree with Joel Stein’s sentiments. However, you can consider it an impact of the present day Edison, the article is indeed a bit spicy. The article also describes the earlier and the present day Indians in Edison, N.J. Call it a distantly related hypothesis, but I also see this as an interpretation of the way we have changed over generations and the way our impression all over the world has changed (Read the last paragraph of the JS article).


  6. I have started following your blog only recently. On the whole, I do agree with your views in this post but find your mentioning of the PM as a “despicably dishonest man” a little too much to digest. I wonder what made you write such extreme words for him.


  7. Make a list of the grandmasters of colonial empires: Spain, Portugal, England, and the “also ran” losers France and Belgium. Ever since Vasco da Gama and Columbus, up through chronicled accounts of the English in India, the foot soldiers of all colonial powers were characterized by one single unifying characteristic: They all believed, with a striking childlike innocence, that the colonies were theirs to occupy, enjoy and exploit, that the forests, minerals, corn fields, and even human labor were already ordained as their property. They were merely acquiring what was already rightfully theirs, and the “natives” or aborigines were so much pestilence blocking their rightful access.

    A few hundred years later, the tables have turned, and how! Emigration is now a standard narrative for middle-class Indians. The Right to Emigrate is granted to us via divine fiat, with pesky visa officers and xenophobic rednecks that must be trampled over in our Holy March spanning Auckland to Helsinki. The fruits of their social organization, civic discipline, superior infrastructure, are already ours for the taking. Who are they to decide that they need only a few computer programmers and not a few thousand cab drivers? After all, their average age is 45+, ours is 20–25; the needs of the many young must trump the wants of the wizened few. Just like the Caucasians that taught us Colonization and Empire, our childlike innocence never fails to amaze.

    There are several ways to interpret and rationalize the Indian indignation going around Australia and the world:

    * Sense of entitlement is human nature. Same DNA, different century. Too bad the joke’s on them now.
    * They owe it to us. Their prosperity was based directly or indirectly on colonialism. It’s payback time.
    * They set up their immigration system for their benefit. They cannot let us in and then mistreat us.
    * You mean we learnt to like jeans and coke all in vain? Oh no, we have been betrayed again!
    * It’s going to take more than a few jet-propelled screwdrivers to beat the hellhole that is life in India.


  8. Well,, do we have any literature about how American India perceived the change that European immigration brought. America is land of immigration now, so culture will change depending on immigration wave. Although article is fun, people getting worked up are immature.


    1. Niraj wrote:

      Well,, do we have any literature about how American India perceived the change that European immigration brought.

      I suppose you mean “Native Americans” when you wrote “American India”. I am sure there must be a quite a bit written by Native Americans about the European invasion of the Americas. Since most of them were killed off by the Europeans, I suppose that they did not like it very much.


  9. The comments have strayed from Joel Stein’s article in TIME. Are those observations correct?
    I sent this article to many of my INDIAN ORIGIN frinds in the USA. Everyone replied agreeing with the comments.
    We Indians suffer from an inferiority complex and bristle if a non-Indian makes an uncharitable comment about us.
    I hope that the Indians in USA do not suffer the fate that the Indians in Britain had to go through in the 60’s & 70’s. The problem starts when the “blue collar” and “nouveau riche” start immigrating in large numbers.


  10. Most Indian readers would not understand that the author wished it to be a satirical piece. And that is why the protest. Additionally, would Time have published a similar piece on other communities?


  11. The “protest” over Stein’s article is stupid. This is a case of picking up the wrong battle. Dr Aseem Shukla, for example, recently published a great article in WaPo about how for all its recent advances in liberalism, America remains hidebound when it comes to religion, since there is no place for non-Christians in its political system. In the face of such serious issues, to “protest” about trivialities is like complaining that the muggers stole five rupees from you when they have actually beaten you within an inch of your life.

    Try hard as I might, I fail to see anything seriously offensive in Stein’s article. His mild resentment at the “takeover” of his town by Indians is unmistakable, but I fail to discern any malice, correct me if wrong. He seems to reconcile to the transformation, and perhaps he will even learn to be happy that the women on the streets of his boyhood town wear dots on their heads, not veils. The only thing truly offensive about the column is that Time called it a ‘humor’ piece. Mark Twin must be spinning in his grave.


  12. Nice. Fully agree. Just a reminder. I’m not into outrage. Total waste of energy.

    “We have to get our priorities right and get outraged by what the politicians are doing to the country, not by an opinion piece by a columnist who is merely pointing out that his hometown is not what it used to be.”

    No, please don’t be outraged. Save your breath. JUST OVERTHROW THEM. REPLACE THEM. LEAD INDIA.

