Indonesia leaves most Indians unscathed. Nobody wants to be an Indonesian, not even the Sindhis.
I forget to order a beer and instead stand transfixed, taking in three twenty-somethings from Jalandhar in a hotel, The Jakarta Marriott, best known for a suicide bombing last year. Most of those here, swaying to the music or sipping tall, frothy green drinks, are Indonesian; except for a group of thick-waisted Indian men who huddle in a corner of the dance floor.
"The most beautiful girls in the world are Indian. Miss World, Miss Universe is always from India," he shouts. A black man in a red track suit nods in agreement. The girls file off stage, another band takes over, and I'm beamed back to reality, like a character out of Star Trek.
I first encountered Girlz, to use the band's name, the night before, at the Indian embassy's Republic Day reception. There they were, in their painted-on jeans and sequins, alternating between bhangra and Western pop and creating a stir in the Indian community, which had come expecting tandoori chicken and dal makhni, perhaps even a classical dance performance, but certainly not a robotic enactment of a Kylie Minogue video by a band flown in from Bombay.
I found myself holding on to every word, soaking in their accents - public school Punjabi - reacquainting myself with how a single dismissive hand gesture can say "oh him, we used to think he was such a big star, but now he's just a regular guy to us."
I haven't lived in India since I last worked there as a journalist more than three years ago. My contacts with Indians here in Indonesia are sporadic, confined to embassy functions on Republic Day and Independence Day, and to the occasional invitation to dinner by some kind older person. So my encounter with the girls hits me with the force of nostalgia, not what you might feel when you run into an old friend after years but, rather, an odd blend of newness and familiarity, like discovering a stranger in a family album.
We employ the special code that Indians are genetically programmed to use with each other, allowing a swift and unforgiving determination of social worth that both makes subsequent conversation possible, and establishes its tone and tenor. In less than the time it takes to finish a beer, I learn about a brother who is a doctor in Arkansas, a sister-in-law who works on Wall Street, a great-grandfather who went to Princeton, a grandfather who fought a famous case at the Supreme Court, a father in the army and a Welsh woman somewhere in the family tree.
After a while, Deepa whips out a Nokia camera phone and proceeds to show me pictures. There she is in Bombay with Mick Jagger - "he was really cool to hang out with, a really decent person" - playfully cradling a video camera.
In America, you have Indians trying desperately to be American, saying ant when they mean aunt and ruthlessly excising "lift" (for elevator), "trousers" and "air hostess" from their vocabularies. Then you have Indians fighting viciously to remain Indian, hrefusing to say ant when they mean aunt, and devoting their lives to studying 19th century Bengali lesbians or the novels of Shobha De. Then there are the ABCDs, some of whom want to say aunt and wear saris to work - or, better still, complain about how they can't - and boast about how their fathers read the Times of India. In short, it's all so complicated.
You can easily spend 20 years here playing bridge or golf once a week with fellow Indians, having the same friends over for stuffed bhindi and mutton curry, and generally getting on with a life transplanted from Delhi's Defence Colony or Greater Kailash; except that the servants are better trained and don't scratch their crotches in front of guests.
I turn back to Deepa with her coke-colored drink, her Marlboro Lights and her camera phone with the picture of Mick Jagger.