Grand Tamasha

Scaachi Koul on the Collision of Indian Politics and Culture

Episode Summary

Buzzfeed writer Scaachi Koul joins Milan to discuss her Indo-Canadian upbringing, how politics in Kashmir stirs up family conflict, and the cultural import of “Indian Matchmaking.”

Episode Notes

Scaachi Koul is an Indo-Canadian culture writer at Buzzfeed and the author of the 2017 book of essays, “One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.”


For those of you who spend any time on social media, you will know Scaachi is a force of nature--dishing out sharp-witted takes on cultural and political issues from Kamala Harris to the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking. But she’s also written extensively about her Kashmiri identity and her life as an Indian woman growing up in Canada.


This week on the podcast, Scaachi joins Milan to discuss her Indo-Canadian upbringing, how politics in Kashmir stirs up family conflict, and the cultural import of “Indian Matchmaking.” She also talks about her unique relationship with her father--a frequent (and humorous) presence in her writing and on her social media feed.


Episode notes:

  1. Scaachi’s article on the Kamala Harris VP pick.
  2. Scaachi’s essay on how Kashmir is dividing her family
  3. Scaachi’s 2017 book of essays
  4. Scaachi’s take on the Netflix show, “Indian Matchmaking”

Episode Transcription

Milan  00:12

Welcome to Grand Tamasha, a production of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Hindustan Times. I'm your host, Milan Vaishnav. Scaachi Koul is an Indo-Canadian culture writer at BuzzFeed and the author of the 2017 book of essays One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. For those of you who spend any time on social media, you will know Scaachi is a force of nature, dishing out sharp-witted takes on cultural and political issues from Kamala Harris to the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking. She has also written extensively about her Kashmiri identity and her life as an Indian woman grew up in Canada. She joins me on the podcast today from her home in Brooklyn, New York. Scaachi, it's great to have you on the show. 


Scaachi  00:48

Thank you for having me. 


Milan  00:49

So, there is a lot to cover. I want to first ask you about how you are staying sane during COVID. We all have developed a routine - some people have gone into gardening, some people have gone to, you know, sourdough starters. You're in New York City. You're in Brooklyn, I believe. What is life like for you? Paint us a picture.


Scaachi  01:11

I think the sad thing is that my life hasn't actually changed that dramatically. It's just sitting inside, except I just can't go to work, and obviously I can't travel right now. A huge part of my job and my monthly schedule was traveling. I think I'm making my husband insane. I think I'm making my cat insane. But I'm good. Like, staying inside is not a problem for me. It is the crushing inescapable anxiety about the future. I could live without that. But I don't think I am going to get that. So, other than that. 


Milan  01:48

You're making your cat insane, you're making your husband insane, but are they making you insane? Or are they fine.


Scaachi  01:58

I mean, the cat’s fine. The husband is... legally allowed to be here. So, what are you gonna do?


Milan  02:08

So, speaking of legally allowed to be here, you are Canadian, but you are now living in the United States of America. We are in the middle of a kind of insane presidential campaign season. I guess any presidential campaign with Donald Trump is by definition insane. Give us some of your reflections as kind of an insider-outsider - what does the 2020 race look like to you?


Scaachi  02:34

Oh my God. It's so funny to hear how Americans talk about your elections. Because you guys are always like, this is the most important election since the last one, and it's like, okay, so they're all important - like you never have an unimportant election. And in Canada, that's just not how that works. Like, there are so many elections that I can think of that are so uninteresting and uninspiring and kind of irrelevant. Part of that is because you can throw an election at different times - you do have set term limits, but not really in the same way as here because it's a parliamentary system. It's so chaotic - like, it's given me a renewed understanding of why Americans are so messy. You guys are such a messy populace. How could you not be? Yeah, I don't know. Look, it's bad. I would maintain some hope that Biden would win. But what do I know? I didn't know last time.


Milan  03:33

So, you have some thoughts on the Kamala Harris VP pick. You wrote a column on BuzzFeed, which we'll link to in the show notes, in response to a piece that the conservative activist Dinesh D'Souza wrote, which kind of attacked terrorism in various ways. But in the piece you wrote the following, I just want to quote: "Just like white people, Indians have also been steeped in anti-Blackness from early on in our history, even in moments when we too were being oppressed." And so, as you kind of take stock of where we are, does this moment offer in your mind some kind of unique moment of cultural reckoning? And do you think Indians are going to hop on that train?


