Once I left India, at the ripe old age of 26, I realized I could file a claim to be a citizen of the world. Solely due to my very international looks. I assure you, I am not bragging. I have ample proof to support my claim! Seriously! Here are some stories.
I was ‘fresh off the boat’ and waiting for the INS to issue my employment papers. As I wrote in one of my earlier blogs, around this time, I was scuttling around Baltimore, avoiding eye contact with locals because I didn’t understand a word they said. Trying my best to decipher what the sweet ladies said to me at Lexington Market as they handed me a loaf of bread and I handed them the money, or the homeless man, at the corner of the street, who greeted me every morning. I was itching to do something other than walking around Inner Harbor, frequenting the Enoch Pratt free library and trying new food every day. Looking back, that does not seem like a bad life at all! Why, in the world, was I itching to do anything else??? A friend asked me if I would like to volunteer at the Hispanic Apostolate, teaching English to Hispanic immigrants. I jumped at the opportunity. I went to meet the director of the program, a sweet, elderly nun, whose name, my swiss cheese brain, didn’t retain. She wasn’t at her office so I decided to wait. In a little while she came in, looked at me and started talking to me in Spanish. Alarmed, I exclaimed, ‘Uh, no Spanish, no Spanish. Only English!’ She took a good look at me and said, ‘oh, sorry! You look like you could be from one of the Latin American countries! Where are you from?’ That was not the first time that I was mistaken for a Latina, while I volunteered there. Just sayin’. So there we go, we have covered entire Latin America. Moving on.
On the streets of Baltimore, I was mistaken for an African-American, more than once. Then we went to Thailand. It was before Christmas, Thailand is a shopper’s paradise, so we decided to do our Christmas shopping in the markets of Chiang Mai. It would be good to mention here that my husband absolutely loves to bargain. He is shameless when it comes to bargaining and sometimes I pretend I don’t know him. I loathe bargaining. So before we hit the street shops of Chiang Mai, we made a pact that he will do all the haggling, I will merely choose the stuff. What transpired in the shops was later related to me by my husband, Sean. As we entered a shop, Sean got into business while I just looked around. I heard the conversation between him and the shopkeeper, a sweet old lady with very bad teeth. I am not observant at all, but I always notice bad teeth. Sean was completely embarrassing me by quoting terribly low prices, the shopkeeper said things to him in broken English and then somethings in Thai. I could care less, I was almost switching to the mode of disowning my husband temporarily. Finally, Sean threatened to leave, the shopkeeper, of course, acquiesced and started putting things in a bag. I came back to stand next to Sean. The shopkeeper smiled at me and said to Sean, ‘You marry Thai?’ Sean said, ‘She is not Thai, she is Indian!’ The lady was taken aback, ‘You not Thai???’ She asked me. ‘No, I am Indian!’ She pointed to my face and then hers saying ‘Thai, Indian same, same!’ Supposedly, when Sean was being terribly mean to her about prices of her ware she was looking in my direction and pleading to me in Thai to talk sense to my man! Since I wasn’t paying attention to the scenario, I completely ignored her! After that whenever we went shopping during our stay in Thailand, Sean sported a ‘don’t mess with me, I am here with a local chick’ attitude. I think we benefitted financially from my ‘Thai’ look in Thailand.
Next venture was in Bali, Indonesia. Yes, I fit in there too, as Balinese. In Ubud, a young woman was trying to sell timeshare to us. She got very excited knowing I was from India. She held my hand saying, ‘oh, I am holding the hand of a person who comes from the land of Shahrukh Khan!’ Then she wanted to know how solid Shahrukh’s marriage was to Gauri Khan. How strange! Non-Indian readers, Shahrukh Khan is a Bollywood actor. In our travels together, especially in South Asia, Sean always gets a lot of attention. He attributes that to his irresistible charm and natural good looks, I attribute that to his white skin. White skin is a precious commodity, where I come from. I do get a cursory glance, sometimes a curious look, who is this local woman the white guy is hanging out with. In Bali, the young woman made me feel pretty good about being from Shahrukh’s land. Thank you Shahrukh Khan.
Same thing happened in Egypt. ‘Oh, you are from India? We love Amitabh Bacchan! Do you know him?’ No, I don’t know him but I am so glad he has made India a household name in the far lands of Luxor, Giza and Sharm el Shaikh! In the old city of Jerusalem, people got excited knowing I was from India and shook my hand. I don’t know why, I kind of know why, but we will not talk politics in my blogs!
Recently, I had to go get my blood drawn. I try to joke with technicians when I get my blood drawn, or my ultrasound done, or the hated mammogram done. The simple reason being nerves. Generally, I am met with a courteous “keep your mouth shut lady, and let me do my job” kind of grunt. But this gentleman was very nice. He played along like he got my jokes. He then asked if I was from Philippines. Another feather to my hat. ‘No, I am from India!’ I said. ‘You know, I thought you could be but didn’t hear the sing-song in your voice, so wasn’t sure!’ he said. Sir, you are stereotyping here, I wanted to say but I didn’t. He was a nice man.
Anyway, as you can see I am taking great strides towards becoming a world citizen very soon. Someone who cannot be contained by borders (by the way, the previous line is kind of borrowed from Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Namesake”, love that concept). Now, I am only waiting for someone to mistake me for a Caucasian, then my journey would come close to completion. Gee, I wonder why people haven’t made that mistake yet!