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My Fight Against The Cultural Appropriation of Samosas

11/02/2016 8:13 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Saurabh Raj Sharan Photography via Getty Images
Hot and fresh samosa just out of frying pan in Russell market Bangalore

Last week, I fell in love with a new song, and feeling that my flatmates deserved to hear me sing it 24x7 for the next three months, I decided to learn it.

But I'd only just typed "Hymn for the Weekend song lyrics free" in the search box, when Google News jumped up, announcing some garma-garam khabar with all the energy of a yesteryear paper-wala.

Curiously, I dug in, and 1843 angry articles later, I was outraged.

I mean, how dare Coldplay make their music video feature all the things about India that we're most ashamed of -- such as poor people, snoopy aunties, single screen theatres, and the cruellest of all, Sonam Kapoor in her Prem Ratan Dhan Payo avatar?

I could imagine the headline, "Girl Went to Eat Samosas: What Happened Next Will Blow Your Mind!"... or "Young Girl Single-Handedly Busts Cultural Appropriation Racket in Malad."

Gross, gross cultural fetishization, I sobbed.

And how dare Beyoncé wear a Rajasthani lehenga without even caring to know its rich history? My culture is not a costume, I wept, remembering all the good times I'd worn it for fancy dress at school.

Gross, gross cultural appropriation, I thought, blowing my nose.

Depressed with all the Western tyranny, and reeling with the loss of a dear song, I left for Girdhariji's, hoping to heal myself with a hot snack.

***

As Girdhariji deftly dipped samosas into the kadhai, I remembered one of the many useless things I'd learnt on Quora: samosas originated in Central Asia! They weren't Indian at all.

And yet, I realized suddenly, here sits Girdhariji, profiting off another culture without a care in the world!

I began to feel sure he neither knew, nor respected the history of the samosa, or the culture that invented it. Why, he didn't give the Persians any credit, shamelessly calling his shop "Girdhariji Ke Mashhoor Samosay", instead of 'Girdhariji Ke Mashhoor Version of Persia Ke Samosay'. In fact, he even distorted the samosa by selling it within a pao -- an idea that can only be Maharashtrian. What a shameless culture appropriator!

"Girdhariji, you are stealing from the culture of the Persians who invented the samosa", I told him, thrusting my phone's camera in his face.

With this new insight on Girdhariji, I grew excited -- because this could totally be the next story to break the internet!

I could imagine the clickbait headline, "Girl Went to Eat Samosas: What Happened Next Will Blow Your Mind!" Maybe even the mainstream media would pick it up, with soberer reports such as "Young Girl Busts Cultural Appropriation Racket in Malad."

Inspired and determined to get myself those five minutes of fame, I kick-started my sting operation.

"Girdhariji, you are stealing from the culture of the Persians who invented the samosa", I told him, thrusting my phone's camera in his face, "Do you have anything to say in your defence?"

He responded with the look my first crush gave me when I told him I loved him -- one of complete indifference.

Used to the look and therefore undeterred, I decided to get a good shot of his shop first, and pester him later.

That's when I noticed a Northeastern fellow in the corner of the shop, standing sullenly behind a stall called "Original Sikkim Momos".

Goodness, I realized with a thudding heart, so Girdhariji is guilty of fetishization as well!

"GIRDHARIJI!" I shouted, turning the front camera on and trying to make my head vibrate like Hrithik Roshan in action scenes.

A mob of jobless onlookers had gathered around us, trying to figure out which of us they could beat up and strip as a punishment for something.

"How dare you employ a Sikkim boy to sell momos? Why must you reduce Sikkim to a stereotype? To a land of momo-makers and momo-eaters? Why don't you show this boy as a wholesome individual, with likes and dislikes beyond momos?"

I paused for a moment to fill up my lungs with more air.

"Have you forgotten how a Maharashtrian beat up some Sikkim fellows in Chinchwad 173 years ago? You are fetishizing and appropriating a culture your forefathers once oppressed! For shame! I will take this story to the media, Girdhariji, your career is now over!"

By this time, a mob of jobless onlookers had gathered around us, trying to figure out which of us they could beat up and strip as a punishment for something.

At the word "media" and at the sight of the thickening crowd, Girdhariji sprang up from behind the kadhai, visibly scared. I zoomed into his sweating face and demanded him to speak up. Folding his hands, he stuttered,

"Bhenji, I didn't mean any harm, of course! I respect all the cultures in the world, especially of Sikkim, after all, it's our neighbouring country! From tomorrow I will start selling the momos myself. And I'll stop selling the samosas altogether."

At this last statement the mob launched into a frenzy of dissent.

Now I realized that public sentiment was turning against me. Besides, the whiff of crispy fried samosas, ready to be fished out of Girdhariji's kadhai, was fast filling the air...

So I decided to drop my dreams of viral fame and settle for smaller joys (namely safety and samosas) instead.

***

Matters were then resolved rather amicably.

Girdhariji agreed to forget the ₹240 I owed him for last month's snacking, and I gave him my word in written to not go to the media with this story.

Pleased with the bargain and munching on my samosa, I headed back home, humming "amma feeling drunking high" to myself.

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