Tag Archives: humour

“It’s the most confusing, energetic, and hilarious place I’ve ever been”

Hilary and Indian child (image © Girish Menon)

Hilary FG is the author of hilary in mumbai, a blog about her life as an American expat in India’s so-called Maximum City. Her posts cover the gamut of Mumbai activities – from the perils of buying food, to coping with humidity, to the cast of characters at a regular expat party – and while her blogging is occasionally infrequent, this is largely in an effort to ensure quality.

I first discovered Hilary’s blog when she commented on one of my posts for The NRI about dealing with the dreaded local FRRO on the quest to obtain tiny-but-vital residency stamps. My immediate reaction upon looking through a couple of her posts was to laugh, loudly and repeatedly, but consistent reading showed that her humorous take was not merely frivolous. Many are lengthy and detailed, and the humour acts as a vehicle for quite genuine insight into what it’s like to be young, white and female in such a seething foreign metropolis.

Hilary has been known to undertake long flights somewhat regularly, and works full time for a living in a place where working full-time can easily occupy all of your surviving brain cells, but she was happy to answer my questions and let us a little further inside her world.

(NB: You will notice that Hilary is American and therefore spells ‘humour’ without a ‘u’. Please forgive her for this.)

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Why did you start blogging, and why do you keep blogging? (Is this your first blog?)

For about one week my sister and I had a blog called “Sisters Make the Best of Friends” on which we posted pictures of the cake we made on the 4th of July, items of clothing that prove that money can’t buy class, and video clips we think everyone should see. We didn’t really share it with anyone and took it down the next week.

I started blogging because my fellowship encouraged us to, and because I thought it would be a good way to keep my family informed without sending monster emails to everyone. My blog ended up not being about my day-to-day activities, so I still sent out those emails anyway, but the blog definitely helps me put events into context and reflect.

I keep blogging because it’s fun and other people seem to enjoy it. People tell me I say things they’ve wanted to talk about but couldn’t express. Expats here have sent my blog to their families and said, “Now they can picture just what I’ve been going through.” I love that. I also want a testament to all the things I go through here that I might forget later in life.

Have you ever kept a personal journal? If so, do you see ‘hilary in mumbai’ as an extension of that journal (or vice versa)?

I tried to keep a number of journals at a young age and failed pretty miserably. I usually liked journaling because I loved buying pretty notebooks, and physical paper is one thing ‘hilary in mumbai’ doesn’t have. I think there are a lot of “stream of consciousness” blogs out there, that are very journal-esque, and I’m usually not a very big fan. I like to give events the proper time to ruminate before I try to put words to them. If I had a journal it might have even more swears in it.

There are also a lot of things I go through that I will never put in the blog. Some things might be interesting, but violate some general privacy considerations, like my personal relationships or my job. Other things, like travel logistics, are just boring, and I don’t think anyone should put them anywhere.

What is your first memory of writing creatively?

My first experiment with writing creatively was a journal I kept of our family trip to Italy. I was around 5 years old and the whole thing is barely comprehensible and phonetic. I think it makes for a really wonderful read of life through the eyes of a weirdo 5-year-old.

"This is sugar packet from a very fancy restaurant."

I was told I was a horrible writer for 20 years of my life and it never came easily to me. I’m actually a published author now, and there’s the ole blog, so people have been eating their words.

Describe something that is beautiful to you.

I really like gradients in nature, like sunsets and horizons. I think the beach my family and I go to in Wellfleet, Cape Cod, is probably the thing that I dream about the most. Thinking about the transition of the dunes to the water to the sky makes me very homesick. There is something particularly magical about the light on Cape Cod.

Have you always been interested in India, or was there a moment in your life that pushed you to go there?

