Occupation: Philosopher, Writer
Residence: Hyderabad, AP, India
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/17/2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Telugu, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Sanskrit
“In India, it is not uncommon – actually, scratch that, it is incredibly common to make tongue-in-cheek jokes against members of other cultures. They are not meant to be offended, because everyone makes such jokes against others. This is one of them. Pay close attention: Three men – a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim – are in a boat, and it is starting to sink because the boat is too heavy to stay afloat. In order to keep the boat from sinking, the three men all decide to make compromises and throw something overboard to lighten the load. The Hindu says, ‘I’m going to throw my Rolex overboard. I’ve got two or three more watches like this at home.’ And so he does. The Christian takes off his impressive top-hat and antique walking cane and promptly throws them over, saying, ‘I’ve got several more of these at home as well.’ The Muslim, to the shock of the other two men, picks up his wife and deposits her unceremoniously into the ocean, proclaiming, ‘I’m throwing my wife overboard. I’ve got several more wives like this at home!'”
The informant related his experience with this joke: “It was actually my brother-in-law who had come up with this joke after he’d had a little too much to…well, you know. He told me the joke at a party some sixty years ago, but I didn’t find it as funny as he did, perhaps because I was slightly more sober than he was. But only slightly. However, I must confess that did steal the joke from him, obviously because I’m the better joke-teller. Don’t look at me like that, I’m not making it up! I actually modified it a little and then told it at a dinner. It got many more laughs than when he told it. See?”
As the informant said, in India, it is very common to make jokes about other cultures, religions, and ethnic subgroups, poking fun at things that are stereotypical to their particular community. In this particular blason populaire, there are stereotypes of more than one group. In India, there are three distinct images – the Hindu man dressed in a very Spartan manner, with cotton everything except for his expensive gold watch; the Christian man with his tailored suit, felt top-hat, and wooden walking cane; and the Muslim man with his train of wives. Out of all of the three stereotypes, this joke exploits, in particular, the image of the polygamous Muslim, a depiction that has particular popularity among the socially and sexually conservative Hindu community. These two communities have been at odds with each other since the Partition in 1947, and therefore, many ethnic jokes have sprung up from this division in both communities, exploiting stereotypes on either side of the great divide.