Grandpops didn’t know you had cheese fries

Of all the photos that I took in Delhi, this one surprised my grandfather the most.

“This is another one of your jokes, Dave,” he scoffed, turning from my computer screen to glare at me. “Are there really Ruby Tuesday’s in India?”

Grandpops wasn’t alone in his shock at seeing a familiar brand in an unfamiliar place. I myself had no idea Ruby Tuesday’s would be in India until I first set foot in the GK II market.  Which is why, in fact, I took that picture in the first place.

And remembering Grandpops’ reaction reminds me of why I felt the Slumdog Millionaire controversy in 2009 was so misguided. People called it ‘poverty porn, with one blogger chiding it as “a collection of clichés from the Third World’s underbelly for the viewing pleasure of a First World audience.” And while it’s true that Americans are fascinated by foreign poverty (even though we’re blind to it on our own shores), there’s something the critics of Slumdog misunderstood: the movie actually did introduce Americans to a side of India we’d never seen before.

Not the slums, but the skyscrapers.

The modern side of the country. Most Americans had no idea that India had televisions and game shows and popular culture; we certainly had no idea that India has two homegrown Regis Philbins!

I remember one Thanksgiving in the early 2000s, long before I ever visited India, when my grandmother made a “final answer” joke at the dinner table. Every one of us — from nineteen to ninety — laughed at her joke. And then we all marveled that there was an aspect of our culture that all generations could share.

None of us had any idea, though, that 7,200 miles to the east, there were a billion more people who would have laughed along with Grandma — much less that those billion were also discovering that Ruby Tuesday’s “Thai Phoon shrimp” doesn’t quite look on the plate like it does on the menu.

11 responses to “Grandpops didn’t know you had cheese fries

  1. But then only a tiniest fraction of the billion could afford a ‘Thai Phoon shrimp’ even if a Ruby Tuesday is present in their locality – which it is not.

  2. Kk – you missed the point. Don’t focus on poverty, focus on modernity.

  3. Look! Delhi Struggle ‘s baby is reading the paper! Which one does s/he subscribe to? Ha Ha

  4. It’s kind of sad but I suppose inevitable, here in Nepal we’re getting a Pizza Hut & a KFC. YUK!!! I’m kind of embarrassed American culture is represented by crappy food chains In Asia.

  5. Oddly enough I think you took that picture in M Block Market in GK2… That’s right where I used to live! Ah, the memories.

    Anyway, very well said. I would join you in defending the film on a few counts. First of all, you hit the nail on the head with the introduction of Westerners to a part of Indian society they had no prior experience with (let’s say that typical Bollywood movies with their singing, dancing and recycled love/marriage-story-lines are a bit inaccessible to the West’s prevailing tastes).

    Secondly, I would have a big bone to pick with those folks which called it poverty porn. It’s the same thing I would say to the Indians which hated the way it depicted India. Imagine, I heard from one of my best friends in Delhi that it was actually “too depressing!” The film doesn’t fit into the typical Bollywood plot of three twentysomething male friends that have one girl they’re all pursuing and somehow they get into engineering college and move to London to live happily ever after with their high-caste extended family. It shows police corruption, religious violence and the depth and ugliness of poverty among other things; it addresses ideas which Bollywood doesn’t like to (because Bollywood is all about feeling good; relief from a long day’s work). Concurrently, it’s a bit cartoonish with its lugubriously happy ending, something which some critics in a Western audience would likely have a problem with given the poverty-stricken context. So I can see why it doesn’t vibe with everyone, but I don’t agree at all. In large part, that’s the India I saw: Hope, dancing and laughter woven into the tragedy.

    • Ummmm….I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire from about 15 mins into the film when I realized that this was not a Hindi film, it was a western movie for western audiences and because India is the flavour of the month, the locale had to be India with all the cliches about India that are familiar to western people. Once I made this mental switch, I enjoyed it a lot as standard Hollywood fare. Because then I stopped comparing it to Bollywood films that have tackled the same themes (estranged brothers, crooks and corruption, violence and crime) extremely well – Deewar (1970s), Ghulam (1990s). Those films, in their own stylized Bollywood way, went deeper into the characters’ inner lives than Slumdog could do, given that Danny Boyle probably had no idea about (or interest in) how Indians actually interact with each other or their families.

      • Sharmishtha, Slumdog is indeed a Western movie, made for Western audiences, but it is based on the book Q&A by Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat; see for more information. While there were certainly changes made in the transition from book to screen, the basic story is the same, and I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the movie entirely, especially if it serves as a gateway for Westerners to learn more about India and Indian cinema. And speaking of Indian cinema, if I were going to recommend a Bollywood film about estranged brothers, crooks, corruption, violence, and crime to someone who had been intrigued by Slumdog, I’d choose Kaminey.

  6. Bibi-
    I think the Chinese would be embarrassed by the way thier cuisine is represented here. All throughout Asia, Chinese food is revered the way French food is in Europe as the pinnacle of fine dining.

  7. Bibi-
    I think the Chinese would be embarrassed by the way their cuisine is represented here. All throughout Asia, Chinese food is revered the way French food is in Europe as the pinnacle of fine dining.

  8. “Most Americans had no idea that India had televisions and game shows and popular culture” as much as most non-Americans had no idea that USA had real people with emotions and all that, and not just suit clad, white (or black) skinned robots with lots of money. During my first year in grad school, when my American labmate cried in lab because she had a fight with her boyfriend, I was naive enough to be amazed that people are the same inside of the white or brown or black skin. This was 15 years ago. Globalization has brought people closer together now, I suppose.

  9. Haha .. What about the gazillion MaccyDee’s! 😀 We’ve even got Walmart now apparently! Not to mention your earlier post on Taco Bell. The only two we’re really missing now are Burger King and Starbucks 😛

    xx G
    Look who’s Wearing (LwW)

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