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ess: Do you think mom and dad would ever speak to me if I brought home a gora [white man]?

Pinky: Look, Jess, you can marry anyone you want … but why go through so much grief when there are so many good-looking Indian boys to marry? It’s not like before, you know—now they wear good clothes, have flashy jobs, they even know how to cook and wash up!

That’s what Pinky Bhamra told her younger sister, Jess, in a half-hearted attempt to entice Jess into finding herself a nice desi boy. It’s the line I remember most from Bend It Like Beckham. Sure, the film was inspiring because its protagonist conquered traditional attitudes and nabbed a pretty sweet prize (ahem, I mean the whole soccer scholarship, of course) along the way. But when Pinky urged Jess to seek a mate from the South Asian set, I was intrigued. As a single girl myself, I wondered—is it true? Has the desi male specimen really evolved from his predecessor?

As a single girl myself, I wondered—is it true? Has the desi male specimen really evolved from his predecessor?

Of course, his “predecessor” doesn’t exactly evoke images of a smooth Don Juan. The stereotype is a little more depressing—a sexist, boorish man who can barely dress himself and expects his wife to cook, clean and raise the kids while he works during the day and commands his home at night. And though that is clearly one extreme on the spectrum, I suspect I’m not the only South Asian woman who has noticed at least some of those traits in the males of her family line.

I’m also certain I’m not the only South Asian woman who has created a mental checklist for her ideal South Asian mate: He can dress himself—well. He wants to have a family—but not at the expense of my career. He helps around the house—and doesn’t think he’s demeaning himself by doing so. He talks passionately about something that interests him—and it’s not necessarily computers or medicine. Is that too much to ask?

“Indian men these days have great personalities, great jobs, and they’re good looking. I think their mindsets tend to be more open. They tend to be more liberal.”

Instead of befuddling myself with these questions, I decided to talk with five South Asian American 20-something women to see how they felt. Their thoughts revealed quite a bit about the state of the modern South Asian male—and also left me seeking more answers.

A step up

Priya Varma*, a 24-year-old student from Austin, Texas, is optimistic about the modern desi guy. “Indian men these days have great personalities, great jobs, and they’re good looking. I think their mindsets tend to be more open. They tend to be more liberal,” she says. “They also tend to be more cultured, they know about different subjects, they’re more well traveled, well read. They’re more educated.”

Priya, who is Hindu Punjabi, is looking for a mate who shares her cultural and religious background. After dating countless non-Indian men, she’s counting on her parents to set her up with the perfect Punjabi partner. “I am looking forward to that,” she explains. “It takes the pressure off of me.” And she is optimistic about her potential mates. “To find an Indian man between the ages of 22 and 40 who doesn’t have a great job is so incredibly uncommon.”

Twenty-three-year-old Rehana Kundawala’s experience seems to affirm Verma’s views. A marketing coordinator living in Philadelphia, Rehana has been married to her desi husband for one year. But is he more evolved than his father or grandfather? “Of course!” she exclaims. “My husband never hesitates to wash dishes, help me with the cooking (although sometimes I’d rather he didn’t help), or even clean the bathrooms. And it’s not just the housework that reveals the modernism in him. It’s the attitude. He doesn’t think that I ‘belong’ in the kitchen, or that it is my duty to cook and clean for him. For him, it was more important to marry someone he could relate to on an intellectual level, rather than someone who had the cleaning abilities of a housekeeper.”

“South Asian American women are really progressive in their thinking, and South Asian American guys are really conservative. I don’t see our generation’s guys being more progressive than our parents.”

Well, so far, so good. Priya and Rehana start to convince me that there is, indeed, hope. I have my own career, but Priya seems to think the desi guy is going to be Mr. Moneybags, which can’t exactly hurt, right? And Rehana’s beau sounds like a gem who really treats her like an equal. After such positive feedback, I begin dreaming of my adorable future dark-haired, dark-eyed children with my mystery man. Then, the other “chappal” drops. And it is not pretty.

A downward spiral

I call Noreen Banerji, a 26-year-old medical writer in Indianapolis, expecting to hear more of the same glowing words about the modern South Asian American guy. But Noreen disabuses me of the notion rather quickly. You see, Noreen has had some experience with desi guys, and it’s enough to leave anyone jaded. Her most recent relationship with a South Asian man was headed toward marriage—or so she thought. After two years of dating, Noreen’s Prince Charming broke up with her—via email!—for no real reason. Noreen later discovered that his parents had arranged a union for him with a girl from India.

