The Gori Mem card

This particular long-overdue item that I didn’t even realize I needed until now is inspired by (ie can be blamed on) the ever-witty Amrita over at Indiequill. She told me that if I mispronounced Faryal’s name on an upcoming episode of Masala Zindabad, I could play my gori mem card to get out of it.

So naturally I had to make one!

I have been watching films but have not had much energy or inclination to write about them because of family and work issues. Hopefully I will get back to it soon! In the meantime if you are a firangi female and you want a Gori Mem Card of your very own, it’s here! As every western woman traveling in India knows, it is a decidedly mixed blessing at every turn best dealt with using every ounce of humor you possess. In tourist spots I am mobbed by schoolgirls and families wanting me to pose with them in vacation photos. Why, I don’t know; I am not particularly lovely or exotic-looking, but my picture is in dozens of homes across India.

At an airport once, a worker insisted on unpacking my suitcase (which had already been scanned about five times and stamped appropriately) as I was boarding the plane and then made me pack it all up again after she dumped the contents onto the tarmac. My feeling (and that of my delayed fellow travelers) was that she was envious of me (without knowing a thing about me, really! except, you know, the color of my underwear after that).

I was also once dogged by a little boy not more than seven or eight years of age who wanted to sell me a tacky brass peacock I really didn’t want. Two hours later I caved when I realized that he was never going to give up. He had reduced the price to 1 rupee by the time I gave in, but I gave him 20 (more than his original asking price!) and that peacock is now one of my most prized (and ugly) possessions. My life as a single childfree woman has been scrutinized and discussed by every person I’ve spent more than two minutes with, as has my weight and my annual income. My friend Bina’s ancient grandmother Ba once remarked that she would find a wealthy husband for me since I “clearly needed servants.” Other family members argued vociferously over whether Bina had lost weight or if she only looked it because she was with her giant American friend.

And yet, appearances aside, many Indians just want to be friends with no strings attached. One Kashmiri shopwala still calls me every New Year’s Eve without fail, and out of the blue on occasion: “Helllooooooo Greta Memsaab! Is Sajjjiiiid from Indiaaaa!!!!” and he sent me beautiful photographs of his sister’s wedding in Srinagar recently (hi Sajid! *waves*). An Indian woman at the Fabindia store in Fort looked at the plain white, cream and black cotton-silk dupattas I was buying and said: “You people have such good taste” (she had an armful of gaudy spangled tops at the time). It never ends, this mind-blowing realization that what I look like makes me someone for whose benefit boundaries do not apply, for better or for worse.

So based on my own personal experiences in the lovely but contrary land of India, this is what you are entitled to (or not) if you qualify as a Gori Mem (see card back for details below—click to enlarge if your eyes are as bad as mine.) Use it at your own risk: there are no guarantees in apna India!

PS: if anyone can explain to me how to pronounce Faryal’s name before tomorrow, I would greatly appreciate it. Namaste! And Merry Christmas!

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46 Comments to “The Gori Mem card”

  1. *ROTFL*
    Being hankered to by knick-knacks is not reserved only for gori mems, but are surely favoured targets!

  2. Ha ha ha…this is hilarious.

    ALL this has happened to you?
    I can SO imagine the over-zealous auntie bit and the personal questions bit. :-)

    Btw, Faryal is pronounced “Furry-aal”. So you are good for tomorrow. :-)

  3. Wonder if we could get away with wearing these like press passes around our necks on big lanyards (or garlands)? Wait, what am I saying? Of COURSE we could :)

  4. Furr-yaal, thats Faryal. My american stepmom still gets mem benefits after spending 30 years in India, sometimes they get tossed my way too if I am with her. I was tickled pink when one person complimented me on how well I speak Hindi. Reminded me instantly of Brer Rabbit. ‘Born and bred in the briar bush’, I nearly told him.

    • My sister – whose skin happens to be a few shades lighter than the average Indian’s – constantly gets pestered by people who think she’s firang.

