The other day, my dear friend Gourab Ray came bursting into my room and proclaimed,” Hey! Guess what! Today I met this CUTE girl from Japan.” Yeah right! Me and my room-mate rolled our eyes and went back to what we were doing. “No, seriously!” Gourab persevered.
Apparently, when Gourab went to the FOSS meet in Calicut, he met this girl and asked her which state she hails from (obviously expecting one of the north east states in reply). The girl tells him “Japan.” And my friend nearly collapses. “I spoke to a videshini. That too a cute girl! Now I can die in peace…” he thought. Definitely, he had never seemed happier.
With a tinge of envy, I listened to Gourab as he went on to describe his encounter. I don’t doubt him. Nope. What he described was a standard interaction between a desi and a foreigner. Swapping names and forgetting the alien name almost immediately, yup, pretty standard stuff. I was jealous, since Gourab couldn’t drop a word of Japanese, and yet got to meet a cute Jap girl, while I, who is most dazzled by Japanese culture (read: anime, manga…), and can fit in two word Japanese pleasantry in any situation, was stuck in my room updating my blog.
But when I did realize I was jealous, I became quite embarrassed.
This brings me to my original subject. Our desi infatuation with foreigners.
Have you ever spoken to a foreigner? When I say foreigner, I don’t mean the friendly next-door Bangladeshi duo of Amit and Tonmoy. I mean the tall fair-skinned blonde kind (or for that matter far-east Asian). If you have, did you get a warm fuzzy feeling in your stomach? If you have, then congrats! You are one among a billion strong.
I stay in the suburbs of Mumbai. In the suburbs, it is not unusual to see a western expatriate staying among us. I mean it IS unusual. But people have seen enough to not pop whenever they see one.
When I was in my ninth, my cousin and his family came around to visit us in Mumbai. One of the first things he asked me was – “when we go sight-seeing, do you think I will see a lot of videshis (foreigners)?”
Me: dude, there’s a Brit living two blocks away. We call him “fatty”.
Cousin: WHAT?! ……..can I go and meet him?
Me: …….why would you want to do that?
Cousin: I mean….he is a foreigner….
Me: never mind.
Then we go sight-seeing. Just so people know, Mumbai is not all about squalor and pollution. She has a lot to show by the way of cultural heritage.
Our conversation at Gateway of India went something along this line.
Me : (to my cousin) You see, this Gate was built to welcome King George…..
Cousin: (pointing somewhere) OVER THERE!!
Cousin: A FOREIGNER!
Cousin: DUDE! Look at his yellow hair! Oh my God! He is soooo tall! He is fair too! So FAIR!!
This little incident made me contemplate over the history of India. The kings that ruled our country could have been something like my very dear cousin.
English man: Bollocks! We want you, cheeky fellow, to hand over your kingdom and your harem to the ever benevolent British Empire.
King: Look at his yellow hair! Oh my God! He is soooo tall! He is fair too! So FAIR!! Okay , where are the papers?
Then there was this case last semester, when I was returning home from NIT Calicut.
In the section of the coach where I was staying, the side berths were occupied by a young French couple. I wasn’t paying much attention to them, I was too immersed in ‘Poets of the Fall’ and “Congo” by Michael Crichton. In moves a Punjabi family. The papa Mr.Singh was this massive guy, 6 feet tall and 6 feet across. The mama Mrs.Singh too was 6 feet tall and 6 feet across. Even their lovely daughter Ms. Singh was 6 feet tall and 6 feet across. As soon they had settled down all around me, I realized I had been confined to this tiny patch of space and was a subject of their hostile gaze. I excused myself, and occupied my Upper Berth. As soon as I had made myself scarce, the Punjabi family seemed to relax. Meanwhile, the French couple was conversing in fast French. The following is what I overheard from my berth.
Mr.Singh: (very slowly) are…you…Italian?
Mr.French: (in polished English) nope, we are French.
Ms.Singh: ya?! I know French! I studied it in school!
(General murmur of approval)
Mr.Singh: do you live in Paris?
Ms.French: No, we live in Morocco.
Mrs.Singh: (heavy desi accent) but you said……french?
Mr.French: you see, we are expatriates.
Ms.Singh: ……so you are Moroccans?
Mrs.French: No, we are French. French expatriates.
(another uncomfortable silence)
Mr.Singh: (beaming)….okay ji. So how long have you two been married? Are you two on a honeymoon?
Mr.French: (happily)no, she is my girlfriend.
Ms. French: yes, we have been together for two years.
(a long and very uncomfortable silence)
Mr. Singh: Okay! Let us take photographs!
After this the happy desi family took six pictures. Five of them were with Ms.French and one a group photo, including Mr. French (for the first time). I on the other hand felt like drowning in a pool of embarrassment.
What I am saying is that Indians get floored whenever they see a foreigner. It’s a fact. You know you do. I used to too, though now I am too used to them. So now I spend my time looking down upon my friends who are still going through their ……“phase”. Though, it does embarrass me.