What Do You Think?

We want to hear your thoughts! Do you think the South Asian American male has evolved? Or have you moved on? Post your comments below. And be sure to read Roxanna Kassam’s response to this piece: Finding a Thoroughly Modern Male.

“Indian guys are mama’s boys,” she declares. “A lot of Indian guys have a hard time going against their mothers. The dynamic I’ve seen is that [South Asian American] mothers will pamper their sons, and fathers will shelter their daughters. But the fathers won’t sit there and talk to their sons about being progressive in their thinking. The mothers, though, will say to their daughters, ‘You need to be independent. You don’t want to end up like me.’ … Most South Asian American women are raised with that sense of pride to be strong. But the disconnect comes when South Asian American guys aren’t raised with the same kinds of values. South Asian American women are really progressive in their thinking, and South Asian American guys are really conservative. I don’t see our generation’s guys being more progressive than our parents,” she sighs.

After two hours of conversation, my mood is bleak. Noreen points out flaw after flaw in the young South Asian American men of today. They’re not as responsible as their fathers. They hold different standards of sexual purity for men and women. They like being in western-style relationships while they’re young, but in the end they want to marry the traditional Indian girl who will wait on them hand and foot. “As one of my friends puts it,” she says, “Indian guys are jerks.” Ouch.

“As one of my friends puts it, Indian guys are jerks.”

Our conversation is so depressing, I’m ready to give up then and there. Still, a few days later, I manage to get in touch with Anjali Singh, a 25-year-old graduate student at Johns Hopkins University. When she tells me she’s in a relationship, my interest is piqued—maybe she’s found a good one! And then she explains that her man is half-Mexican, half-Caucasian. She’s really happy, especially since her last two boyfriends were South Asian.

Anjali echoes some of Noreen’s thoughts. “The sense of responsibility [in our generation’s South Asian American men] is gone. Our fathers were more responsible when it came to family, children, even time management. Now, you see 30-year-old guys at clubs drinking, no responsibilities. It scares women. Are these people going to be able to raise kids with you?” she asks.

“Compared with my traditional-minded father, my husband has truly evolved. He sees me as an equal, we share household chores, he picks his own clothing, and, yes, ladies, he even irons himself.”

And though she’s not sure she will end up with a desi guy or the one she’s with currently in the long run, she’s definitely noticed some differences. “I see a huge difference between the Indian men I’ve dated and Caucasian men. They’re a little more respectful. Indian men take advantage of their own women. I don’t understand that. I see more respect coming from a Caucasian man. If you do the littlest thing for white men, they love you to death. If you do that for an Indian man, he’s used to it. They’re used to their moms cooking and cleaning for them,” she says.

Great. Now that I feel completely hopeless, I almost bail on interviewing the last South Asian female on my list. Reluctantly, I contact Permjit Sran, a 25-year-old college instructor from Kerman, California. I start out the same way I have with all the other women: “Is the modern South Asian American male more evolved than his predecessor?” Her thoughts cast some light on my otherwise grim outlook.

“This question truly depends on the upbringing of the men in question,” she responds. “Compared with my traditional-minded father, my husband has truly evolved. He sees me as an equal, we share household chores, he picks his own clothing, and, yes, ladies, he even irons himself.” Permjit admits she had a few doubters before the wedding day. “My friends and family knew what a great guy my boyfriend was, but they all told me, ‘Wait until you get married—It all changes then.’ Granted, we’ve only been married for about 10 months, but thus far my hubby shows no signs of regressing to the ways of the ‘old style’ desi man. For example, on the days I have to teach night classes, my husband has dinner for me as soon as I come home. The ‘old style’ man would have been complaining how hungry he was, waiting for me to come home and cook for him and myself!”

“On the days I have to teach night classes, my husband has dinner for me as soon as I come home. The ‘old style’ man would have been complaining how hungry he was, waiting for me to come home and cook for him and myself!”

I again see a glimmer of hope. Then Permjit points out something that Noreen had touched on: “Many of our desi women encourage and support the ‘old style’ desi men. The upbringing of these men indicates how modern they will be as adults. ‘Old style’ thinking is taught and learned. I keep hearing that I should be at home cooking for my husband, even though we both work, and I hear this more from desi women. Lately, my mother has stopped supporting this and there has been a tremendous change in my father—he actually helps out with household chores.”

