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Desi [d̪eːsi] is an Indo-Aryan Sanskrit term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia and, increasingly, for their diaspora.1 Desi nations include Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Nepal.2
There are large Desi populations in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Guyana, Suriname, Fiji, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand, and the Middle East among other regions.
Assamese: দেশী, Bengali: দেশি, Gujarati: દેશી, Hindi: देसी, Kannada: ದೇಸಿ, Malayalam: ദേസി, Marathi: देशी, Sinhala: දේශීය, Nepali: देशी, Oriya: ଦେଶୀ, Punjabi: ਦੇਸੀ, Tamil: தேசி, Telugu: దేశీయుడు-desiyudu not as commonly used as Bharatyeeudu, Malay: desa3
This ethnonym belongs in the endonymic category (i.e. it is a self-appellation). Desi originates from the Sanskrit word (Sanskrit: देश) deśha- ("region, province, country"). The first known usage of the Sanskrit root is found in the Natya Shastra (~200 BC), where it defines the regional varieties of folk performing arts, as opposed to the classical, pan-Indian margi. Thus, (Sanskrit: स्वदेश) swadeś refers to one's own country or homeland, while (Sanskrit: परदेश) paradeś refers to another's country or a foreign land. "Desi" is a diverse term that can signify anyone with Indian ancestry.
Sanskrit gave rise to the Indo-Aryan languages. The word 'desi' evolved from the Sanskrit term 'desha', meaning country. With time its usage shifted more towards referring to people, cultures, and products of the specific region .
During the height of the British Raj, many people from the Indian subcontinent emigrated to other British colonies. Indians increasingly referred to foreign lands as pardeś, and their homeland as swadeś.
After the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the United States dramatically increased immigration from the Subcontinent. As increasing number of Indian students arrived in the US and UK, India was colloquially referred to as deś. Thus, all things Indian including Indian expatriates were referred to as "desi". Communities that have remained distinct in South Asia have tended to mix in diaspora and hence the appellation has also been adopted by communities from other South Asian nations.
Some second or third generation immigrants do not think of themselves as belonging to a particular nation, sub-culture, or caste, but as just plain South Asians or desis,citation needed especially as intermarriage between different South Asian diaspora communities increases.
Nepali uses des(h)i or the related mades(h)i (मधेसी, मधेशी) to refer to people from the Terai (Madhesh) who are linguistically and culturally like people in adjacent India, as well as for people from India proper. In this way, both are differentiated from Paharis and others from the Middle Hills and higher mountains, who traditionally controlled politics in the Kingdom of Nepal. Since Nepal became a republic in 2008, attempts to fully enfranchise the Madhesi have led to conflict.
In the US some diaspora desis are creating what can be called a "fusion" culture, in which foods, fashions, music, and the like from many areas of South Asia are "fused" both with each other and with elements from Western culture.4 For example, urban desi is a new genre of music formed by the fusion of traditional Indian and Western urban music.5 The growing demand of popular programming for South Asians caused MTV to launch the Desi-targeted television channel MTV Desi.
The Natya Shastra refers to the regional varieties of folk dance and music elements as "Desi", and states that these are meant as pure entertainment for common people, while the pan-Indian "margi" elements are to spiritually enlighten the audience. The medieval developments of the classical Indian dance and music led to the introduction of Desi gharanas, in addition to the classical gharanas codified in Natya Shastra. The Desi gharanas further developed into the present-day adavus. There is raga in Indian classical music known as Desi.
In India, "desi" in the context of food, implies "native" or "traditional". Common examples are "desi ghee", which is the traditional clarified butter used in India, as opposed to more processed fats such as vegetable oils. "Desi chicken" may mean a native breed of chicken.This word is also restricted to North Indian, Sanskrit derived languages.
Heritage varieties of vegetables and other produce can also be qualified as "desi". "Desi diet" refers to a diet and food choices followed by Indians around the world. "Desi sharaab" refers to "country liquor", such as fenny, toddy and arrack. It is differentiated from Indian Made Foreign Liquor such as Indian made whisky, rum, vodka, etc.
- Shirley R. Steinberg; Michael Kehler; Lindsay Cornish (17 June 2010). Boy culture: an encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 87–. ISBN 978-0-313-35080-1. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
- Kvetko, Peter. When the East is in the House: The Emergence of Dance Club Culture among Indian-American Youth. September 4, 2006.
- Urban Desi: A Genre On The Rise
- Chandra, Sanjeev; Smita Chandra (February 7, 2008). "The story of desi cuisine: Timeless desi dishes". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-05-13.