I have a pretty nerdy backstory. I took Latin and Greek in high school, and I started taking Sanskrit so I could get all three Indo-European root languages. I’ve forgotten almost every word I learned, but I loved the material I was reading. The difference in worldview and philosophies that I came upon studying Sanskrit spurred an interest in India, although I really knew nothing about it when I first started. I visited India for the first time in 2004. I was on a high school trip in which we visited the Mumbai slums. My world was definitely blown open by what I experienced. I had no idea how to categorize or contextualize everything that I saw, and I knew I was never going to stop studying India. I remember picking my major in college and knowing that if I picked South Asian Studies I would never get bored. Since then I’ve been back on a study abroad program and now “for good” in September 2010.

How would you describe Mumbai to someone who had never been there? What advice would you give someone visiting for the first time?

I have two pieces of advice, once of which you’ve probably read on my Twitter. “Take the shits with the giggles” and “It’s worth it” are my main words of wisdom, but I would also tell people to try to suspend judgment for as long as possible. It’s difficult to describe Mumbai to people, especially if they have never been to a developing country. It’s the most confusing, energetic, and hilarious place I’ve ever been. If you can take the shits, you get a lot of giggles. Literally. I think visiting India can be really fun and worthwhile, but moving here might not be right for everyone…

People who come with preconceived notions of spirituality and romanticism can be disappointed, and people who come expecting to see the functioning and developed financial hub of a major world power may also be disappointed. It’s better just to show up. Oh, and use a lot of talcum powder and unscented baby wipes. Eat the street food but don’t wear valuable shoes. And come say hi!

Pretty much every post of yours cracks me up one way or another. I sense such an appreciation of the absurd in the way you view the world around you and your own endeavours. Is this something you’ve had to work at? Who has influenced your sense of humour?

Thank you! Humor is a family specialty. I grew up surrounded by the funniest people I’ve ever met. We have a very verbal family and sitting around making fun of things is probably what we do best. When my last visit with my mom and sister ended we joked that we weren’t going to laugh again until we got to reunite. My father passed away from cancer a year and a half ago, and he kept his sense of humor until the very end. It was impressive.

When I started the blog, I wasn’t sure what audience I should try to write it for. My sister told me to write it like I’m talking to her, and that set the informal tone. What I have to work at is balancing how much to let events speak for themselves, or try to explain the humor in them. I find myself in a lot of situations here that are objectively funny, and I always have to remind myself not to add, “It was soooo funny,” at the end.

It might also be worth mentioning that I have a degree in South Asian Studies and I’ve been studying India for almost a decade now. I try not to make the blog too academic, but I know that my experience with the subject matter means I can spend less time trying to figure out what the hell’s going on, and more time laughing about it. I try to put in My Mind Numbing Fact of the Day to acknowledge that even though I’m laughing, there are a lot of fascinating and devastating things happening all around me.

Even before I moved here, people have complimented me on my ability to convey my worldview in an entertaining and interesting way. People generally like talking to me unless I’m making fun of them. I think if people aren’t naturally observant or critical, a blog by them won’t be fun no matter where they are.

How much of an effect has living abroad had on your belief system(s)?

I’ve changed a lot since moving here, but I’m not sure if it’s had an effect on my belief system. I was an atheist when I moved here and I’m definitely still one. My family has always been the most important thing in the world to me, and that’s still true, maybe more so. Living abroad has definitely made the world seem really small to me. If it’s near an airport it feels nearby to me now. I also think I have been more determined to convince everyone that all people deserve the same standards. The inequity here is really difficult for me to live with and I think that it does not get adequately portrayed in the media. You can’t help but see firsthand here how GDP can correspond so little to people’s lives. Don’t believe the hype.

Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?

I like ‘approowalls’. I think most foreigners have a lot more help with relocation than I did, and so not a lot of people have to deal with all the Indian approvals at the same time right when they land, with no maid, driver, phone, internet, etc. That whole experience made me feel invincible.

Has your blog made a difference in other areas of your life?

I’m a more confident writer, and I definitely have more pictures because I force myself to take them. People have recognized me at parties and introduced themselves. Professionally, I try to keep things pretty separate, at least for now, but I like knowing that if I ever need to produce conversational material at a later date for my job, it shouldn’t be a problem. I like to judge new friends by how they respond to the fact that I have a blog and then check in later to see if they’ve read it. I’ve come across some great people that I would probably never have encountered if I didn’t put myself out there, including my interviewer.