So maybe we can look forward to finding the desi men of our dreams? I hope so. Even my most jaded participant, Noreen, isn’t completely hopeless. “I’m holding out,” she says. “I’m hopeful there is a progressive guy out there who is South Asian. I’ll wait until I find him.” I think I’ll join her.n

Ismat Sarah Mangla is still looking for her desi Mr. Right. At this point, she’d settle for Mr. Not Too Bad, also.
Published on February 7, 2005.
Photography: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

More Information

Bend It Like Beckham

Comments are closed.
  1. August 16, 2007, 4:01 am Michelle

    I would really love to hear more input from other women on their experiences. My own Desi girlfriends constantly warn me of the same things about the “jerky” Indian guys… is there any hope?!

  2. October 3, 2007, 4:26 am Bharti

    I’m in a relationship with a typical desi male. Sometimes he can be helpful and that’s a strong emphasis on ‘sometimes’! I wouldn’t say they are all ‘jerk’,however most of them in the end expect some of traditional gratuity from the South Asian woman. Marrying a ‘gora’ seems to be the idealistic goal that is running in some modern South Asian women(don’t worry no gora will have me cook chapattis at 3 o’clock int the morning), however their is the concept of accepting the traditions that comes with the South Asian traditions.Although many of my cousin’s have married outside the culture ,in the end it’s all about proper communication with ones’ partner. Here’s to wishful thinking!

  3. October 4, 2007, 3:15 pm Gautham

    As a desi man, I find this article to be a bit preposterous. How can you judge an entire group on the reactions of a few bad dating experiences? I would argue that South Asian men in America to be every bit as “enlightened” as our white counterparts. You’ve been watching too many Gurinder Chadha movies; maybe you should just say what you’re thinking: desis=backwards, white=superior.

  4. March 9, 2008, 2:11 am Neha

    I would not say that all desi guys are backwards cavemen, but there is a growing breed of desi guys who aspire to western male stereotypes and then expect a “good Indian girl” at the end of the day. You sees these guys trolling Indian clubs and parties…they all wear the same tight fitting striped shirt, have enough gel in their hair to be mistaken for an oil spill, and carry their flashy cell phones as they try to show off to equally pathetic desi girls….and it frequently works. I don’t think we should only single out desi men. There are many equally silly and risiculous desi women out there who cat fight, trash talk, and misrepresent not only desi women, but women in general.

  5. March 10, 2008, 10:00 am Karoona Mookerjea

    I agree that south asian boys are mama’s boys; they want their gals to look gora (like ash) but act desi (like guddi). in short, somewhat stylish but always docile, studying medicine but aspiring housewife, who’d dish up saag paneer at a moment’s notice.

  6. March 11, 2008, 10:42 am Chirag

    A friend of mine sent me a link this article and I had to write in. I would characterize myself as not the typical Desi guy. I’m not a ‘Mamas Boy’…I have my own house, I cook (yes even Indian food), I clean (even on hands and knees to mop), and I take good care of myself. I try to wear the latest clothes but not over spend and I have activities outside of work. So, my question is, what do modern Indian women look for? Can they spot guys like me? I’m not saying that I’m the perfect guy but I am a guy that will make dinner for my significant other during the week, help out in the kitchen, and house. What I would like is to ENJOY life with my SO, together. I don’t believe in a one way street..who wants that? And why? I think there are a lot Indian guys out there that are progressive and modern. Ladies…put down the ‘checklists’ when on a date…and look at the guy behind the ‘checklist’ and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  7. March 11, 2008, 1:23 pm Jasleen


    It was refreshing to hear that coming from a desi guy. I don’t all desi guys are bad and not all desi girls are perfect. You can’t generalize an entire race. Yes, everyone has their flaws, but at the end of the day what matters is how they treat you, their character, and their values.

  8. March 11, 2008, 5:58 pm h

    A lot of these definitely has to do with the mothers and fathers in question. If mothers (of every culture and religious background) actually put more emphasis on raising sons that were responsible, caring, and compassionate husbands who don’t think of wives as servants who also give sexual perks, that world would be a better place. There are definitely cultural double-standards in play here. I would like to point out it’s not always about different generations – even in the previous generation there were men who really considered their spouses their equals and respected and cared for them. Of course, half of those men were unfairly labeled ‘joru ka ghulam’ (many times by other women!). Marriage is about taking care of each other. And responsibility. And it can’t be one-sided. And both parties are human. So women and mothers! Raise responsible and decent sons, and stop thinking like the mother-in-laws you like to deride otherwise!

  9. March 12, 2008, 7:30 pm Michele

    From a gori’s perspective.