Scaachi  04:15

I don't know. I mean, I think it's a really... Kamala is such an interesting flashpoint because she's half-Black and she's half-Indian. And that's a conversation that I don't think Indians often get to have - our relationship with the Black community and how we treat them and how we talk about them. And I think it's going to be really interesting to see what Indian groups kind of try to erase her Blackness and conversely, what Indian groups don't really want to claim her because she's half-Black. I mean, I don't know. I'm generally not an optimist about these things. So I don't think this is like the time when a bunch of Indians will be like, "Oh, I see. I shouldn't be racist. Okay. My mistake. Let me start over." Like, I would love that to be the case, and I think it happens, but it's a slow burn, it's a slow trickle, and I don't know if merely her presence is enough. I don't know. I'd love to be proven wrong, but I think it's really early in her involvement in this campaign for anybody to really know for sure. But also, like, Dinesh D'Souza is an idiot. Like, he's a professional ding dong, and he is going on TV saying, "Oh, she's not actually Black because her family has lineage with slave owners" because he doesn't understand how slavery works. Like, he's so profoundly stupid in ways that delight me, like the idiocy of retweeting my article - with a misquote! Oh my God, that's a treat. That's still, that's ice cream. That's dessert. I would like 10 bowls. Like he's so dumb. So that's the kind of Indian that we're gonna have to fight against in terms of like dealing with anti-Blackness. Oh god, that's gonna be - that'll be easy. I'm not worried about that at all then.


Milan  06:04

So, in America, we have this idea - I was gonna call it a myth, but perhaps it's actually true - that people in Canada are just like us, but they're basically better in every way. So, you know, you're nicer, you're more tolerant, your government has better policies, you're more humanitarian or kind of rational. But in your book, you had this really interesting passage, where you had the following to say at your Canadian brethren. You say, "While Canada purports to be multicultural, Toronto in particular," - which is I think where you were living at the time - "our inability to talk about race and its complexities actually means that our racism is arguably more insidious." So, unpack that for us. I was not aware that Canadians have trouble talking about racial issues.


Scaachi  06:56

Yeah. Oh my God. We're the worst. Like, Canadians aren't polite, we are passive aggressive. So, if you start off from a point of thinking that you are already a little bit aggrieved, then it's really hard to have a conversation with anybody about that. Because you're already sort of presenting yourself - and often this is privileged white people who are coming off as aggrieved before anything has happened. You can't talk to them about anything. I cannot tell you the number of well-meaning, nice white ladies who came up to me after my book came out, who were like, "I didn't know racism existed." And it's like, well, make one friend with someone who doesn't look like you and you'll figure it out. Because our comparison in Canada is the US, and the US is so loud and things are so bad here all the time. And you guys take up so much cultural space and so much attention and you guys are always doing stuff and when you do stuff, it's incredibly loud. Everything we do gets washed out. So I'm not that impressed by a country that purports to be tolerant only in comparison to another country that currently is violating multiple human rights. To me that seems like a low bar. I don't really think that's interesting. You know, I think Toronto is having the same conversations that lots of big cities in the US are having about defunding the police and about homelessness and about how we treat, you know, how we treat the least privileged people in our neighborhoods. Do we go to those neighborhoods? You know, none of those conversations aren't happening, but I think there's a different kind of resistance to having it because they don't teach us the same sort of things that you guys get taught in school. Like, though there might be some arguments about how the conversation of slavery ends in public school, you guys still get taught the fundamentals of what happened. And I think in Canada, they teach us a really watered-down, really white-washed version of that. And then we grow up and think that's just what the world is. So we're taught a version of, like, indigenous history that sort of presents indigenous people as like myths, like they don't exist anymore. We don't really talk about residential schooling. (I'm not sure how much Americans know about residential schooling either, that stuff sort of doesn't get presented.) And so you grow up in a place where you are conditioned to think everything's fine, we're doing great, everything bad we did stopped in 1870, nothing has ever been bad since. But that's not true.


Milan  09:38

So, I want to bring in the Indo-Canadian part of Scaachi into this. In your book, you are pretty self-reflective in many parts, but particularly when you kind of talk about your own Brownness, and how you pushed against that up until university, I guess it was, and then you sort of say, "You know, I moved to Toronto, started to see a lot more Brown people. And I became resentful because I wasn't one of them. I wasn't in their club. I didn't want to be in their club." I have a sense of what the Indian American experience is as an Indian American - obviously, it's not a monolith, but I have some insight into that. Tell us about your own Indo-Canadian upbringing and what that was like.


