NYT-IndiaInk’s Preferred Indian Men – Elite, Ideologically Metrosexual or Both?

IndiaInk is the India-specific Blog of the New York Times. IndiaInk might have been inspired by IndiaRealTime of the Wall Street Journal, but it is decidedly different. The Wall Street Journal’s IndiaRealTime is mainly business, generally serious and informative. NYT’s IndiaInk is softer in tone, it deals with softer issues and it features many wonderful Indian-Americans.

Look at this week’s self-portrait by Alok Ranjan, a perfect Indian-American success. Mr. Ranjan grew up in a small town in India with limited electricity, high crime rate and rampant corruption. During his undergraduate studies, he managed his dorm’s cafeteria. Then he joined Tata Consultancy Services. After a job in HSN, he got a master’s in Information Systems from University of South Florida. Then he joined Columbia Business School and joined Microsoft as a senior business strategy manager. He won the Outrageous Business Plan Competition at Columbia and with that capital, Mr. Ranjan founded ifood.tv.

He tells us in his self-portrait that his company achieved more than 7.7 million unique global visitors this month and now has offices in California, New York and India. His brain-cancer specialist M.D. wife was introduced to him by their parents. Together they have started NutritionRank.com to compare foods according to their nutritional value.

This is a fantastic story, a story of the ultimate Indian-American dream. Mr. Ranjan’s self-portrait, ghost written by a Patricia R. Olson, is a success story that makes all Indian-Americans proud.

So I read it a second time. It occurred to me that NYT-IndiaInk never features stories of ordinary Indian-Americans who struggle to make it in America, desis who work hard to support their families, who have trouble dealing with the terrible stress today’s economy puts on family incomes. These are the people who suffer under an underachiever label because American society now expects all Indian-Americans to be success stories, to be highly intelligent with Ivy League degrees, with great jobs or with ownerships of start-up companies or hedge funds. When they don’t meet these high standards, they become Indian-American failures and are looked down upon by elite Indian-Americans.

It is not just people but issues too. The NYT-IndiaInk stories are often so elite-oriented. Sarah Khan writes about glittering charity or artistic galas in Manhattan, Sruthi Gottipati usually covers topics that fit her Columbia Journalism school image and Neha Thirani is so chic in her choices. Their coverage must be the ideological fashion statement of their Boss, Heather Timmons, whose most favorite man and topic seems to be Salman Rushdie. 

Perhaps that is why I tend to read IndiaInk. It is so out of my zone that I am drawn to it in a George Costanza type of way. I am simple guy with simple tastes. I never drink Starbucks coffee, I have never bought an Apple product, I don’t even have a smartphone. I never go Manhattan Museums or art galleries. I enjoy watching Football and I am a fan of the New York Giants.

I love Bollywood movies but not the arty sort NYT-IndiaInk women like. I like to watch traditional Bollywood, the oldies or the recent Salman Khan, Akhshay Kumar, Ajay Devgun movies. I stay away from all elite (read crony) Indian-American functions in Manhattan. No wonder Heather Timmons refuses to talk to me. Sarah Khan, Sruthi Gottipati and Neha Thirani would also shun me if I tried to contact them.   

But being elite is not enough for NYT-IndiaInk. Mr. Ranjan’s bio is phenomenal but I know of many Indian-Americans who have enjoyed similar or greater success. Yet, their self-portraits have never been featured in a NYT-IndiaInk article. So I read Mr. Ranjan’s self-portrait again and it hit me.

It is not enough to be successful or elite to impress the women of NYT-IndiaInk. No, Ma’am! You have to be metrosexual, ideologically metrosexual. By that I mean your personality traits have to be fashionable and chic and have the style to pull off ethnic mens clothes found on sites like Lashkaraa. Witness the title of Mr. Ranjan’s self-portrait  – The Conqueror of the Kitchen. Mr. Ranjan tells us that it was his love of food and cooking that clinched the deal for his wife. A successful Indian man who loves to cook – how perfectly metrosexual, ideologically speaking. No wonder the women of NYT-IndiaInk ran his self-portrait.

I simply gave up when I realized this. You see, I eat frozen dinners on most evenings. Since my main interest is watching TV, cooking that involves putting the dinner in the microwave for 4-6 minutes is ideal for me. Frankly, my cooking is even more basic than the instructions that tell me to cook for 3 minutes, remove the plastic cover, stir, re-cover and cook for 2 minutes more. I simply add 3+2 and cook on high for 5 minutes. Sarah, Sruthi, Neha would roll their eyes, curl up their noses if they saw me cook or eat. And Heather would banish me from earth if she could. They would not care that my lifestyle of non-exercise, extensive TV-watching and utterly prosaic interests works great for me and for so many basic guys out there.  

They wouldn’t care because the essence of metrosexuality is hiding reality. And that is what I see in NYT-IndiaInk. Their India is so fashionable, so admiring of Salman Rushdie, so utterly western cosmopolitan that I can barely recognize it. So their preferred men have to fit that NYT-IndiaInk image of India – they have to be both elite and ideologically metrosexual.

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