    Just a reminder that the genuine citizens of India (not the servile sycophants of the corrupt politicians), are invited to join the movement for reform and freedom: Freedom Team of India (



  13. If by “a despicably dishonest man as the prime minister who takes his orders from an Italian woman” you are referring to Manmohan Singh . . . really?

    I suspect it’s the first time he’s been described in those terms by anyone (other than the Opposition and Leftist political parties, which is more political theatre than anything else).


  14. As a Tamilian I prefer living among Bengalis & a mixed potpourri of south indians there ( I grew up in Calcutta) to living in the midst of tamilians in Tamil Nadu. Reasons are too nuanced , wish not to launch on them.

    While visiting America or Australia I fervently pray to God I should never ever run into the Indian diaspora there comprising of a lot of ” relatives “.

    There are a few others ( Indians) also who feel the same way.

    Can’t blame Joel Stein.


  15. Indians invoke God in various icons in the form of insects , animals, birds , women etc. But ground realities betray our insensitivities & cruelty towards them. Not just tigers , elephants , leopards even sparrows , vultures , dragon flies etc are fast dwindling in numbers.

    Our Sri Rudram extols ” Vrikshaebyo , Hari Keshaebyo…” ( You are verily the Trees & Leaves of all plants). Yet we stood mutely watching the unpardonable ” Rape of Arunachala Hills ” by nithyananda.

    We have such a sickening fetish for symbols alone relinquishing the substance.

    The (in)famous Rajiv Malhotra of Infinity Foundation who spent a lot of energy scribbling cow-caste-curry theory , U Turn theory in short , exorcising various chimerical ghosts , the * patriotic culture vulture* who many Indians in America suffering from identity crisis worship stood fully exposed while desperately trying to defend Nithyananda((

    Indians by & large refuse to integrate. Are very clannish , conceited cloaked as mock humility. In Spirituality too are but surface grazers. Exceptions prove the rule.


  16. Yeah , like the wolf that shed copious tears for the plight of rain sodden sheep , ‘ patriotic ‘ NRIs breastbeat a lot about the Native Americans who allegedly perished.

    The Native Americans were fighting among themselves a lot. Just as the Africans did & do. As we in India do. The influx of Europeans wrought a lot of good than bad.

    Exactly how many NRIs are living in wigwams ??

    We Indians have not been able to manufacture even bottles with seals that don’t cut into our skin even today. Such are our shoddy standards.

    Spare me onceuponatime we did this & that.


  17. Anonymous said:

    “Indians by & large refuse to integrate. Are very clannish , conceited cloaked as mock humility. In Spirituality too are but surface grazers. Exceptions prove the rule.”

    With such gems no wonder you concealed your name. Yeah right, we Hindus are the ones rioting at the drop ao a hat. Dropping out of school, causing social problems and so on.

    Wake up! The stats show an entirely different picture. Perhaps no amount of evidence will make you change your closed mind.


  18. Malavika ,

    My opinions/comments are based mostly on my personal observations & interactions with our own people. Not on statistics.

    This is another sickening attitude of many Indians particularly NRIs . Who strut about superciliously flaunting their degrees/ trophies won in spelling competitions etc etc.

    I am again constrained to relate a shocking experience of my recent experience. A ” qualified ” Indian optometrist ( a hindu to cater to your smug presumptuous attitude)prescribed glasses ( including expensive goggles , reading glasses , plus the routine one for constant wear all of them pretty expensive ) for me which gave rise to a series of problems like headache , vertigo , blurred vision and so on. Which were all peremptorily brushed aside by her as ” madam madam.. all in your head madam , imagination madam”).

    I had them all retested along with my vision by a NON INDIAN optometrist working for the same employer. All of them were outrageously the WRONG precriptions. My eyesight too has deteriorated. On confronting her ( the indian optometrist ) with such patent evidence , all that she could come up with was ” i just got married , am pregnant , will lose my job if you complain..” blahblah followed by shutting herself up in a cublicle & “praying to God”. Her prayers were answered instantly as I did not complain. What is the point ? Am I going to get back my earlier eyesight ? This is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of them carry forged/fake certificates , are pampered in the name of reservations .

    It is sheer impertinence that you choose to ignore the veracity of my comments needlessly asking for my name. Why ? Do you want to bring in your cliched communal / religious prejudices ??


  19. While travelling from Washington to New York , due to our own negligence & oversight we had lost our suitcase.

    A simple complaint lodged with the appropriate authorities worked MIRACLES. Even after returning home ( thank God not India but a Gulf country we reside in ) we got back our suitcase with nothing missing. The Arabs manning the airport did not ask for bribe.