Scaachi  10:26

Well, I mean, I grew up in a city that was pretty white. But we had a lot of family, and you know, you grow up in a community and every Brown person is your auntie and uncle. And that's just how it is. And you don't ask questions about whether you're related or not. And that was fine. But I think I got in trouble a lot when I was younger because I was doing things that I wasn't supposed to do, because I was supposed to be like a nice pious Indian baby and I didn't do any of that. And so, when I moved away, to me, it was like an exciting opportunity. To not be like the one Brown person in class. And then I became one of six Brown people in class. So, it didn't change that much. But I think when you see other people who are from your community and who are able to embrace it in a way that you can't, it's a really complicated feeling. Because at once you feel resentful. You feel like they're, they're showing off something that you're hiding. It’s like someone's showing your shame, and it makes you uneasy. And then at the same time, it makes you sad because you think like, “Oh, well, if they can do it, then why can't I own this as well? What has been lacking in me that I haven't been able to connect with this and what have I been so afraid of?” And so, you know, you think about it a little longer, and then you realize all of the effort that you've put into hiding and the effort that you've put into getting along and making peace with white people, primarily, sometimes comes at the cost of other people because you're doing it at the cost of people who are darker than you, who are less privileged than you, who don't have... You know, I'm fair skinned, I'm Brahmin, my family's very middle class. Like, I have a lot of privileges. But my focus on, "I'm Brown, and I'm not going to fit in, and I have to squish myself into a place of whiteness" - that punishes other people. And then it also punishes yourself because you're not going to win. Like, you're not going to win, you're not going to win this thing. And this is something I would say to Dinesh if he ever dared to come near me in person. (I welcome it. Oh, I welcome it so much.) But I'd say the same thing to him, which is, you are siding with your oppressors with the hope that they will take care of you when the war starts. They will not, they will not. They're using you as a toy. And as soon as you cease to become relevant to them, you're done. And I think I started to realize, like, I was trying to side with people who weren't nice to me. And for what?


Milan  12:53

So, I'm curious about your connection and the connection you feel to India. For BuzzFeed, you've written about India, you've written about the fact that your parents were stuck in lockdown there during COVID. But you've also talked about your connection to Kashmir - your family is from Kashmir, you come from a family of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits driven out of Kashmir in the 1990s. And at the end of 2019, you wrote that - you know, after the events of August 5, 2019, when Article 370 was abrogated and there was this fallout in India - that whole set of experiences created new divisions in your family. How did those cleavages work? What was the breakdown? What were the camps?


Scaachi  13:42

Oh, I think I'm alone on an island. This breakdown, I don't think a lot of my family agrees with me. I lived a pretty uncomplicated life when it came to my connection with India for most of my life, because I was just told we were Indian and that's all you really need to know. And then you get older and you start reading stuff about Kashmir and then you realize that sometimes, when you talk to another Brown person, they ask where you're from and you say Indian, they go, "Oh, where?" and then you say, "Well, my dad's from Jammu, my mom's from Srinagar," and they look at you, and then you're like, "Wait, I said something that I didn't mean, I've revealed something that I didn't mean to." I feel less comfortable now saying that I'm Indian, because, I don't know... And it feels like it's such a loaded sentence now, for me and for other people, too, because it tells you so much about where I might land politically, which I don't like, because I don't like the BJP. I don't like what they're doing to India. I don't accept this Hindutva ideology that they're trying to push through this massive country that has so many different religions and has so many people to try to protect. I'm not comfortable with that. And so now, saying, even in North America, "Oh, I'm Indian" when my family's from Kashmir is much more loaded, and I haven't really figured out a solution with that yet. It's because now, if I say I'm Kashmiri, if I say this to a white person, then I got to get into a 10-hour long conversation about, "Okay, well, here it is on the map. And this is..." I am saying this, and I don't know, maybe I'm Pakistani, who knows? I don't really care. Like, that conversation is so lengthy. So, I have to make a decision about how much I want to talk that day. With my family, I think there are a lot of younger people in my family who agree. And think what happened last August was a human rights violation. And it was very clear what the Indian government wanted to do. And then with the older people in my family, they think I'm an idiot, and they think that I can't possibly know anything because I didn't grow up there, and some of the people telling me that grew up in, you know, Rajasthan, so I don't know what he's talking about because he doesn't know shit either by that token. So, you know, I think with some people, we've come to a comfortable silence on it, and me and my dad fight about it all the time. But he and I are made from the same, very much the same cloth, which means that we can fight and then, you know, you can still eat dinner. 


