In (somewhat but not fully) Defense of “AWnee-rOOd Pee-shuh-ROEdee”

Never Have I Ever: Said My Indian Name Correctly

Well…it has been quite an interesting and eventful 11-ish months since the last time I wrote something here. In the midst of all the fun and not-so-fun things I’ve had to do, those who know me well knew that I was still looking for something that I would have a unique enough take on to write about, as this page has become more of a “write when you feel it” situation. Despite my long break, personal life to attend to, and lack of inspiration…look at that, you still got a new soggz-blogs post before you got Winds of Winter.

To do the quick catch-up because I know you’re all curious (clearly the opinion of one brown nerd is the truth you were all waiting for):

  • No Way Home was everything I could’ve hoped for and more. As a “Tobey is MY Spider-Man” die-hard, everyone was phenomenal (yes, even Garfield who’s movies I’ve gone full “nerd rage” on before) and I think the moment that sealed it for me was when Tobey and Doc Ock were reunited. I could literally write an entire post on the line “trying to do better” just on its own, what it meant to me, and the beauty behind something seemingly so simple but I’ll move on.
  • I walked away from Multiverse of Madness thinking it was fine and had some fun moments, but the more I revisited it and more I thought about it…yeah I kinda hate it.
  • Love and Thunder was a rather unfortunate disappointment as someone who puts Thor: Ragnarok as his best MCU movie. Not enough room to breathe on any of the moments & way too many asinine goat jokes will do that to a guy I guess.
  • As a South Asian American, Ms. Marvel made me feel better than I deserve to feel. As a critic, I still think it was overall “good” but had way too few episodes which really screwed the pacing and development of characters. I’m not sure how the decisions are being made for how many episodes an MCU show gets, but I think eight or nine episodes instead of six would’ve really benefitted Ms. Marvel to give us more time with some of these characters, especially Kamran. Iman Vellani is a national treasure though and she’s the only queen I mean to bend my knee to.

That last one is the best segue I could find to move into what we’re talking about today, which is Never Have I Ever‘s third season. I don’t think its a shocker to anyone that’s been with me for a while that I thoroughly enjoy the show and adore the positive representation; In the sense that there exists a show about a Desi-American girl and other minorities having regular “high school problems” on top of the added layer of various cultural issues that every BIPOC deals with.

Obviously its a comedy-drama about a teenager and that’s not gonna be for everyone, but it stands where other pieces of media in that same lane have stood and says “Hey you uncultured morons, high schools in America aren’t just petri-dishes of white people, the rest of us exist”, and that in and of itself is a good thing. I think a lot of people forget that we don’t need every story from western media about diaspora Desis to be 100% solely about “the movement” or grand cultural explorations or generational trauma. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is extremely important (and for those of us that come from partition-families, Ms. Marvel was extra meaningful and I’m so thankful for that), but being able to just “have fun with a brown family” is a big part of positive representation too.

All that said, I’m not really here to unpack the show or its moments today (although for the record I will argue that season 3 was the best one yet). I’m a little more concerned with this video that has been circling desi-instagram for a minute now. If you’re too lazy to click we basically have the actor for one of the Indian-American characters, Anirudh Pisharody, introducing himself and presenting a pronunciation of his name that is laughably bad when heard by anyone from the diaspora (hence the title of this post). We as a community at large had a field day with this and have clowned the man in the comment sections everywhere that this video exists, and made our own video responses. Case(s) in point:

It’s understandably comical, especially when you account for the irony of him deciding to pronounce it like that in an interview about his name.

My first instinct, like many of my fellow browns, was to join in on the slander aka “he sounds like a damn fool”, “dude can’t even take pride in his culture”, etc. My second instinct was to go through a lot of these comments and see other people feeling the same way and making those feelings known. My third instinct was realizing the things that basically became the reasons for this piece.

A while ago, coincidentally on the advice of Hasan Minhaj himself, I basically had to take my mental health into consideration and I chose to limit my exposure to every single sociopolitical issue that we’re constantly slammed with all the time. The idea “having 50 tabs open in your mental browser” just became too real for me at some point, and I had to take a step back and just pick three “tabs to keep open” that I can be updated on and have a heated (or not, but who am I kidding) discussion on. I know where I stand on the other issues and can be supportive from the sidelines, but I’m not trying to be in-the-trenches on them anymore except for my personal three, and one of them is unsurprisingly “anything related to the South Asian community in America”, which (finally) brings me to the point.

Look…if you are a diaspora desi/South Asian American/whatever you want to call it (and I’m including everyone here: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, etc.), I 100% believe that you should pronounce your name properly and demand that everyone outside of our culture(s) pronounce it properly too. That is your name and you owe it to yourself and your people to take pride in it and command the respect that it deserves. That is unequivocally my stance on how we as a people should operate. Even if you pronounce it the wrong way, I will still say your name correctly.

At the same time, I also understand the choice that “aNy-rUde” made, because I’ve been there and I’m willing to bet that all (if not most) of you browns reading this and the ones that left all those comments have been there too. We’re going to get into this, and if this was a Sesame Street episode the word(s) of the day, aka the concept I’m going to be referring to, is none other than: Internalized Racism.

Not having the time to go super deep into what that means, I’ll link this for you and provide a summary in my own words: The belief by a minority in the lies told to them about their ethnicity by an inherently racist society, which manifests itself in deprecating behavior.

