Subtle Curry Traits (SCT), a Facebook meme group founded in October of 2018, serves as a platform for youth from the Indian diaspora worldwide to share humorous content. The page, which receives over one thousand submissions a day, strives to bring people together on topics such as identity, heritage, and family. The group’s official mission is to “Be the voice for the unspoken to eliminating cultural boundaries that distance us from our potential.”
Noel Aruliah, an Australian student and founder of the page, recounts its genesis. “One day I was in my room looking through other popular meme pages, and I realized there was a gap in the market for South Asian content.” He started a Facebook group, intended for his close friends, and saw its membership skyrocket to over 10,000 people in just a few days. Aruliah was shocked. “I had second to no experience with content creation. I just like to crack some jokes.” Today, over 365,000 people worldwide enjoy the online community he has created.
The page is a virtual platform to reconcile the challenges of being a part of two cultures. The South Asian diasporic identity spans several countries and continents, but the undercurrent experience is the same. Aruliah says, “Humor is good because there are a lot of things that subcontinental descendants relate to- we are the same, we have similar sorts of struggles.” Subtle Curry Traits often illustrates the good, the bad, and the quirky of South Asian heritage. From reconciling the expectations of the older generation to handling the way the Western world perceives us, South Asians have a unique struggle. Forming community around this experience is a way to show that no one is truly alone.
Comedy, however, is not without its own slew of challenges. For a page dedicated to an ethnic identity, it becomes difficult to toe the line against “problematic” humor.
While the moderators have an internal compass that dictates what can and cannot be posted, it is not always easy to predict how people will perceive the content. Aruliah says that they “aim to post wholesome content,” and “try to steer clear of offensive memes. As much as possible, we try to keep it a family-friendly environment to broaden our reach.” However, subliminal racist, colorist, and caste-ist jokes often find their way onto the platform. While the admins are committed to taking such posts off the page, this points to a larger question about the role of internalized prejudice in our culture, which starts within India and is carried over into the diaspora.
While Subtle Curry Traits exemplifies the good and the bad within the diasporic community, it serves as a technological bridge for the new generation. Ironically, it fills the very role that it often makes fun of. Prime comedic targets of the page are first-generation parents, whose sense of humor and congregation are often laughable to their children. Maybe Subtle Curry Traits is nothing but a glorified WhatsApp group of its own, complete with a worldwide network.
Subtle Curry Traits has developed its own subculture uniquely identifiable by its members. As humorous content evolves within the page, it has become more specific to itself. Memes often build off of each other, and the content’s format develops in a way that only existing members would understand. In other words, the group has become a massive inside joke. This has allowed for people within the site to feel a stronger sense of community with each other. While this subculture has an online presence, it has moved offscreen as well. In Melbourne, the moderators of Subtle Curry Traits organized an in-person meet up, which was very well received. The group continues to build spaces for its members and the diasporic community as a whole.
`Noel Aruliah is thrilled by how far the page has come. “One of the most rewarding experiences was when Hassan Minhaj wanted to host an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session through the page. That’s when I knew that we had made it big.” Aruliah has also been surprised by how many offshoot pages have stemmed from his original creation. Subtle Curry Dating is a page tailored towards helping young desis find romantic partners, while pages like Subtle Tamil Traits and Subtle Telugu Traits have built even more specific communities. The demand for such offshoots shows how SCT has paved the way.
Content from Subtle Tamil Traits
As for the future of Subtle Curry Traits, Noel believes there is a lot of potential. The group has made a commitment to help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness within our culture. They have partnered with renowned acapella group Penn Masala to produce a video “focused on mental wellness in the South Asian community.” Aruliah would like to keep engaging in such content creation and build a stronger, more supportive group. He sees more in-person meetups and maybe a merchandise line in the near future for SCT.
“Subtle Curry Traits is going to be for the people.”
Swathi Ramprasad is a rising junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.