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This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire. (Apologies to James Lipton.) To view the archive, click the category tag in the ‘By Category’ section at the top right of this page.

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“The joke happens in real life and then I blog about it”


Jayanth Tadinada, aka g2, is the author of gtoosphere, a blog of satire inspired by his life as an IIT student and a member of India’s growing upper middle class youth. He is also my colleague on The NRI, contributing regularly hilarious posts such as his aam aadmi interviews.

His posts on gtoosphere are a mix of observations about television media, social networking culture and Indian society in general, and they often seek to explode myths and inspire people to look at the world around them in a more mindful way. In the line with his heroes, his method of confronting people is to amuse, something at which he succeeds apparently effortlessly. His irreverent ideas come across as equally inspired by Indian and American senses of humour, and will hopefully strike a chord with many.

Jayanth did me a favour and answered a few questions to help me get this Inside the Bloggers Studio thing rolling again, even though he is a busy college student preparing to join the salaried masses.

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Why did you start blogging?

There was a phase when I was bunking a lot of classes and yet I was not happy. (Those were pretty depressing times!) I felt I needed a better reason to continue bunking classes. So I thought a hobby might help.

In your first blog post, you mention a diary. Is gtoosphere an extension of that diary, and do you still write it alongside your blog?

No, I don’t write a diary in the traditional sense anymore. I maintained a diary for a couple of years in high school. It was mostly about what was happening in my life around that time. After coming to IIT, I no longer felt the need to keep an account of things happening in my life.

I was into reading psychology for fun (nerd alert), interpretation of dreams and stuff like that. I started maintaining a dream diary where I describe the dreams I have at nights (afternoons actually). We remember our dreams only for a very few minutes after we wake up. So I always sleep with a book and a pen somewhere close to my pillow. (Yeah, I know that’s weird!)

For the last year and a half or so, I developed the habit of noting down funny ideas, silly observations and interesting thoughts as soon as they pop in my head. I store them in Google Wave (yes, Wave!) and refine them from time to time. So technically, I do write a diary but it’s more about what is going on in my head rather than what is going on in my life.


What is your first memory of writing creatively?

The first time realized I enjoyed writing was when I was writing essays in high school. Most of the topics were very dull and ordinary like ‘your hometown’ or ‘post man’. I took it as a challenge to write those essays in interesting ways.

I often broke the conventional school essay format and made up stories with long dialogues, exaggerated descriptions and bizarre storylines loosely inspired from the Famous Fives and Hardy Boys I was reading at the time! Luckily my English teachers did not discourage that sort of behavior and often rewarded me (with generous grades) for my attempts, however lame they were!

Describe something that is beautiful to you.

I consider any of the little things that momentarily make me lose sense of time as beautiful. It could be a movie or a book; a conversation or a cat playing; filter coffee, National Geographic channel, a warm shower on a cold morning, dessert before main course, an intelligent conversation, yawning, huge spiders, useless trivia… it’s a very long list.

I also find extremely complex stuff like snakes, Scarlett Johansson, the human brain, religion, the Internet, Godavari, classical music, history etc. all to be very beautiful.


gtoosphere fits quite nicely into Indiblogger category of ‘humour’. Are you ‘the funny one’ among your friends in real life?

Yes, I am definitely ‘a funny one’ if not ‘the funny one’. Most of my friends have a very good sense of humour too. I get most of my ideas from the conversations I have with my friends and my brother.

What differences are there between telling a joke in real life and telling it on your blog?

The joke happens in real life and then I blog about it. That is usually how it is. A joke in real life is about timing and spontaneity, it just happens. But when you’re writing a joke, you have the time to think and build the context. So the onus is on how funny the idea is to begin with. Maintaining the flow, the punch lines, the comic art – all just follow from the idea.


Speaking of Indiblogger, you’re quite active on there, as well as on Facebook and sporadically on Twitter. How important are social networking sites in relation to your blog?