Milan  16:18

So, could I just ask you one follow up on this? I think one of the hopes, if you leave aside the policy decision of 370 - even for people who were opposed to what happened on August 5, one of the hopes that they have is that there might finally be a reckoning or an awareness about the Pandit community, about their desire to return to their homes, and so on and so forth. Do you see that as a possible silver lining or a possible upside?


Scaachi  16:58

I can't view it as a silver lining if it comes at the expense of Muslim people in the area. I won't. I won't. I don't have the stomach for saying, well, this is acceptable, because then it'll be, "My people can come back after they were run out" or whatever, like whatever narrative - people have very different narratives about what happened to the Pandits. I do believe that awful things happened to my community, that's not lost on me. And I think when I wrote that article last year, I think a lot of people selectively chose to not read that part of what I was saying. I believe that happened. And I believe it for my family and I believe it for my grandparents who fled in the middle of the night in '91, and I believe that for my mother who hasn't been able to go back in 40 years, I believe that, but I do not want that at the expense of another community. What do I get then? Nothing. I propagate the same thing for another 70 years. So, what happens when this happens again, and then we have a Muslim population saying, “We were run out, we were killed, we were persecuted, we were driven out of our homes.” So, for what? Because then I'm doing it twice. And I don't feel like, as somebody who is, you know, I'm of that kind of final generation of Kashmiris at this point, who are like that pure blood bullshit that they love to talk about... You know, once my parents die in our family, most of the language will be gone because I understand it, but I can't speak it very well. My brother understands it very well. He can't speak it at all. Do I want to have all the things I could possibly carry from my parents and from their generation and from their history? Is this the thing I want to carry? Not really. And I think fundamentally, so much of the conflicts that have happened in that region is because India steps in because they think that they're going to pretend to protect Hindus when what they're actually doing is going after a marginalized community. The Muslims are a minority in India. They might be a majority in that area, but they're a minority in India. They know exactly what they're doing. So, I'm not advocating that, like, my mother should never be able to go home, that we shouldn't have conversations about what happened to Pandits in the area. But I want to know why we can't say two things at the same time. Why can't we hold two things in our hands at the same time? And that nuance seems to be lost. And sometimes it's lost by people who had first-hand experience. I understand it a little bit better when my mother gets upset about these things, but her family really lived through it. I don't get it. Like, Raj at NYU, who's 20 and has never been, who has no vested interest in this, but gets in a 10-hour argument with me about how, like, you shouldn't be friends with Muslim people because they're sneaky. That's the sort of stuff - that's when my back gets up. So, yeah, I mean, I guess there's a silver lining, but I guess you would have to question whether silver linings include the subjugation of another people.


Milan  20:11

So, part of your career has been a kind of open embrace of social media, right? Again, it's something you talk about in your columns, something that you talked about in your book - Twitter, in particular, where you say, you know, you kind of have to pick a camp, you either have to succumb to the rules of the ruthless Twitter gods or you have to stay off of it completely. It's hard to kind of have a halfway.


Scaachi  20:35

I think it's hard. It's hard to do. 


Milan  20:37

It's hard to do half right. You're either in or out. And you've clearly chosen the former. And as somebody who writes about India, you're now well versed with, you know, trolls and online vitriol and so on and so forth. How do you navigate that? And do you think it's different in India Twitter than what you get, say, when you write about chemistry?


