Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pop Quiz #3

Choose the true statement:

a) On a recent train trip, I think I became engaged to a young man named Naveen. My Hindi’s not that great, but he kept giving me jewelry and talking about next weekend.

b) One of the things I love about my current corner of this round earth is that the religions work sensuality into them—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism…there is always something extra for the senses, be it incense, sacred fruit offerings that you get to eat, colored powder to throw at everyone and everything... It makes me think that the religions that focus on the soul to the exclusion of the body might have missed something.

c) I fell asleep on a bus to a village I’ve forgotten how to pronounce, and was awoken by a man poking my arm all over. At first I was ready to start throwing punches until I realized he was counting my freckles.

d) All of the above

Before I came, everyone was always telling me that to live in India would be a great adventure. And, lordy, it has been. You all have read so many of my stories, seen my pictures, and occasionally received a phone call from tomorrow (I love time zones!). I've seen gorgeous things, broken my heart over the not-so-gorgeous, come up with observations that sound profound but quite possibly mean jack (when looking over the tallest waterfall in India, I said to myself "Water always changes color when it falls long distances." Seemed profound at the time) and eaten the longest-running string of fantastic food in my whole life.

One of the funniest things about India, though, is the running conversation I've been having with her people about what it means to be Indian. No other place I've ever been has had a citizenry so caught up with their various concepts of the character (or even existence) of a national identity...or so willing to talk about it. Maybe it's because I've never been to a country with so many living people who remember its beginning. To relay those conversations would, frankly, take too long and quite possibly be boring for you. So I'll limit it to I've been here longer, many conversations have included various claims on how Indian I am. If I'm late, I'm Indian. If I do something good for other people, I'm Indian. If I unconsciously use certain phrases, I'm Indian. But if I want to buy something, I'm definitely a foreigner and will be expected to pay 2-3 times normal price.

It used to not bother me so much. I'd either haggle down or realize it was only 30 cents to me and frankly I can afford that...but the longer I live here, the less patience I have with the various doubletriplequadruple standards, especially the ones that do not apply to me--I get away with a lot as a white woman, and I shouldn't. Part of that is just the old childhood instinct--"that's not fair." But I actually think more of it is that as I live here longer, I feel more and more a part of this country, and it's frankly hurtful when I can't convey that. Even writing this post, I had difficulty thinking of observations to share because I can't quite remember what I'm supposed to think of as "normal" or "different." It's not just that I know some Hindi words now or that I dress in semi-Indian clothes. It's that the very texture of my skin has changed, the taste on my lips when I lick them in the heat, the fact that I can't get hungry before 8 p.m., that nodding my head now includes several previously unknown variations on that simple gesture, that simple American things like Cub Foods have to be explained to me before I remember what it's like to be in my own country.

My own country. That phrase has gotten a lot more complicated.