      Sis: (indicating locked historical monument): “Where are the keys to that, please?”
      Guard: “How can you speak such good Hindi?”
      Sis: “Because I’m Indian. Now, how can we get that opened?”
      Guard: “But how can you speak such good Hindi?”

      And so on. At the Taj Mahal, they quizzed her – asked her who the Chief Minister of Delhi was – when they saw she’d bought an Indian Resident ticket.

      • Good Lord, my knowledge of politics is so far behind, if I were asked about the president of India I might say anything from Abdul Kalam to VV Giri.

    • Ava, you can give her a Gori Mem card for Christmas ;-)

      I have traveled in India with my Patel “family” and they are almost always pegged as firangis immediately although they are Indian! Bina was almost denied entrance to the inner sanctum of the Madurai temple because she “wasn’t Hindu”…(I was denied entrance which made me sad)…

      • :) That is a great idea. In fact, mum said she wanted to go and see Taj, and we asked her to take some id along to indicate that she was an indian citizen now.

  5. May I please have one that stipulates although I am Australian I have no knowledge of, or responsibility for, the state of cricket in my country? Thanks :D

  6. And I always thought it was Far-yal’. Reading memsaabstory is educational.

  7. I may have to keep a copy in my pocket when I go to watch Indian films. They screen at the Indie-arthouse movie place, which sells beer and wine. So when I get disapproving looks about my beer, I can flash my “gori mem” card!

  8. Hilarious. Did you ever really say, “Chod do”? Excuse me, I can’t stop laughing. It’s like the time a director friend from UK called up a possible interviewee and called her ‘kuminee’ instead of her name ‘Kamini’. Real fun.

  9. BTW, Greta, a Brit friend was in town and I visited the Red Fort with her – and she kept getting asked, by passing strangers, if they could have a photograph taken with her! Later, long after we’d said goodbye, I realised that she actually looks a lot like you.

    • I actually just assumed that all foreign travelers were probably asked for it, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. At the Taj Mahal I was with a group of 18 Americans and I was the only one mobbed like that. I am not sure exactly what the criteria is, but maybe “middle-aged old bag” is basically it. Makes no sense though! I met a couple traveling with their very blond son (he was about ten) and they said he was constantly asked to pose as well, but I look nothing like a very blond ten year old.

  10. This is really interesting, and now that I am hooked to these personal experiences, hope to read more of these little tidbits.

  11. *Ahem* I have been appeased with my honorary card. Unfortunately, nobody is going to be fooled with it.

    I’ve just noticed that you’ve managed to avoid saying my name, Miss Crafty! Don’t worry about mispronouncing it. My best friend has been calling me Ahm-rita for so many years and my south indian family has been calling me Um-ridhuh for so many more, I don’t even know what my name actually sounds like so I don’t miss it. Just think about Furry-aal and Furr-haan. :D

    • I say your name, I just don’t say it RIGHT :D Anyway, you are totally a Gori Mem on the inside but curse you for your ability to gracefully wear a sari and your glossy manageable hair.

      • memsaab, you are also graceful in a saree – judging from ur pics. As for glossy manageable hair, qutie a few firangi friends from Europe/Oz and North America have remarked about subcontinent women being endowed with beautiful hair. wel we don’t have beautiful coloured eyes that u mems are blessed
        with!

        BTW, do u know that a “mem” in hindi refers to a blonde? Talk about stereotyping all western women.

        • I was blonde until I was about ten! Does that count? :) I do have blue eyes, although they are dark blue and often mistaken for brown :D

          And really the saree is such a graceful garment…but I do get stared at and pointed at when I wear one, which I don’t care for :) Would love to just be able to WEAR one as a matter of course…maybe some day :)

  12. The disclaimer portion of the card is funny (to others) but irritating nevertheless. Even I think that charging foreigners much more than natives for entry into museums etc is meaningless, and in fact gives a bad name to the official machinery of the country.

    Any single woman in India is subjected to Intense personal question/ unwanted lecherous attentions but it is definitely more so for Gori Mems.