Scaachi  21:01

Yeah, it's so different, because the kind of lousy, boring racism that comes from white people – like, they have no creativity, and they run out of things to say to me... So, part of the problem when white people yell at me is, I'm not Muslim, so half of the slurs they'd like to use for me don't work. Like, I don't wear a hijab, and I'm not from, like, the country that scares them. India for white people is like, "Oh my god, India is so beautiful, I love elephants!" Like, they have this kind of sweet, soft impression of India - they think of Delhi and Mumbai and eating pani puri on the street. They don't think about anything else. So their way of communicating to me is often offensive, but like, it's boring. Like, I've heard it. When Indians get mad at me, hoo! It is so personal, and so complicated, and really weird, and kind of nuanced in a way. Like, there's also a huge fight between, like, diaspora Indians and Indians in India, and there's a real fight between, like - I find often diaspora Indians are much more conservative for some reason, and so they get really angry, but then there's the fight about, if you're of the diaspora, you don't really understand the culture, you can't really have an opinion on anything. It's a mess. And there's always somebody anytime I read about India, who sends me an email and accuses me of spelling my name wrong, as if I'm doing it to anglicize it. Like, is this what I would have picked? For real. Like, if I wanted to make my name as palatable as possible to white people, you're telling me I will pick a first name with a silent C and an extra A and a last name that is also not phonetic. That's my choice. Like, I could have been Susan Smith, and I picked Scaachi Koul. Got it. Oh, my mistake, clearly I miscalculated. Yeah, I mean, it's way worse. But also, it gets personal because they bring up my family, and they ask me questions about, like, "Oh, your parents must be so disappointed in you," and it's like, well, of course they are. I'm a writer - of course they're disappointed, like, they wanted a doctor. Like, it just gets... they try to get into your skin. So that's a new one.


Milan  23:23

But does it affect your kind of mental sanity? Right? I mean, I feel like they're at some point...


Scaachi  23:31

I think for that stuff. I try to hear it a little more because often when we talk about something like Kashmir, there's so many emotions around it. And I don't want to be dismissive of people who lived through real atrocity and who have inherited trauma from their families. That's the problem with what's happening in Kashmir. This isn't a black and white issue. This isn't white people coming in and colonizing something and then that happened and then we know. Then we know, right? The British are bad, the English are bad. The Americans are bad. We know that, that's easy. And while their influence is certainly felt now, especially in that area, what we're talking about now is different. And I am a part of the group of people that are being oppressors. And if I want white people to hear me when I tell them that they are also a part of oppression, then I have to hear it for myself. So, when I get emails from people, I have to at least try to hear them out. The emails from Hindu Pandits are much angrier because they think that I'm, like, selling out their cause. Yeah, like I'm a traitor to the religion and to the community, which is ridiculous. And I don't know if they completely understand that by refusing to accommodate different points of view, they are pushing me out. If the whole point is that you want Kashmiris to feel connected to the community and you want them to feel connected to the language and you want them to stay connected to the area then this is not the way to do it.


Milan  25:14

So, I want to ask you about your dad. I would love to meet your dad at some point. He is a central character in your writing, in your humor and your social media feed. For the uninitiated who don't know about Scaachi's world, tell them a bit about your father. How does he feel about this kind of starring role he has in your very public life?


Scaachi  25:40

My dad is 70. He came to Canada in - I believe it was 1978, I think. And he's been in Canada ever since. He is an absolute egomaniac, and a nightmare. He loves attention. So he's having a great time. I think, in some other version of the world, I think he wanted to be a journalist. And that just wasn't in the cards for somebody who was, you know... at the time when he moved, he had a child, he had a wife, and he wanted to be in North America. He wanted to be in the States. And then he ended up - and this is like such the immigration story for so many Indians, right? It's like, we wanted to move to America, but we couldn't figure it out, so we went to Canada instead. So that's what he did. And yeah, he loves it. Oh, he's gobbles it up. Like yesterday, he called me. I have a podcast and he's featured on it, and he will listen for his own parts, and then call me and get mad that he's not in it enough. So that's currently the crisis we're dealing with.


Milan  26:46

One of the things that I found the most hilarious about your book is the emails that you quote from your dad, where you know - just to give an example to our listeners, in one, you're about to come back from a trip, and he writes, "You're coming home tomorrow. Well, we have to find the good in everything, I suppose." So, he has this kind of hilarious dry humor. Does he actually talk like this? I mean, are these real emails that he sent to you?


Scaachi  27:15

Yeah. Yeah. How could I make this up? I don't even have the time.


Milan  27:21

You know, I'm trying to square this with... I mean, your dad is no ordinary uncle. He clearly understands comedy on a different level.


Scaachi  27:32

Yeah, I mean - he's a strange person, because he's funny when he tries to be funny, but he's especially funny when he does not try to be funny. So, like, you know, he performs when he gets hurt. When he hurts himself. He gets very irate and animated, which is always funny to me. Yeah, he's just like this. Like he's just an exhausting, ridiculous person, and he hates everything and also is like delighted by hating things. So yeah, it's very much in his nature.


