Friday, October 26, 2007

An Indian-American in India

It’s always an interesting experience coming to India because despite my appearance it is fairly easy for people here to tell that I am an American. The accent is a big giveaway, especially combined with my limited ability to speak Gujarati and Hindi. And I probably look at everything from the vegetable vendors to the sometimes crazy traffic with an interest and curiosity foreign to the average Mumbaiker.

It also doesn’t help that I stand about half a foot above the average Indian woman, and I often have at least an inch or two on many of the men. I’ve grown fairly accustom to the stares I receive on the street, and whenever I am introduced to someone invariably one of their first comments is on my height. Ba and I must make quite an interesting pair during our walks around Thakur Complex, with me standing over six inches taller than her. She even commented once when I accompanied her to an afternoon garba dressed in a punjabi that several people were giving us (mostly me probably) double-takes as we walked by.

It all reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Barbara Kingsolver’ Animals Dreams, whose main character is a woman about my height. She says that, height isn't something you can have and just let be, like nice teeth or curly hair. People have this idea you have to put it to use, playing basketball, for example, or observing the weather up there. And if you are a girl they feel a particular need to point out your height to you, as if you might not have noticed."

Still, by in large I don’t really mind it; height does have its advantages, like making it easy to look over the nurse’s head in the OT or grabbing a long pass in ultimate frisbee. Then of course there was the waiter at an Indian restaurant in Amsterdam, who upon seeing me stand up wished me good luck in finding a man. Sigh.

Another interesting part of being an Indian-America here, are the questions I’m asked about America, like whether high school is really like what they see on US TV shows. But those are the easy questions. More often I’m asked, especially by the doctors I’ve observed, about the average salaries of different professions, what the most popular majors of university students are, what the sub-prime meltdown in the US was all about (thank you Mom for explaining that to me or I would have had no clue!), or how many patients do doctors there see in a day. I answer them as well as I can, but I’m often left feeling rather ignorant of my own country.

Granted I’ve probably pestered Samir Mama, Malan Mami, and others in a similar way, asking lots of questions about the festivals I’ve seen here, how many patients come to their clinics, how much are the maids usually paid, and even how late the banks stay open. Mama often laughs at the questions I ask, but it helps make things seem a little less foreign if I understand them a bit. Still, I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand why people here do not keep separate bathtub in the bathroom, getting my feet whenever I brush my teeth gets quite tiresome!


Sapana said...

Sachi, I think this is a wonderful opportunity to become a revolutionary. Institute a mandatory separate-bathtub-in-bathroom policy to ensure feet are never needlessly wet again! If you can convert one household, imagine the possibilities! :)

I'm glad to see more posts so soon. Without email or phone, this is the only way I get to hear about you that's not second party!

I heard about your trip to Churchgate and I must say I am truly impressed and incredibly proud. I would have been quite terrified to make that trip by myself. Given what happened on Mumbai trains a couple of years ago, truly anything can happen. How're your language skills? Do you feel that they're really improving? I'm going to have to study up for the rest of the quarter to even hope to keep up.

Take care of yourself and say hi to everyone for me!

Sachi said...

Actually, going to Churchgate wasn't nearly as difficult as I had convinced myself it would be. Mama helped by telling me what trains to take and sketching a map of the area so I'd know how to find the AI office. I also traveled first class so it wasn't too crowded, especially since most people got off a few stations earlier at Dadar.

Language-wise my Gujurati has improved quite a bit, though proper endings and tenses still trouble me at times. As for Hindi I can understand it much better than before, but speaking it beyond short phrase like "take a left" or "where is the doctor" is still difficult. At least I can understand Hindi movies a bit better :)

Say hi to Bonnie, Kev, and the others for me. And let me know if you want me to get you anything from here. I've still got a month left for shopping :)