    Did you receive marriage proposals ? I must admit that I cannot blame the proposer.

    • Ha ha, you are funny Atul :) I have received several marriage proposals, one of them involving large amounts of antique Indian jewelry which was tempting to the point where my friends had to drag me out of the place before I did something foolish :D

      I mean it all in good humor though-actually even being charged more for admission doesn’t really bother me as long as it’s reasonable and not exorbitant out-and-out robbery. If it is that, then I just don’t go in though :)

      • India is a bit late in joining the bandwagon of a higher entry fee for foreigners. I have paid exorbitant firang rates
        in Thailand as a student living on scholarship several yrs
        ago. I still remember my chat with my European friends about
        people being charged Rs 2 for seeing the Taj whether they are Indian or Foreign.

        Charging a bit higher fee is not a problem if those funds are used to maintian the monunments which I think is sadly missing in India.

        • I have no problem paying a higher fee, although whatever I pay doesn’t seem to be going into maintenance I am sad to say. But when it’s unreasonably higher—to the point where I wouldn’t pay that much HERE to go in to a well-maintained and professional museum then I have to just roll my eyes.

  13. The Gori Memsaab card works internationally, too. My husband had a conference in Barcelona, right after Spain won the World Cup, and I was tasked with bringing back some championship t-shirts. I was in a souvenir store, and asked for “dos” “grande” and when asked only “dos” I meant to say “no mas” but said “bas” instead. “Bas?? Bas??” Of course, the shopwallas were Indian. We had a little chat in a Spanish Hindi masala. The shirts were an exorbitant 50 Euros, but for me 30. I said “desi discount kya hai?” and he knocked them down to 19.

    I will carry my card proudly! Speaking even a little Hindi in India got me a lot of attention, and I would say it was all favorable, if bemused.

    • Being a Gori Mem with even a tiny clue seems to very much enhance the benefits. If I sing along to the radio in a taxi I am pretty sure the driver won’t try to rip me off (and even if he does, I don’t put up with it which gains me grudging respect most of the time). I never really feel unsafe in India like I do even here in my own neighborhood. Even when hotel staff members have tried to force themselves into my room, I can get rid of them by shouting at them (and do). It’s not a place for faint of heart Gori Mems though. There’s a reason why those old Indian women are so tough :)

      And yes—the Gori Mem card works wherever there are Indians, and there are Indians everywhere :D

  14. I don’t have gorgeous, shiny mangeable hair.:-( My hair is curly and decidedly unglossy. I’m sooooo sad.:-( And the only time in my life that I’ve worn a sari was at my wedding…I spent the entire 5 hours in mortal fear that the damn thing would unravel any minute.

    You know what would cheer me up though? If Memsaab spoke in Hindi in the next Masala podcast! Not that I’d laugh at you or anything.:-O

    • Then you too are allowed to be an honorary Gori Mem (if you aspire to such a thing, ha ha) :) And I do mangle more film names etc. in the next one that I am in :D I depend on Amrita’s editing to keep me from any embarrassing faux pas though :D

  15. This is such a fun post!

    I have found that being able to utter a few words of Hindi and being familiar with Indian films are all great help when in India.

    • Yes indeed :) I think that’s true of most people/countries—if you make a bit of effort with language and culture, they are happy and willing to meet you MORE than halfway :)

      • I have found that true. I remember that on my first-ever visit to Paris, I was buying some souvenirs near the Eiffel Tower. I picked up quite a few – and at the counter, purely on impulse, said “Pas le reduction?” – pronouncing it correctly. Till then I had spoken only in English.

        The guy immediately smiled – and shaved off a bit from the bill amount. :-)

  16. This is Memsaab is you are great always, its really interesting and now that I am hooked to your personal experiences.

    Our Super Star Rajesh Khanna’s birthday is coming on 29th December. I request you to kindly bring out a beautiful article and photos of our Super Star Resh Khanna please.

  17. Dharmendra’s birthday was on Dec 8th. A ‘belated wishes’ . He was one of the greatest actor of bollyood.

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