    Whereas in merabharatmahaanvandematharamindia a hiiiiggghhhhly qualified , incredibly affluent chartered accountant cum tax consultant cum yadayada brazenly asked me to part with Rs 20,000/- to get my legitimate dues amounting to Rs 70,000/-. In effect Rs 50,000/-

    What kind of accountancy is THAT ???

    Malavikas & kindred Indians perennially in DENIAL, blinded by mulish concepts of patriotism,

    It is not my job to carry cameras & taperecorders with a view to presenting evidence/proof.


  20. Joel Stein’s article was offensive because it expressed that
    (1)We (Americans) want your (Indian) doctors, scientist, engineers, professors, but not riff-raff businessmen, cab-drivers and blue collar workers even though they have come through legal immigration through family unification or other legal means and are making an honest living.
    (2) Indians are making a ghetto in Edison, NJ by setting up motels,businesses, stores, restaurants, etc. (and poor Joel misses his old familiar childhood haunts). This is life, things change after a few years, Mr. Klein . I will have same the problem to deal with change if I visited my neighborhood in India after many years. I won’t carp about it. The change in Edison, NJ is by no means detrimental (causing rise of crime, law/order problems, etc.)
    (3) We (Indians) are strange in that we had gods with multiple arms and other assorted strange habits/customs. This is down-right insensitive in that he is showing lack of respect for Indian community’s habits/customs. (After several decades in the US, I cannot still related to strange habits/customs her, but I don’t go about making jokes about them due to respect for the sensitivity of American people.


  21. Apropos jv’s comments above ,

    Whenever any American/Westerner talks about multiple arms , Ganesha’s Trunk etc of ” Indian Gods ” why should we read too much into it & overreact ? We the hindus have not been appointed by Durga or Kali to posture as Her defense lawyers and act ” offended “.

    Read how the young Thenali Raman asks such a similar impudent question to Kali which tickles Her to no end. Very many accounts of our Sages and Saints show many of them were anything but embodiments of piety. Purandaradasar was an extremely stern usurer who chased & assaulted The Very Lord Himself ( that is the irony , MahaVishnu will NEVER appear with multiple arms holding conch , sudarshanchakra , mace etc etc ) & that is how the story unfolds.

    Let us turn our searchlight to us Indians within India. We hindus also perennially fight in the name of who else but God ?!

    Soon after my marriage my inlaws decreed ” we cannot allow your God in this house. Bow down to our God ; your Lord Muruga not allowed only our Bhuvaneshwari rules here “. We are all hindus tambrams by the way. During Navarathiri/Varalakshmi pujas also same animosity is unleashed. ” My Varalakshmi is more divine than your Varalakshmi , my kolam (floral decoration/alpana) is superior to yours…my sundal is tastier than yours ” and so on.

    I could write a book detailing more such facts only facts. Nothing but facts.

    The late tamil actor MR Radha ( who I consider far more talented than Sivaji Ganesan)has mocked at hindu Gods staging ” Keemayanam ” as his selfstyled answer to Ramayanam.

    My question is why us hindus be so filled with hubris to PLAY GOD , feigning outrage , engineering frenzied fights between “believers & non believers” ? When I first posted Atanu Dey’s sceptical rational writeup on aol SSSSSRaviShankar in a ” hindu nationalist’s blog (IITblahblah living in America)all that the mulish IIT “hindu nationalist blogger a shadow warrior” could spit was :-

    ” But…atanu ….is an agnostic …” .

    SO WHAT ??

    There was one Truti who was also muzzled just because she expressed her doubts abour aol SSSSSSSRS.

    Daily worshippings & punctilious circumambulations do not necessarily turn us all divine or good. This is the wisdom I have gathered by interacting ONLY with us Indians alone hindus alone to be more precise.


  22. Adding to my post above.

    There is one extremely disturbing fact regarding the burning of Graham Steines & his two sons.

    Whoever did it is reported to have confessed ” Steines mocked at Hanuman ….hence I set them on fire…will not hesitate to do it again…”

    This is ALARMING to put it mildly. Is there any difference at all between such hindu fanatics & people belonging to the other religion who bay for your blood , head etc etc for even a cartoon of their “Messenger of God” ???


  23. Yes the outrage over Stein’s article is silly–Indians have better things to really get outraged about. Well I am sure the original German natives and others also resented it when the NJ became full of Stien’s people and when the original NJ folk also moved out as a result….


  24. For a long time I have been wanting to dwell on another facet of this holier than thou Indians.

    In my early teens , my constant companion was a Bengali child called Debraj ( son of one KD Chakraborty & his wife Rajshree our neighbours) who was such sheer unadulterated joy for my late brother & myself.

    During summer vacation came this vast retinue of tambram relatives from Chennai uninvited. They ALWAYS do that. In the pretext of sightseeing make use of free railway passes etc. One of them called Manickam ( now dead though belatedly due to kidney failure) my father’s maternal uncle suddenly walked in , seized the child by his two feet , held him upside down swinging violently.

