Born and raised in the American South and always feeling like an outsider due to his Indian ancestry, comedian and actor Aziz Ansari compares himself to an item available at a KFC location in Trivandrum, India: “a basmati bowl topped with popcorn chicken, a peculiar hybrid of two vastly different cultures.” In an article for The New York Times, the star of Parks And Recreation and Master Of None talks candidly about his most recent trip to India. Though his grasp of the Tamil language is slipping (“I now use it almost exclusively to have clandestine chats with my family in the company of white people.”), Ansari still returns to to the south of India about once every six years in order to reconnect with relatives he doesn’t see often, like his 89-year-old grandmother, and eat the cuisine there. In reference to the latter, he gives tourists some advice about locating authentic Indian food: “It’s when there are no utensils and you must eat with your hands.”
Though the article is ostensibly dedicated to Ansari’s culinary adventures in India, this trip also gave him the opportunity to ponder his own family and heritage. “Sure, I appear Indian,” he writes, “but my clothes and sneakers were clearly American. Even in India, I was kind of an outsider.” One of the most interesting passages of Ansari’s travelogue deals with the “wildly different ways” he interacts with his cousins, some of whom wound up in the United States or New Zealand while others remained in India. Ansari says that he is most comfortable conversing with his American cousins.
We share a specific set of cultural issues having grown up as Indians in America rather than Indians in India. They know the embarrassment of inviting friends over while your dad wanders around in a lungi, a garment that looks like a dress. They also know the challenge of trying to tell your parents, who likely had an arranged marriage, that you are dating someone—and the equally dicey situation of explaining to your partner why it took so long to share the news. My cousins in India can’t relate to any of this.