    I am a 42 year old white woman, divorced, with a few long term relationships under my belt. I am engaged to the first (and last) South Asian man I’ve ever been with. Regardless of race, he is the most loving, considerate, respectful man I’ve ever known. And after getting to know him better all I wanted to do was to tell his mother, “thank you, thank you, thank you!!!”. That’s not to discount his father but it’s the mother that has the biggest influence in this situation. At least with the things that matter most to me. I am a very lucky woman.

    At first his mother had expectations that her son would marry a nice Indian girl, which is totally valid and understandable. However, growing up in Canada, he was integrated in an environment of a, primarily white, western culture. So, it was difficult to force that issue without getting a lot of opposition. She just resigned to wanting her kids to be happy. Which is really what every mother should hope for anyway. I am very fortunate that his family have welcomed me with open arms and accepted our relationship fully…as long as I convert to Hinduism. ;>)

    He has all the important qualities I could ever dream of in a man. Caring, respectful, affectionate, responsible, funny…and yes, he’s one of the few men that actually iron. I think it’s the respect he has for his mother that allows him to respect and do the things that are important to me. A mama’s boy he is not. There’s a difference between a mama’s boy and a boy who respects his mother. A mama’s boy is one who is still attached to her by the umbilical cord and is incapable of making his own decisions. The latter respects his mother and the values she has taught him while having an independent mind.
    Desi or not, as long as sons learn by example from their parents who show mutual love and respect for one another, I think there’s hope.

  10. April 3, 2005, 2:12 pm Zahra Hayat

    Oh my! The search for a GREAT desi man??? As much as I’d love to write about this topic, I find it a chronic and mind-numbing topic of conversation since this seems to be every single desi girl’s complaint. Draining…

    The author of this article needs to keep in mind that problems exist in ALL cultures. Don’t think only desi men are tainted with relationship troubles! All cultures have their issues. Heck, we all have issues. We just need to choose which ones we want to deal with.

    The article is just another desi girl crying about not finding a man! My advice to her: STOP LOOKING SO HARD and really STOP MAKING EXCUSES ABOUT WHY YOU HAVEN’T FOUND A MAN!

    I hear this argument everyday from single girls and once upon a time (only 12 months ago), I was that girl. Today (thank God) I’m not.

  11. April 2, 2008, 10:18 am Vishal

    I Completely agree with Michele,
    Parents are to be given respect no matters whose they are. It goes both ways. Relation are build on trust, respect, love and compromise. thats what life is all about. Sharing Joy, Pain and responsibilites. It doesn’t matter whather you are desi or non desi. (If Non Desi were so perfect there would not be any divorces in WEST). Point is no one is perfect. It’s about finding most of quality (Rather than all Qualities) in each other, rather than finding MR. Perfect or MS Perfect., Everyone has flaws… I hope we remember that we are all HUMAN.

    Wish you all good luck with your search

  12. May 2, 2008, 11:56 am Ozzy

    Michele probably had the best post here in my opinion. I am a brown guy, but I believe in desi culture a best way to judge a guy is by his mother. Guys from my culture are often a good reflection of their mother, and often take on a lot of their values. If they are pampered constantly they get used to it. I myself was pampered, but being the eldest of three sons when my mother wanted a daughter has changed the way I was raised. I respect women, romance with them, and think it is insulting to expect a desi women to act traditional when you yourself will not do so. Is it fair for a guy to demand a chaste woman and not be so himself? Of course not, it is utterly ridiculous.

    Personally, I love the traditional values and arrangement of a desi marriage. My goal is to earn enough money so that my partner does not have to burden herself with having to go to work. The only point i really don’t compromise on is the kids. A bond between a mother and her kids is far stronger then the father, and as such even if she wants to work I would not like her to during the early years of the kids life. A 2-3 year old needs his/her mother.

    I wish everyone luck finding someone who they can share a strong communication and life with.

  13. August 8, 2008, 3:58 pm Prince

    I am a desi male. What YOU don’t understand is how much grief and depression we go through looking at desi females. Quite pathetic at this point. Ugly, hairy, demanding, and did I mention, hairy?

  14. October 8, 2008, 1:19 am Jimoh Alabi

    This is from a gora, or even worse, a kali 🙂

    Desi women should broaden their horizons. Your Mr. Right may be right under your nose but because he is not desi you reject him out of hand. What you don’t realize is that there are plenty of men such as myself who come from cultures that are very similar to Indian culture and who are willing to learn and imbibe the best of the two cultures while being in love with their woman…and who do not see the difference in religions to mean anything. At the end of the day, aunties and uncles can make all the noise they want — a man and a woman make a marriage, and as long as they are willing to recognize their differences and work through them, the marriage will be a successful one.

