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  • Writer's pictureKuzhali Manickavel

good authors too who once knew better words now only use four letter words writing prose

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

Do you know where black Africa is? It’s between orange Africa and chartreuse Africa. It is often confused with brown India and yellow China, which are both very colorful countries.

That isn’t really what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the steamed rice cake. I do not know what a steamed rice cake is. That’s not really a big deal- only recently I learned what a fajita was and I was also immensely disappointed to learn about the Garibaldi biscuit. These are just a few of the many, many, many things that I’ve read about in stories but only have a very vague idea about. But among the few things that I do know is idlis. I appreciate idlis so much because they are simple, cheap and when your stomach fucks you over so that all other food readily forsakes you, it is the idli that will stand by you and help you get better. In many ways, the idli is like a very good friend that you don’t like to acknowledge as a very good friend.

So you can imagine how flabbergastingly disappointing it is for me to learn that in certain pieces of fiction, this exotic ‘steamed rice cake’ is supposedly an idli. It’s not an explanation or a definition of an idli- the poor idli is stripped of its Indian name and given an awkward English descriptor instead. I know, I know some peeps are saying duh, those stories are not written for you, in which case I haz a sad, like how I haz a sad when I sit in India and watch a documentary about Indian slums that was clearly made for non-Indian audiences [Shot of cow in street with somber voiceover saying ‘Indians are culturally opposed to toilets which is why they enjoy defecating at the side of the roads.’]. I also know that some peeps are saying oh no you d’int! Oh no you di’nt because you know those English descriptors are being used for better factual accuracy and better representation and all that other stuff you keep whining about so oh oh oh NO you di’nt.

But I don’t think this is about factual accuracy. I think this is about discarding the Indian word completely in favor of the English descriptor, like we are ashamed of it. Isn’t an idli an idli like how a nacho is a nacho? You don’t see American writers calling nachos ‘thin, unleavened flat bread made from maize and often cut into triangular wedges’, do you? Personally speaking, I have trouble reconciling the idli with the steamed rice cake because when I think of ‘cake’, I think of birthday cake, when I think of ‘steamed’, I think of a steam pressure washing unit and when I think of ‘rice’, I think of curd rice. So when I read Anand’s mother packed him a simple meal of steamed rice cakes, I’m thinking that he’s getting a birthday cake made of curd rice and steam pressure washing units. But hey, that’s just me.

Is idli one of the many four-letter words we’re not supposed to use in fiction because it is bad? Are we ashamed of idlis? Are we ashamed because many people don’t know what an idli is so we must never speak of them at all unless we apologetically refer to them as Steamed Rice Cakes? Do we fear that non-Indians (otherwise known as white people) might think we are all terrorists if we don’t deconstruct the idli completely so that even native idli eaters don’t recognize what we’re talking about? Is that the only way we can get white people to like us?

I don’t really know. What I do know is that reading some of the English descriptors for Injun things can often be an irrealisticallysurreal experience for myself. Because I am awesome, I have been able to break down how these irrealisticallysurreal experiences happen for me. I am only going to use Tamil words here because that’s all I know.

Example 1

Tamil Word- pottu

English Descriptor- caste mark Flawed Initial Understanding of English Descriptor – Heavy bruises and blunt force trauma sustained after being bludgeoned with a cast, possibly a full-body cast with the body still inside it

Complete Sentence- She walked home from the local temple, her forehead blazing with caste marks.

Thought Process Following Flawed Initial Understanding of English Descriptor Within The Complete Sentence- For some reason, this woman was beaten up with a body cast by someone in the temple. It doesn’t sound like a very nice temple.

Further Confusion Caused By Another Sentence- He was sitting in the temple, deep in meditation, his body covered in caste marks.

Further Confused Thought Process- What kind of temple is this? Why do people go there? People shouldn’t go there.

Example 2

Tamil Word- sambar

English Descriptor – lentil soup

Flawed Initial Understanding of English Descriptor – In my little youth, I heard a story about a woodsman who was so poor that all he could eat was lentil soup, which I imagined was three pieces of grass in water with a lot of tiny pebbles. To this day, this is what I think of when I think of lentil soup

Complete Sentence- His mouth watered as he thought of having a hot meal of steamed rice cakes and lentil soup.

Thought Process Following Flawed Initial Understanding of English Descriptor Within The Complete Sentence – The aforementioned steamed rice cake and this lentil soup combination makes me think that this is why so many people think all Indians are strange and super poor and would be really happy if someone gave them a sandwich.

Example 3

Tamil Word- vadai

English Descriptor – deep fried spicy lentil cutlet

Flawed Initial Understanding of English Descriptor – This is a code or a secret password for something. The black eagle flies at dawn. Deep fried spicy lentil cutlet.

Complete Sentence- Lakshmi served him a delicious breakfast of steamed rice cakes, lentil soup and a deep fried spicy lentil cutlet.

Thought Process Following Flawed Initial Understanding of English Descriptor Within The Complete Sentence – This whole sentence is a secret password for something. Or maybe Lakshmi is serving up some kind of Chinese food, I heard they eat steamed rice cakes in China. Or was it California. It was some place that started with C. Probably California because Lakshmi seems more like a Californian name than a Chinese one. Hey! Maybe this is a story about Padma Laksmi and Top Chef!

Example 4

Tamil Word- Payasam

English Descriptor – Milk Pudding sweetmeat

Flawed Initial Understanding of English Descriptor – Milk and pudding and pieces of sweet meat all mixed together.

Complete Sentence- As a birthday treat, grandmother served her special milk pudding sweetmeat which all ate with great relish.

Thought Process Following Flawed Initial Understanding of English Descriptor Within Given Context- I do not judge your grandmother for feeding you a mixture of sweet meat, milk and pudding because maybe in your culture you eat that sort of thing. I do judge you for eating this with large quantities of relish which judging from my personal experiences, is always some kind of dodgy, banned American relish that somehow ends up in India along with certain kinds of dodgy peanut butter and chocolate pudding. The Surgeon General recommends you take up smoking instead of eating milk and pudding and sweet meat and dodgy relish. If you decide you would rather not heed this worthy advice, the Surgeon General says to tell you goodbye.

Special shout-out to She closed her eyes and prayed to the elephant-faced god

Can I just say that I think peeps need to get over the fact that G-dawg has an elephant’s head and maybe do this totally novel and unconventional thing like maybe, oh I don’t know, maybe actually refer to him by name? You don’t see people calling Jesus ‘That Guy On The Cross’, do you?


no wait before okbai, let’s listen to some music, no? yes.

First, let’s listen to some white people music which is such a racist thing to say.

The Raveonettes- Candy.

And now, as penance for our lying and racism, let’s listen to some Das Racist. Band name and two song names in a sentence. Ready?

You oughtta know that you can’t have a Big Mac at the Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell because Das Racist.


no wait wait. You saw UK Cosmo’s spread of nekkid menz? No? You will see men you’ve mostly never heard of engaging in lolwutly awkward and staged posing with rapey face, I’m-looking-at-something-over-there face, i-am-going-to-sneeze face and the very popular no-for-realz-this-is-sexy-why-are-you-laffing? face. There is also a gentleman who has a pineapple pressed against his matrimonial areas.

okbai. for realz.


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