    When I expressed my shocking disapproval he said “… after all a fish eating child …deserves such a treatment..”. His own wife & grown up sons & daughters with children all “owners of independent houses” ( another vanity value of them) were actually enjoying this cruel spectacle.

    This is just one instances among many to prove how bereft of kindness and compassion we are. How abnormal we are.

    Exceptions prove the rule.


  25. Mr Anonymous
    apparently has had a very difficult childhood and hardly he must have had time to indulge in any extracurricular activities to loosen up with. A deshi optometrist certainly didnt help the situation at all.I had a very liberal upbringing and I thus have a very benevolent outlook on hinduism (and on all other faiths). The religious arguements within the 4 walls of his own family sound ridiculous to me, a fellow hindu myself. So its not the fault of hinduism I must conclude, instead fault lies in how one iterprets ones religion. Mimasa must be resolved by seeking advice from a wise, impartial and kind swami.

    I was going to ask him (anonymous) to explain his accusations like ‘indians dont assimilate ever- thing’. If at all, in europe before and in USA now I noticed that Indians assimilate stunningly very well and with ease, in every continent. I said continent here because during my travels I met hindus who had lived in Africa and in fareast, middle east etc.

    “Daily worshippings & punctilious circumambulations do not necessarily turn us all divine or good”. Well said. Agree. The only way a hindu can accomplish any maturity/spirituality is taking the route of vedas and upanishads. Again, vedas state with clarity, after awhile ‘vedas become avedas’ meaning vedas will show the path at the beginning and only cease to be of any value after sometime…finally one has to lead oneself to self realization…presently the advaita doctrine (non dulaism) is recycled in a new avatar of ‘consciousness’ by our very own new age guru Deepak Chopra and others in west. But Chopra defined himself as a vedantin (but not a hindu), good for him. We see a lot of him this side of atalantic, hence couldnt help bringing this up (google him)…

    no offence anonymous, some of your observations were very engaging indeed.


  26. surya’s ridiculously peremptory presumtions like the one on alleged lack of ” extracurricular activities ” followed by more such drivel leave me with no option but to NOT engage surya in further discussions / explanations.


  27. Religion is most often a pretext to unleash one’s hostilities.

    I studied in a very ordinary substandard pedestrian school . Not a convent. The headmistress at primary level was an incredibly VICIOUS Indian a keralite pentacoastal DEMONESS. Most of the students were hindus , a few christians & extremely few muslims. All Indians .

    I really envied the muslim students who all dropped out with absolutely no fear.

    At secondary level , the hindu headmistress an ardent devotee of Puttaparthi Saibaba brought in another hindu teacher who was convent educated . Leela Krishnaswamy was her name then. Who later married a bengali becoming Leela Sen.

    That convent educated Leela with a well honed accent was but a tyrant in disguise for me. She punished me for wearing bangles .

    She also decreed ” no more bangles , no plaited hair , no bindhi . Only bobbed hair , short skirts exposing the thighs fully as that alone is being * smart *. Hindus like me were ridiculed as ” curd rice eaters / idli sambar vada tamarind sacks “.

    Resulting in cleaving amongst ourselves as the yuppie hindus eating sandwiches , icecream & potato wafers & useless hindus eating curd rice .

    The hindu headmistress did not throw her out. But meekly turned a blind eye. All in the name of “secularism ” .

    Today many converted Indian christians sport bangles , flowers in hair , bindhi , even mangal sutra !! That is GOLD right :))? Learning Bharathanatyam to Carnatic music , printing Christianised Bhagavatham & Indianised hinduised Bible.


  28. anonymous,
    Deep sigh.
    Dis I not tell you you have had a difficult childhood? Raised in Kerala and living in Saudi- what a saga Ms Anonymous!
    The keralite muslim murderers have chopped off the hand of one Prof Joseph for insulting pedophile Mohammed. Who wants to argue against the fact that mohammad had married a 6 yr old Ayesha and raped her at9. He also married his daughter in law and maintained a harem with multiple wives. He had massacred millions and converted the remaining.Do you want me to talk about crusaders, I can go on. Please read Viltaires Castride about 18th century Europe.Hindus are the most tolerant and accepting people on earth.

    Without any Proselytization white americans are embracing hinduism.Please google- himalayan (Hawaii), David Frawley of New Mexixo, Frank Morales of Nebraska.Also explore this weblink-
    Born brown hindus must realize that they dont have a monopoly on hinduism any more. Not just the Balinese even the whites are demanding a stake, just to let you know. So stop your diatribe beginning with ‘oh those hindus’- Surya, chicago


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