Middle Class Timelines, Ethnic Humor, and Sexual Modernity in Delhi
The rise of India’s global economy has reinforced a perception of English as a language of sexual modernity within the expanding middle classes. This article explores this perception in the multilingual humor of Hindi-speaking Delhi youth marginalized for sexual and gender difference. Their joking routines feature the Sikh Sardarji, a longstanding ethnic figure portrayed as circulating in modernity but lacking the English competence to understand modernity’s sexual semiotics. Reflective of the economic restructuring that ushered in the millennium, the humor supports a normative progress narrative that prioritizes an ethnically unmarked urban middle class. At the same time, the lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth who tell these jokes—still criminalized under Section 377 when this fieldwork was conducted—shift this narrative by positioning sexual knowledge at modernity’s forefront. The analysis reveals how sexual modernity, here viewed as constituted in everyday interaction through competing configurations of place, time, and personhood, relies on normativity even while defining itself against it.