Milan  28:11

You know, you reflect on the fact that there's this great irony when you grow up: that you only really understand your parents after you leave the house. And I'm wondering, how has your career as a writer, as an author, changed your relationship with your parents? Has it in some ways allowed you to kind of understand them a little bit better now that you're, you know, a culture writer for BuzzFeed, author of a New York Times notable book?


Scaachi  28:43

I think it has forced me to spend more time to think about their motivations and where they came from. I think it's really easy when you're 16 and you're mad at your mom because she won't let you go to a party and get, like, your tongue pierced by some guy named Kevin to flatten your parents out, and they just become these cartoon versions of parents, especially with Indian parents, because it's like, you know, "Oh, my mother hits me with a spoon, blah, blah, blah, ha ha ha!" And you don't really think about it. And then you're 25 and you're like, wait, that really hurt my feelings. You probably need to think about that a little more. So, in some ways, yeah, it's made me understand them better. In others, I think it's forced really uncomfortable conversations with them. But some of my family members are completely immune to this. I mean, I'm not. I don't write about my brother a lot because it's just not something - I don't think he enjoys this kind of meditative, contemplative writing about, like, what does it all mean? I think he just wants me to leave him alone. And my dad also, there's certain things he just doesn't - he cannot accommodate. And, you know, I ended that book with him not speaking to me. And he didn't talk to me for a year. And it didn't - nothing mattered. Nothing I worked on. No successes mattered. He was incredibly hard on me and really awful. And then at the day I got engaged, he started speaking to me again. And we still haven't talked about that. One day we will, I'm sure. But it didn't - nothing - it didn't matter. And then when my book came out, he didn't read it because he knew it's just, like, a collection of stories that would upset him. And I was like, that's probably a good idea. I don't think you need to engage in these things that are just going to upset you. So, you know, sometimes, yeah, it allows for open dialogue and an excuse to have the open dialogue. I mean, I did a This American Life segment last year. And I got to talk to my parents about how, you know, they didn't teach us any Kashmiri, and they didn't teach us any Hindi, but they made us feel guilty about it for a while. And so, it gives you an excuse to sit down with a microphone and be like, tell me how you failed. Tell me how you failed me.


Milan  31:01

This could be like your Netflix special, right? Conversations with your dad about, you know, what happened that one year?


Scaachi  31:11

Yeah, maybe. I mean, it's hard, because that's exhausting. Like, there's a reason why I don't write a lot of personal essays anymore unless it's really for a book. I save those things unless it's for a big project. I used to write them a lot, but you end up cannibalizing yourself. And this isn't to say that people who write personal essays every week - they maybe just have a capacity for that. I don't. You eat little parts of yourself and you rip them off your body and you send them into the into the world and you hope that they survive and that's exhausting. And to then drag your family into it too, and to go up to my dad and say, like, "Hey, can I just get a piece of your bone and your sinew so I can make the story, and then spin it out into the world?" You're asking it a huge favor. So, I mean, I do it less because it's a lot. I think it's a lot. And, you know, all they did was have a baby. I don't think they anticipated, like, "One day she's gonna ruin our lives. We're gonna get doxxed for 20 years." I don't think that came up.


Milan  32:20

So, my mom has this joke with me and my brother that whenever we complain about something that happened in our childhood - "just don't write a memoir," you know?


Scaachi  32:32

Yeah, yeah. They've actually never said that to me because I think they know that I would, it would only make me do it. They said that, I'd be like, "Well, that's going in." But I also think you get a little bit of plausible deniability, because I think I generally try to make sure that in whatever essay I'm writing, I'm the problem. And I think you can get away with murder if you do that.


Milan  32:54

So, I can't end this conversation without asking you about the great cultural touchstone of our times, the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking. To me anyway, it's been really interesting - I will admit, I have not seen anything past the trailer.


Scaachi  33:12

You haven't watched it?


Milan  33:12

Yeah, I just, I haven't gathered up the internal fortitude. But what I find so interesting is that you have some people on one side who say like, this is such a sharp and savvy social satire, they totally understand all of the dynamics of caste and privilege and wealth and so on. And then you have others saying, like, this is only going to serve to perpetuate the very worst, most-stereotyped cultural traits of Indian society. On this all-important question of our age, where do you end up? Do you end up somewhere very different from either of these?