Very important! They are the lifeline for my blog. I would have never got myself to write anything more than sticky notes if it is not for the instant feedback that I get from readers through social networking sites.

Comic art is integral to many of your posts. Which do you enjoy more, drawing/design or writing?

What I enjoy most is the ideas – coming up with them and connecting two or three ideas that people wouldn’t otherwise think of connecting. That is what drives me. I also immensely enjoy the process of refining the lines over and over trying to find that elusive economy of expression. I feel I am moving in a direction where words come easier to me than strokes.


Name some of your favourite satirists, and whether they’ve influenced your own creative style.

The first comedian that comes to mind is Jerry Seinfeld (his standup). He has this ability to point out really silly things around you which makes you go, “how did I not think of that first?” In one of his interviews, he explains that he never uses profanities in his material because he feels that (in many cases) they are a shortcut to get a few cheap laughs. I adopted that policy for my blog too.

One more thing I picked up from him is to not misrepresent anything just for the sake of getting a laugh. This pushes me to work from an honest feeling about something. So when I joke about how the aam aadmi doesn’t deserve any sympathy, I really mean it!

George Carlin is a personal hero of mine. His body of work is just so vast that it’s an encyclopedia on how to construct a joke. The philosophical undercurrent that runs through his material had a huge influence on not just my writing but on me as a person as well.

Larry David, the genius behind Seinfeld (the sitcom) and Curb Your Enthusiasm is another big influence. He kind of convinced me that profanities are funny when used in a tasteful way but I decided to stick with Seinfeld on that one ;)

When it comes to political satire, Jon Stewart is the best it can get. All my posts on politics and media were directly or indirectly inspired by him. I also like Bill Maher (I did a couple of “New Rules” posts) and Woody Allen.

I love Telugu comedy in general. I think we people have an amazing sense of humour. I am a huge fan of Mullapudi Venkataramana. He is a genius when it comes to capturing the beauty, the simplicity and humour in middle class life – something that our entertainment industry completely overlooks.

Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?

If I have to choose one, I’d probably choose my take on Meter Jam. This campaign sort of summed up the attitude of the young city folk of my generation. They protest because it is cool and they only do it in the comfort of their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Their anger in most cases is justified but none of them are inclined to do anything more than cathartically yell at the symptoms.

I am also proud of the articles I wrote for The NRI. I really pushed myself to write about issues that I wouldn’t have written otherwise and they were very well received too.


Do you believe in God?

Depends on how you define God. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I was like, “If the Gods are really that powerful, why do I even have to pray? Don’t they have access to the wish list on my Facebook profile?” That was when I realized praying for material things makes no sense. I’ve been kind of agnostic since then.

But I feel that Hinduism (technically, it’s too broad to be an -ism) is an awesome religion to be born in. It gives you a lot of freedom of thought. You can be atheist or agnostic and still be a Hindu. The line between culture and religion is really blurred in India. I never pray but I do celebrate all festivals. (If you remove the puja from the festivals, all you’re left with is good food, family reunions and fun activities. Now who doesn’t like that?

I love the culture. I love the mythologies. I have immense respect for the religion and its philosophy. I just don’t subscribe to the over-the-counter-30-million-Gods-in-the-skies version of it! I only scratched the surface of Hindu philosophy and I definitely want to go deeper. Not now but maybe later!

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This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire.  (Apologies to James Lipton.)  To view the archive, click here.

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A real-life Todd on NBC’s ‘Outsourced’

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it explicitly before, but I am part of the Indian outsourcing world. My job at Trivandrum’s Technopark involves proofreading medical letters, and I am the only foreigner in my company. While Kerala is a world away from Mumbai, I feel qualified to pass judgment on two aspects 0f NBC’s new situation comedy ‘Outsourced’:

(1) whether or not it is true to life (because I am essentially the show’s main character)

(2) whether or not it is funny (because of my ability to notice what makes me laugh)

To answer (1), let me compare a few situations in the show to how they might play out in my life.

In the first episode, Todd meets his staff by going around the office introducing himself to each of them. The assistant manager tags along quietly beside him. In my office the manager would do all the talking, describing both me and my new colleague for each other’s benefit without either of us really having to say anything. Inaccurate.