    Desi women, broaden your horizons. Some of your men already have done so and agree to marry outside their race and culture, and they and the world are the better for it. Desi culture is in no danger of extinction, India has 1.2 billion people after all 🙂

  15. October 14, 2008, 11:08 pm Anup

    Just reading this article has made me realize nothing. This is shit i already know. Guys and Gals both have flaws. they both have a punchlist of what they want in a gal or guy. NO ones perfect so deal with it . Stop listening to what others have to say about this and that. Just follow your heart and do what feels right to you.

    Also,There is alot of truth to what everyone is saying here. I am single and i am constantly being judged because of my education level and family financials. Im not rich and I DO HAVE A COLLEGE education. AND i do have a job!! I may not be a doctor or have a master, but i can tell you i would make my wife the happiest woman on earth!!

    Another thing BIGGEST FLAW girls have from MY experience is they set a high bar for what they want in a guy. And the end result of that they are old and not married and all the other guys go to india to get married. NO ONE IS PERFECT. You gota give a little to get what ya want just as much as guys have to!

    ! try to view a person for who they are and not what they have or do. NOT many girls and guys do that. Also girls and guys tend to listen to all the other bullshit people tell them about the general population. Dont let a few bad apples spoiler the bunch, just go out and find out for your self how good or bad it might be.

    And alot of the time people make it all about what the other people have to say and what he and she said. Its all about what they have this and that yada yada yada ya,……..

    you have people who been through some bad shit and people who been through good shit. Its really up to the person on how they take it and how they were raised and by who they were influenced by!

    Personally id want to fall in love with someone for who she is and NOT what she has or does! Im not perfect damnit i do not or will not ever think or act like a old school traditional desi man!i

  16. December 28, 2008, 1:30 pm Optimist

    I think it’s true that we can’t generalize. But as a desi girl, who has only dated caucasian men so far (2), I’ve to say that I have a bad impression of desi men. This impression is that of a severe lack of respect towards women, possessiveness, a macho/I’m-god’s-gift-to-women attitude and ideas about female sexuality that would make my skin crawl.

    I know it’s wrong to have this prejudice but I have yet to meet a desi man that didn’t strike alarm bells in my head. I do not want to be dating someone who resembles my father/uncles/brother/cousins/male family friends etc. What i mean to say is that I have a lot of bad examples, bad experiences. I’ve spent my childhood being told that men are gods and women are servants, I’ve spent my teenage years being taunted and told to be ashamed of my sexuality and I’ve spent my life seeing what my mother went through. I will not become her. Men in my family are treated as princes since day one, and as a result have turned into spoilt chauvinistic assholes. With the exception of one or two. We’ve also had cases of wife beating in our family as well as cases of sexual assault that nobody talks about. I’ll forever remember my grandmother telling me about how her sari once caught on fire by accident and when her husband found out, he said “how could you not pay attention, if something had happened people would’ve thought i’d burnt you!”. The way she was telling that story, it was was perfectly understandable that he be concerned about his reputation rather than his wife’s life.

    When I meet someone who is desi, and shatters this impression I have, i will clearly not let ethnicity stand in the way. And I agree that it is a very instinctive reaction, when i meet them, I don’t give desi guys the same chance that i do other ethnicities. What can I say, I’m recognizing it and trying not to let it affect me, but i don’t think that’s how these things work.

    Peace out, and I hope this doesn’t offend anyone. I don’t mean it that way.

  17. January 1, 2009, 12:46 am GI

    Generally true – desi men are a biological extension of their mothers. Most are afraid, immature, full of themselves airheads who have very little understanding of the world around them. They live in self created bubbles, shells in which they are kings, gods an all else which does not hurt their fragile ego.
    I’m sorry most are not worth marrying let alone given a second glance. Their physical appearance is disgusting – thinking of a hot, muscular guy – nope never ever going to see that in the desi world. Looking for a well informed, broad minded, well travled rich guy – nope not gonna be a desi.

    A word of warning – do not confuse his meek attitude, respectful behaviour confuse you – the only women 99% of the desi guy most talk to is their mothers. Please see past this women for your own sake – unless you want to live with average finances and poor sex with hairy overweight bodies please save youeself the trouble.

    Good Luck.