Saturday, May 23, 2009

Desi Arnaz: Cuban or Pakistani?

One of the great things about internet social networking sites is that you get to meet people on other sides of the planet whom you otherwise would never know existed. In addition, the online chat makes it possible to converse with them, without costing you a fortune in long-distance telephone charges. You can chat with them every day, and it doesn't cost you an extra penny. During these chats you can learn new things about them, their culture and their country.

I started meeting people online after I moved to Los Angeles, because I was finding it hard to meet people, and to make and maintain friendships here. Before I came here a little over 3 years ago, it never crossed my mind to put up an online profile anywhere.

Many of the people from other countries that I have met, surprisingly, have been from Pakistan. They live in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, and a couple of them live outside of Pakistan, in the United Arab Emirates and Canada.

It has been very interesting for me, because I never thought much about Pakistan before getting to know these Pakistanis online. To me, Pakistan was just a Muslim version of India, except with a closed society, but with the same overcrowding and poverty. Pakistan to me was just a dangerous place, prone to dictatorships and military coups, where western journalists like Daniel Pearl are kidnapped and beheaded by Muslim extremists.

It never dawned on me that Pakistan is full of ethnic and cultural diversity, that it has lots of bohemians, progressives and intellectuals who are savvy and sophisticated... that there are people there who are modern and stylish, and strikingly good-looking, with stunning faces and swirling social lives, who are totally in tune with western pop culture.

I'm ashamed of my former ignorance, really.

So anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a Pakistani friend, and I asked him if there was a word for people from Pakistan, India , Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the way "Latino" is a word for people from the various countries of Latin America. He said that there was a indeed a word: "Desi". A Pakistani is a Desi, and so is an Indian. The word is "Desi".


THAT's the word to describe the peoples of the Indian subcontinent?


To me, Desi is a word that I would imagine would be used to describe ME, a person from a Cuban family. The reason, of course, is Desi Arnaz. You know, Desi Arnaz, a.k.a. Ricky Ricardo on "I Love Lucy". Before Gloria Estefan came along, Desi Arnaz was the most famous Cuban in Anglo America. He WAS Cuba, years before Fidel Castro hit the world stage.

Before this month, if someone had asked me, "Who is your favorite Desi singer?" I would have probably said Celia Cruz. If the question were, "Who is your favorite Desi actor?" my likely answer would have been Andy Garcia (I certainly would not have said Feroze Khan).

So I've been having some fun using this new, weird word, and another one of my Pakistani friends, noting how I would insert the word in conversations whenever I had the chance, suggested that for fun, I go online and look at some of the Desi websites. He suggested one, called "Desi Rater". I googled it, and in doing so, also found another called, "Rate Desi".

Hmmm, I thought, Desi Rater and Rate Desi... what could this be about?

Well, I discovered that on these sites, Desi men and women who consider themselves attractive, post photos of themselves, and above their photos is a rating scale, from 1 to 10. You click on the number that you think their looks merit, and that number is tabulated into their average rating. The men and women with the highest average ratings are the Top Desis, and as you scroll down, the Desis will presumably get less attractive and less attractive, because their rating is lower.

I immediately formed the opinion that the people who frequent this website have a strange idea of what beauty is, because both the men and the women who were rating a 6 were generally more naturally attractive than those who had rated a 10.

In any case, this got me wondering. Is this just a Desi thing? This practice of putting yourself online just so that you can get your looks rated by strangers, so that you can see how you compare to the other people with photos on the site?

I found it strange, especially because all the people on the site were of the same race or ethnicity or whatever. I mean, it's rather like The Westminster Dog Show, where, in course of competition, the dogs are rated by breed. But these aren't dogs on these websites. These are human beings... human beings who aspire to be rated "Best in Breed".

Again: Is this just a Desi thing?

Curious to find out, I googled "Asian Rater", "African Rater", "Euro Rater" and "Latino Rater".

Well, it seems like Africans, Europeans and Latin Americans have no desire to be rated online, because I found no websites like the Desi ones. The only thing I found was a Euro Rater, but it was a financial website which rated the new European currency, not the Europeans themselves.

I DID find a website that rated people and not money, and that site was called, "Rate This Asian", and the first photo I saw was of a pretty young woman who looked like she could be a successful geisha. So it looks like not only Indians and Pakistanis are the only ones into being rated, but the Japanese and the Koreans are, too. Okay, this is an Asian thing then, since India and Pakistan are technically in Asia...

Well, now I'm curious... how would *I* rate on one of these websites? Granted, I would never pass for Japanese or Korean in a million years, so "Rate This Asian" is off limits to me, but I COULD pass for Indian or Pakistani. In the summer, I can get extremely tan. I bet I could find some summer pictures of me in which I look Desi-esque. A few times in Europe when I was super tanned, people would ask me if I was Middle Eastern.

Actually, I wouldn't even need to find photos of me in which I look darker. There are lots of light-skinned Desis. Actually, in India, it is considered an asset in sexual attraction, being fair-skinned. Sadly, people bleach their skin there. Also, I remember once a friend of mine showed me the personal ads section in an Indian newspaper. Almost every ad in the personals said,

"Alliance Wanted. Fair-skinned man seeks fair-skinned woman."

"Alliance Wanted. I am light-skinned. U.B.2."

"Alliance Wanted. Fair-skinned woman for fair-skinned man."

I cringed when reading those ads, but now I see that the favortism towards lighter skin could actually work in my favor on, and many would be eager to "ally" themselves with me. I could change my name from Larry to Arshad or Sameer or Wasif or Bhagat.

How would I rate among my fellow Desi men? I want to know. I'm such an attention whore anyway. Okay, I do it! I'll get Desi rated! I'm gonna start looking for photos of me to upload ASAP. After all, there's really no downside to it. If I rate a 10, I could say, "Hey, I'm a Top Desi and I'm not even a Desi!" and if I rate a 1, I could say, "Of course I got a low rating. They could see that I'm not a real Desi, that's why."

Above all else, if someone accuses me of being an impostor, I'll have a good excuse. I'll just say, "What? Hold on a second... you mean this isn't a website to rate CUBANS? I'm Cuban, so naturally I thought a Desi referred to us. You know, because of Desi Arnaz. DESI ARNAZ, the Cuban who played Ricky Ricardo on 'I Love Lucy'. He was married to Lucille Ball; her CUBAN husband, not her Pakistani husband. How was I supposed to know that a Desi is a guy from Pakistan and not from Cuba?"

1 comment:

  1. There is (or was) a similar site called Hot or Not... I never went on it (for obvious reasons) and also because it seemed to be over--run with teenagers from the OC - and we all know how into diversity they can be!

    The 'Desi' thing is new to me, and I work with plenty of people from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. We just call them Indo-Canadians, and they never correct us.

    That's the fun of social networking...