Comedian, writer and actor Aziz Ansari often incorporates his family into his material, whether in stand-up bits about his cousins or in his hit Netflix show “Master of None,” where his own parents play his character’s parents. For a new piece in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Ansari travels to southern India, seeks out delicious food and talks about how he relates to other members of his family.
The article documents the Indian-American comic’s visit to his grandmother’s house in Tirunelveli, a city in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. He opens up about the emotional dislocation he feels with relatives who grew up in India, which is a familiar feeling for many first-generation immigrants:
I relate to my cousins in wildly different ways. We all get along well, but it’s easier to connect with some more than with others. Three of them grew up in the States; four were born in India, but later moved to New Zealand; and the rest grew up in India and stayed. I’m closest with the American ones, not just because we’ve spent the most time together but because we share a specific set of cultural issues having grown up as Indians in America rather than Indians in India. They know the embarrassment of inviting friends over while your dad wanders around in a lungi, a garment that looks like a dress. They also know the challenge of trying to tell your parents, who likely had an arranged marriage, that you are dating someone—and the equally dicey situation of explaining to your partner why it took so long to share the news. My cousins in India can’t relate to any of this—everyone there is rocking a lungi, and several of them have had their own arranged marriages. They, of course, are dealing with problems that are entirely foreign to me.
He also describes his food fanaticism—a topic frequently addressed in “Master of None”—and his strategy for traveling:
The morning of my arrival in Trivandrum [also know as Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of neighboring state Kerala where Ansari visited first], I decided to adopt my standard strategy for traveling: find and consume really good food. Narrowing the focus almost always leads to a deeper understanding of the region. I was sure that this was the key to experiencing India as an adult—at the very least, I’d leave sated.
Those who read the piece in full, which we recommend, may see the story (and the accompanying video) as a manifestation of Ansari’s American privilege and Orientalism—an American-born Desi writing about how strange and interesting India is for a high-end and privileged publication. Regardless, his candor about first-generation Americans’ difficulty in fitting in with either their parents’ culture or American culture is instantly relatable for anyone who has experienced that life.
Read Ansari’s piece here.