Scaachi  33:55

It's like a frothy, fun little show. I watched It very fast. I don't think it's a satire. I think it's telling you exactly what happens. It's not being tongue-in-cheek; it knows exactly what it's doing. But I think there's a huge difference between being accurate and being necessary. So, I can make a documentary about how Indians are racist, but for what - like, for what purpose? And I think what was so odd was that this was a show that was very clearly marketed to white people, to Americans. It was on Netflix for us. It wasn't coming out of Netflix India. It was made by Indian people, but Indian American people. And I think a lot of the nuance got lost. And I think there were things that they didn't fully explain to the audience, and that's when people get their backs up. So, this show has still existed in the same way that it has. But maybe they explained what it means when you say that you want someone who's fair. Because I had my white friends texting me saying, "I thought fair meant pretty." And I have to be like, well, it does, but they mean pretty as in white. They're equating whiteness with beauty, and then I have to explain to them what that means. Or to sort of get into the complications of like, why does this girl need to marry a Sikh man? Why is it a big deal that she's divorced with Vyasar and his father being in jail? Why is that a big deal? Like, what's the cultural relevancy of that? And then, like, there was just - you needed a voice in there to contextualize it. And the problem is that with the way that the show was formatted, that voice would have been Sima, who was the matchmaker. And she was the wrong person because her point of view is very old school. And I actually think part of why she was doing this show was because her business is probably not working the same way that it has for the last 40 years. Because now she has to take into account that, like, kids can go on the internet and meet somebody, there's far more love marriages happening than before. There's more choice. This is why that guy's mother is constantly talking about how her BP is going to kill her, which - I don't know any other ethnic group that refers to it as BP. And it makes me laugh so hard every time. I was like, does anybody else know what this means? Because I love this. But, like, she's freaking out, because her son has an option. He has a choice. And he did make a choice because he got engaged, and then they didn't get married. He's in love with his cousin. That's what I think. But anyway, like, you know, it just - it was such a binary show. It's just a bunch of, like, straight people, mostly from the north, with a few exceptions, who are trying to look for other people, but there was no conversation about the implications of, what does it mean if we keep forcing fair skinned people to marry fair skinned people? For people in the same caste to find each other? What does it mean for this girl who is Guyanese who's saying, like, “I have a hard time dating Indian men, because if they find out I'm Guyanese, they think I'm not Indian anymore”? Like, that is so complex and interesting and sad and devastating and frustrating, and no one was present on the show to sort of be a guide through that. And I think that's why you see Indian people watching it and feeling frustrated, and that's why you see white people watching and being like "fun!" and then never thinking about it. But I mean, like, also, you know, I hope they do a second season, and I hope that they can simultaneously be more fun, because I think it needs to be a little more delicious and enjoyable, but also you need somebody to be able to explain why this stuff is bad. Alternatively, I think we should just give Ankita her own show. She was the girl at the very end that clearly came on to promote her business. I would watch 10 seasons of her just being a person in India and having a nice time that way.


Milan  38:06

Well, I don't know, Sachi. Maybe you in season two will be the voice of context. 


Scaachi  38:10

I would be happy to. I would love if it was like, Sima tells them whatever needs to happen, and I show up, I'm like, "No, this isn't how it works. We're gonna go to a bookstore, we're gonna find a nice boy. Figure it out that way. I'm gonna call some friends." I mean, I don't know. And even the stuff of, like, consulting the stars - I don't think that was explained enough. Like, they sort of presented it as this very woo-woo thing that's, like, inexplicable. What is it? It's no more complicated than like when I go on Co-Star on my phone and look up that me and my husband are compatible because he's a Sagittarius and I'm an Aquarius. Like, that's it. It's not that different. I know lots of white women who buy crystals and sage their house after a bad date, but it's equated differently, it becomes this kind of unspeakable, unknowable thing. I mean, I don't know. I just really do hope they get a second season so that they have an opportunity to sort of lend more context to it because I think that was one of the chief frustrations with it. But it was certainly accurate. Nobody can say that it wasn't accurate.


Milan  39:15

Scaachi Koul is a Canadian culture writer at BuzzFeed. She is the author of the book of essays One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. It is equal parts heartwarming and hilarious. I highly recommend it. You can follow her on Twitter at @Scaachi. She has not yet changed her name to Susan Smith, although maybe that's something that will happen one day. Scaachi, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really enjoy your writing and love the book. And I know there's a lot going on in everyone's lives right now, so thanks for taking the time.


Scaachi  39:53

Thank you for having me. This was very fun.