The staff are immediately revealed to be a collection of stereotypes: the petite and quiet girl, the ambitious and business-obsessed assistant manager, the attractive and assertive girl, the cool and flirtatious young guy and the overweight dude who won’t shut up. In my office, it takes literally years for some colleagues to reveal their character to you, and generally interactions are kept to business – to wit, they bring as little character to work as possible, saving it for after hours. If you’re lucky, you get to spend time with them after hours and get to know them better. Inaccurate.

Todd’s fellow foreigners in his Outsourcing Building are a dinki di Aussie chick and Diedrich Bader. I have never seen a dinki di Aussie chick anywhere near my Outsourcing Building, and I most definitely haven’t seen Diedrich Bader. Inaccurate.


In the second episode, the office break room is shown to be colourful and filled with a number of snacks and tea-and-coffee-making facilities, with laughter emanating from the mingling men and women on the staff. My break room has some chairs and tables, a big sink, one BRU tea/coffee machine, and a water cooler. The walls are white and bare. The staff generally sit segregated according to gender, and those that mingle with the opposite sex do so very quietly so as not to attract too much attention. They are also usually married couples. Inaccurate.

Todd cannot comprehend the famous Indian head-wobble, so Asha – the attractive and assertive girl – demonstrates it for him by taking his head in her hands and moving it slowly from side to side, all the while looking into his eyes and giggling. If any single one of my female colleagues did this to me, my head would explode right there in their hands – we have barely exchanged a single handshake in two whole years. Inaccurate.

Finally, Gupta unleashes a tirade against all of his fellow staff, pointing out everything that he hates about each of them. In my office, where dancing carefully – and with a smile – around the people you dislike is elevated to an art form, this would only be within the realms of possibility if someone were drunk. It might even become likely in such a case. Gupta, however, is not drunk. Inaccurate.

Verdict: Even allowing for the fact that I work in far-more-conservative Kerala, on point (1), Outsourced gets a FAIL.

Answering (2) is much simpler: did I laugh? Well, a majority of the jokes were infantile, such as the parade of ridiculous items sold by All American Novelties, Todd’s company. Stupid does not equal funny.

Others COULD have been funny, but were lazily thrown in rather than stretched to their capacity, like when Manmeet is saying goodbye to one of his phone girlfriends and manages to sell her a teddy bear that plays recordings. He asks her what he should record into it for her to listen to when she goes to sleep at night. I would have laughed hard if he’d sat there in silence for ten seconds, getting progressively more disgusted as he listened to her obviously filthy request; as it was, he quickly told her “I can’t make a cute little teddy bear say that”. This is spoonfeeding where it really wasn’t necessary – a lot of the best humour allows room for the audience to read something into it, and I wish the writers had realised this.


Most importantly, in each episode several jokes were downright offensive, and they WERE often stretched to their limits, making for even more excruciating cringes. For example, when Todd spots a COW outside the office WINDOW and then, after listening to a long SPEECH about HINDU BELIEFS, asks “So, what time is lunch?”. NOT COOL. Also, when Gupta goes on that afore-mentioned ‘I hate you all’ rant he comes to “Mr All-American”… and has absolutely nothing to say! What?! He’s perfect, while all of the Indians have negative characteristics? Between this and the constant stereotyping, I detect a hidden agenda!

Verdict: I understand that people have different beliefs on what is and isn’t funny, but in the eyes of this viewer, Outsourced is DOUBLY NOT FUNNY – once for failing to make me laugh, and once for pissing me off at the same time.

I guess all this indicates that the show is on the fast track to cancellation. However, as Peta Jinnath Andersen notes in her article at The NRI, the pilot pulled in an impressive number of viewers, so who knows? She and Amitha Knight, who are both Indians in the USA, have written well about it, so check out their pieces (both of which are of course much more insightful than mine).

As it stands, I will be tuning in for the third episode to see if it can elevate itself in any way. Even with the bar set so low, I’m not holding my breath.

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