Howdy Dhokla! Enough with the Outrage Over the Snack-Stealing Woman at Modi’s Houston Event

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Howdy Dhokla! Enough with the Outrage Over the Snack-Stealing Woman at Modi’s Houston Event

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

H

ouston, we have a problem. From the looks of it, a dhokla “thief” is currently on the loose, snatching delicious Gujju delicacies off tables and hiding them in the recesses of her bag. The woman in question is the star of the latest viral video doing the rounds, which sees her committing the dhokla larceny at a banquet table at the “Howdy Modi” event held in Texas over the weekend. For some reason, a guest at the same table was recording the video on their cell phone (maybe he/she wanted some #foodporn pics for Instagram), and managed to catch her in the act.

Internet fame (or infamy) soon followed, with the woman becoming the new face of the same old “lol Indians can be so cheap” jokes that we’ve been cracking since Krishna acquired the reputation of stealing butter. While one end of the spectrum of reactions characterised the woman as a punchline, the other end took a moralistic view of the act, claiming that what she did was inarguably wrong and that she would escape censure because of her privilege. For a simple snack, she set off quite a storm in a… dhokla plate. While there seem to be no shortage of people ready to offer their opinion on the viral video – branding the woman as everything from eccentric to evil – there is a marked shortage of self-awareness in these armchair commentators.

Look, as a fellow dhokla lover, I can understand the woman’s motivations. Not her methods – who wants dhokla grease stains inside their handbag? – but I have also visited the house of my Gujarati friends and asked their mums to pack me a box full of the good stuff. When a dhokla is tasty, you don’t just let it be cleared off the table to be dumped in the bin with the other leftovers, you preserve it any way that you can, and this woman chose her handbag over a takeaway bag. But putting all empathy aside, I can understand the urge to make jokes. After all, this is exactly the kind of cringe-inducing behaviour that would make us double over in laughter if a character on a sitcom acted like this. George Costanza might be this woman’s spirit animal.

But the difference between George and our ben is that George exists on screen, solely for the purpose of providing laughs, and all his actions are predetermined by a script. Meanwhile, this woman had a moment of human weakness, and was unlucky enough to be filmed while it occurred. Yet this invasion of her privacy became an online free-for-all, as people decided to try out their rejected open mic material at her expense. Some would argue that this was fair comeuppance for her flouting of social etiquette; to me, it speaks to the voracious appetite we have for voyeurism.

Viral videos like this one satisfy our urge for schadenfreude, giving us the opportunity to see misery heaped on others to distract from our own troubles.

Viral videos like this one satisfy our urge for schadenfreude, giving us the opportunity to see misery heaped on others to distract from our own troubles. It’s easy to crack jokes about someone bagging dhoklas, but by turning her into the unofficial mascot for bad dinner guests, we’ve dehumanised her to the extent that she’ll now be known only for this one transgression. We’re all guilty of acting more than a little entitled and greedy: Asking the petrol pump workers to clean your windshield for free while fuelling up, demanding free chakna with our beers at the bar, and yes, helping ourselves to more free food than we should at langars and bhandaras. But imagine if somebody were to film you at such a time and make you the butt of their jokes. It wouldn’t be so funny then, would it?

While we’re on the topic of transgressions, there are those who think that the dhokla theft has booked this desi a place in the seventh circle of Hell. I’ve seen posts claiming that her and her husband’s name should be made public so that “their co-workers or neighbours can get to be extra careful around them”. This kind of virtue-signalling is how imposing your own ideology onto trivial events can make a mountain out of a molehill. I would think that this person’s co-workers and neighbours are already aware of her fondness for dhoklas, and possibly prepare extra just for her when she visits, but maybe I’m just naïve. Nevertheless, taking home a few dhoklas that were already served to you is not a crime worthy of doxxing a private individual (which, by the way, is a crime).

Whether it’s humour or hatred, how we react to the saga of the stolen dhoklas says as much about us as it does about the woman. As for myself, the video just made me hungry.

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