Just your run-of-the-mill piece of fictionalized rant, based on personal as well as experiences of others, so I don’t mean any offence at all. Thanks for understanding! 🙂
Fuck Namastes. I say Vanakkam. If you’ve noticed my skin tone, and wondered if I’m Indian or Pakistani, or Sri Lankan, or definitely “from around there”, I’ll clarify now. I’m Indian. Further clarification. I’m a South Indian. You’ll probably rack your brains harder than ever now, and your next statement would be “I love Bollywood!” Of course you do, and I smell disdain emanating from my pores. I smile, and say, “well, that’s good for you! But we all have our very own mill of great regional cinema, and the whole country isn’t a big fan of Bollywood.” You just don’t get it. Then, you bring up a few surnames- Patel, Kumar (pronounced Khoomaar), and maybe a Sharma too. I wait intently for you to say Suryanarayanan or Subramanian or Vaidyanathan. I wait endlessly, but it doesn’t help. And then, yes, wait for it. You love Indian food! And you tell me about kadai paneer, and aloo parathas and dal makhni. You ask me what my favorite food is, and I say Podi Dosai. You’re looking through me, waiting for me to add a Curry or a Masala at the end. I don’t. I tell you that you must try a dosai. You ask me to explain what this Dosai thing is. I start with the batter, and the process of making it (although now, I use the shortened version of the explanation which lasts about twenty-three seconds)- fermented rice with lentils pulverised into a batter, and made into crepes. I cringe at the comparison, but I have to give you a reference. I even try to sound authentically French and say ‘chhrhhepes’, almost spitting on you. I realise that while trying to sound so convincingly French, I’ve given a part of my identity away. A part of my South Indian belonging. I then move on to explain how the dosai is served, with sambar and chutneys. You thankfully know what chutneys are, although mango chutney seems to be your first victory.
We go to the restaurant, where I’ve convinced you to try the dosai. And while I’m talking to the Indian waiter, who respects me a little bit more, because I’m with you and you’re white, my Indian tongue pops out. I say ‘water, please’ stressing the ‘t’ instead of my usual ‘waah-er’. I notice a couple of salwar-kameez clad aunties staring at me, because I’m brown. Oh, wait. At least twenty-five shades darker. And they turn away. You and I are finally getting chatty, about things that are not Indian or faux Indian. We talk about the weather, Game of Thrones and maybe even Brexit. And then, we settle on cricket. It seems to be a unifying bond. We wonder why Europeans don’t get the game, it’s so simple! I tell you about my trip to Lord’s and how I found a tote bag describing cricket to foreigners. We cackle with laughter, by which time our food arrives.
You’ve never seen a dosai before, and your eyes widen, and heart thumps. I can hear it, despite the loud protests from the toddler at the adjacent table. You immediately fold your sleeves, and I assume it is to dig in. But you place your arm across the length of the rectangle plate, housing the hot, mouth-watering dosai. “Oh my God! It’s as long as my forearm!” I do admit, it is quite satisfying for my ego when people love dosais. Don’t ask why, it just does. You down the dosai, dipping a little of it into the sambar, and plunging it all the way down your throat. I ask you if it’s too hot, I’m just used to asking my white friends that. You say you love it, and now are trying to experiment by dabbing two chutneys and then dunking the chutney-covered dosai piece into the sambar, and inching your head forward to wolf it down. Your face is like a million bucks, and you tell me that this is the best Indian food you’ve ever eaten. Now, my face is like a million bucks. You insist I bring you here every week. You’re my best friend now. Maybe I’ll introduce you to Kamal Hassan’s acting genius and other spectacularly South Indian topics next week. I’ve taken it upon myself to educate you all about South India, or at least about Tamil Nadu. A guided learning dinner, if you will. My head has a roadmap now for the next month.
Session 1: Cinema- MGR, Sivaji, Rajnikanth, Kamal, berate the Lungi Dance, maybe even Big Boss
Session 2: Politics- MGR, Anna, Jayalalitha and Sasikala (OMG!), Jallikattu
Session 3: Literature.
Session 4: More food.
You see the salwar-kameez clad aunties and smile at them, and they’re still wondering why I’m hanging out with you. I smile at them again, and they return it half-heartedly. We pay the bill and turn to leave, when one of the aunties calls me beta and starts talking in Hindi. I do reply in Hindi, and all of a sudden you’re proud of me. And then, I revert to English with them, and call our goodbyes. You see I’m a little red in the face, and don’t ask me about it. We then go to a bar, because we’re meeting other friends, and for starters, we order a couple of beers. I’m still licking my wounds from the fact that other Indians think I should know Hindi just because I’m brown. I’m offended, and slandering at a dozen people and things in my head. You’re buried in your phone, and I nurse my beer, finding a small blot of sambar dried at the end of my palm. I’m a little sensitive about my identity, have I ever told you that?
You suddenly put down the beer that you held, look deep into my eyes, place your palms on top of mine, and tell me the best thing I’ve heard all day- Maghizhchi. I didn’t think I heard you properly, or it was probably disbelief. You repeat it. Maghizhchi, you say, “isn’t that the word for “cheers” in Tamil?” It was probably the beer, but I know I cried.