At the call center of our library, the conversation went like this:
Customer: You have a sweet accent. Where are you from?
Me: Thanks. I am from India.
Customer: Which part, North or South?
Me: I am from the east, Calcutta.
Customer: Ah, you mean Kolkata. It is called Kolkata, right?
Me (a little excited): Yes, Kolkata. Have you ever been?
Customer: No. Now, do you still throw your dead bodies in the water?
Since I have been in this country, I have been asked if I went to school on an elephant or if tigers roamed in our streets, but this was new.
Me: That is not the norm, sir. The dead bodies are either cremated or buried depending on the beliefs of the dead person. However, India is a huge complex country. There may be bodies that are put in the water but those cases are exceptions.
At this point, the conversation shifted to pre independent India and for some strange reason, my father. The next question was:
Customer: So did your father know Gandhi?
Me: My father was a little child when India got its independence.
He asked where my father was. I told him he died of Covid this year.
Customer: So did you take his body to Varanasi? Don’t you go to heaven if you are cremated in Varanasi?
At this point, I asked if there was anything else I could help him with since I had other calls coming in. I had helped him already with research questions before the topic of my ‘sweet accent’ came up which was followed by deluge of questions about India.
Later, I thought about the conversation and his questions. There was no intention to hurt me or malice behind those queries. He was an older man who wanted to exhibit his book read knowledge about India. Yet the questions reeked of microaggression. So what was it? Ignorance, insensitivity or microaggression?