By their own admission, they are a couple of "smart asses" - so you are never reeeally sure when they're being funny and when they are deadly serious. They are the Badmash guys, the creators of perhaps the first Indian American comic strip on the web, which turns every crisis and concern of the South Asian community into funny fodder. Indians generally don't like to laugh at themselves, but the threesome from California is trying to change that.
Badmash, of course, means scoundrel or a naughty child in Hindi, and this comic strip too stirs things up, poking sacred cows and taking on just about every desi peeve from culture shock to spelling bees and pushy parents to Bobby Jindal to racism.
On their website, they trumpet the virtues of Badmash, as if it were yoga or ayurveda:
"Thousands of years of profound introspection have led us to the understanding of this higher plane of existence." And they even flash an endorsement from a Badmash practitioner, Jebediah McCallister: "Using the techniques you taught me, in just a few short weeks I feel more comfortable around brown people of all ethnicities."
Indeed, Badmash wears the color brown like a badge of honor. Their comic strip goes into your inbox if 1. You are a brown person. 2. You are a friend of a brown person. 3. You are an individual who has spoken to someone who is brown. And that just about covers the globe!
The three writers behind the comic strip are all in their 20's and were born in California although their parents trekked to the United States from different parts of India. Sanjay Shah's parents came from Kachchh in the 60's for school: "They met each other at a Dunkin' Donuts in Poughkeepsie, New York," he says. Sandeep Sood says his father came to study at Stanford and be a hippie. Nimesh Patel's parents immigrated in the 60's to Texas where his father did his masters in engineering and later moved into the franchise business.
Not surprisingly the offspring of these immigrants all got roped into higher education. Sanjay did his undergrad at Berkeley in economics and also graduate work in public policy; Sandeep did economics at Berkeley and Nimesh graduated from Wharton Business School, and a BS in economics from the University of Pennsylvania.
So how did these brainy people get into writing a comic strip?
"I first became interested in writing simple statements in preschool," says Sanjay. " As my grammar and word choice improved, writing sentences, paragraphs, and comic strips began to come naturally."
Sandeep says, "I wanted to write a movie script, but that seemed like it would take a long time. Comics bring instant gratification."
Nimesh started writing verses for rap songs and poems. Slowly, the whole thing coalesced and being funny became serious business.
Is the strip strictly for laughs or do they try to make some kind of a statement with Badmash? Says Sanjay, "My parole officer thought it would be good for me to do this strip. It also waives my community service requirements." Sandeep adds, "It is not strictly for laughs. People think this stuff is funny?"
Nimesh, however, sums it up, "Both definitely - laughing is healthy. It just feels like there's way too much complexity in life these days, so we hope that Badmash gives people a 30 second escape from their daily grind."
While the three writers have used several artists to create the strip, the most constant has been Kevin Hsieh, who's Chinese-American. He says, "I found Badmash through an online posting and I was very interested in cartooning. The Asian subject matter also piqued my interest."
Asked about his experiences sketching the lives of brown people, Kevin says, "It's hard drawing brown people or any character that is supposed to be a specific nationality. You have to balance between having enough characteristic to portray the race, but also not so much that it becomes stereotypical."
Yes, there might be a whole barrel of issues facing the Indian community from racism to culture shock, but the Badmash gang treats everything like a big joke.
Sanjay says their aim is to tell America that South Asians are not their New Age mascots. Sandeep adds, "There is a lack of intelligent humor in South Asian media. Our strip does nothing to address that. I believe that Nimesh and Sanjay finding suitable wives is the biggest issue affecting the South Asian community."
The guys may fool around all they want, but there is a method to their madness.
"I think the Badmash strip is a must, because there's no current methodology for us as South Asians to discuss social/political commentary to the masses, via an entertaining medium, based on current events." says Nimesh. " For example it takes such along time and is such a lengthy process before a documentary or a feature, a music album or a book can reach the masses and discuss topics relevant to our people."
Where do they place Badmash - hobby or business? They say it's both since they have been contacted to do contract animation work and political propaganda pieces and are also syndicated to several ethnic magazines. They have also started a parent company called Mahoot Media (www.mahootmedia.com) to do films and ads.
Making money may be a fine thing, but the foursome want to continue sending the comic strip out free to people on a weekly basis, to be forwarded on and live forever in cyberspace, making people laugh wherever it ends up.
Is this a fulltime venture or do all of these smart alecks have day jobs? Says Sanjay, "I have a few other jobs in addition to Badmash. I don't rest much. I figure there will be plenty of time for sleep when I die."
Sandeep, however, says, "This is a half-time venture. The other half of the time is spent procuring rent money." Nimesh adds, "We all have other things we're doing, but none of us are doing a traditional 9-5. Badmash is a constant part of our daily routine." Any backlash or protests from the Indian-American community about their sometimes outrageous strips? Says Sanjay, "Only from Bobby Jindal's baby's mama!"
Nimesh adds, "After the Jindal strip, one Jindal supporter said, 'I used to enjoy and read you guys every week but after this strip, I have unsubscribed myself from your list.' Fortunately, he was the only one. Everyone else emailed or called to thank us for saying what was on their minds. Still, we've learned through other strips that you can't please everyon,e because someone's always determined to be offended."
What satisfaction do they get from creating the strip? Sandeep has just one word to describe the satisfaction: "Sexual." Nimesh says, "The creation of a brand is something that I find particularly interesting, especially given that this 'brand' embodies each of our personalities." And Sanjay probably defines the feelings of all second generationers when he says, "I'm just relieved that I'm not instead wearing a white coat pushing pills onto people!"