Its essentially a form of indoctrination; Pop-culture tells you one thing, the kids you’re in school with regurgitate it, you don’t get the proper support to take a stand against it, your brain gets rewired and you start to believe it, and before you know it you’re a young adult who is adjusting things about yourself to fit into an oppressive point of view. You basically end up going out of your way to “not be a stereotype” to the point where you forget to be yourself & end up adopting a negative view of your own culture (“Yeah bro I’m Indian but I’m not like one of THOSE Indians yknow?”).

I wasn’t going by & requesting the proper pronunciation of my name until 7th grade, and I know for a fact that a lot of you kept anglicizing your names for a lot longer. At this point in the piece, I want to ask every American Desi reading this to think about all the times you’ve taken part in it. For me in high school it was: going out of my way to smell good because “Indians are smelly”, not practicing the faith I’m so dedicated to now because “people make fun of weird religions”, and not eating my lunch in public if I had Indian food. In college I took some weird pride in the fact that I didn’t have Indian friends anymore (almost as if some weight was lifted off of my shoulders), let white people make their stupid jokes at the expense of my ethnicity, shaved my beard whenever I went to the airport, and went out of my way to dress/speak super white (the frat boy era was something else in hindsight). In my early 20’s, I constantly shot myself in the foot when it came to dating because “Indian guys are largely viewed as undesirable so what’s the point”.

With all of that out there, I asked myself if “anglicizing your name” is really something that deserves this much heat? Are there any of you that have NOT done this at some point in your lives? Even Hasan Minhaj used to go by Huh-SAHN Min-AHj until he decided not to, and are we all really going to ignore the full on name changes of “Mindy Kaling”, “Kal Penn”, “Jay Chandrasekhar”, “M. Night Shyamalan”, “Tan France”, and (my favorite one) “Ben Kingsley”?

I want to be clear that what happened with “Aah-knee-REWDT” (I swear that’s my last one) is inherently hilarious and easy to make fun of. My intention here is not to virtue signal or shame any of you for reacting to it the same way I did at first, I think I’ve put forward enough of my experiences in self-hate to communicate that. Internalized racism is a reality for many of us and often times we’re not even aware of it…so how do we beat it? Supporting each other through it. Call it cliche or easier said than done, but that is absolutely the right thing to do.

I think any desi reading this knows that, notwithstanding the racism you receive from non-browns, all of us also have to deal with the insanely judgmental environments that we call our “community” for whatever individuality, quirks, or personal problems we might have that doesn’t “fit the mold” or just “isn’t talked about”. In my humble opinion, it’s the combination of both phenomenons that creates internalized racism: conditional acceptance by everyone else & conditional acceptance by your own people. I believe that its our job as the first American-born generation of South Asian Americans to do better and create a more supportive environment as opposed to doing the literal opposite, which is what I saw with the Anirudh incident .

Admittedly, I’ve been lucky. My brown friends from high school never gave up on me despite all of the complicated feelings I had towards my racial identity, not staying in touch through college, and dealing with things that the “average brown” doesn’t deal with. I was really bitter yet they kept reaching out, and those dingbats are some of my best friends today. Recognizing my own good situation in that regard, I ask you to put everything aside for a second and think about the times you felt least supported when it came to your identity.

Let’s first realize that this guy actually did the damn thing. A very brown dude with a very brown name chose a career path that in many ways is a cacophony of white voices…and despite this he got a supporting role on a top-rated and highly viewed Netflix series, one that goes into the brown experience at that. That experience sets him up nicely for bigger and better roles & sets us up for seeing another talented brown face on our screens in the future.

Then he says his name in an interview in a way that he’s probably had to say it most of his life, just so that the (most likely) white casting directors can remember it and he can get called back instead of being forgotten…and instead of millions of brown fans of Never Have I Ever showing him a semblance of acceptance of those circumstances while letting him know that its okay for him to pronounce the name properly now…we went with the “shaming” route, because THAT always famously works out super well for everyone, right?

Look, I know what you might be thinking: “Its just a few internet comments, why take it so seriously”, “He’s old enough to know better”, “How can anyone confirm the potential reasons you cite here to even be true for his situation”, etc. I understand all of that and I’m not trying to say that my word on this is gold, rarely do I ever when it comes to my writing.

All I’m trying to say is that maybe we should take a minute to ask “why” one of our fellow South Asian Americans did something the way they did on a very public stage (especially if its something we’ve all done) instead of immediately jumping down their throats and making demands from them. No movement is ever going to go anywhere positive without the presence of some empathy, we can ask someone to do a better job at representing us while also being understanding of what they did in the first place.

As Hari Kondabolu once alluded to, we’re not in the “Pre-Aziz-and-Mindy” era anymore where no one cared about what any brown person in the media said. However, a lot of us still grew up in that era and lived through the confusing transition into where we are now. Either way, it’s a better situation now and we have the ability to keep that progress going by being a supportive audience of better fans.

I’ll leave you with these closing thoughts: Sir Ben Kingsley’s real name is KRISHNA PANDIT BHANJI. Isn’t that insane?!? Did YOU guys know that one? I just straight up thought the dude playing Gandhi was a white guy with a tan until like 7 years ago. Still better than “Bobby Jindal” though…then again anything is.

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