Friday, December 14, 2007

Vegetarian? Vegetarian?

"Vegetarian? Is this Vegetarian? Veggie?" a short dark balding man in an oversized leather jacket asks the waitress at a Thai restaurant pointing at a picture in the menu. The lady is used to many Indians coming to her joint because its cheap and close to a major software consulting company. The employees are mainly underpaid FOBs, in the US on a couple years' assignment. Some have been here for many more years but are still just as curious as the FOBs. Many can't afford a car yet so its nice to be able to just walk to the restaurant. A welcome break from the drudgery of boring work and idiotic bosses. Plus Thai food is so much like Indian food; what with the coconuts and the spices.  They lady says impatiently "No meat. Order?". She has many customers to attend to. He orders a veggie fried rice.
He waits for his food to arrive and glances at other tables. Some occupied by singletons like himself, others with people in groups, lucky them. He can't seem to recollect even a single time he ate alone in India. A few tables away is a group of four Indian girls talking excitedly and giggling. He tries to catch their eyes. He succeeds with one. He smiles at her. She rolls her eyes and whispers something to the other girls. They all turn around, look at him and break into another giggle. He smiles to himself, thinking, Indian girls are so beautiful and innocent, not like the American ones. Oh wait, he looks closely. There is beer bottle on their table. And, also a pack of Marlboro! Shee, no culture only! Indian girls are very spoilt he concludes.
He overhears a conversation on the table next to him. Two guys, one Desi and the other American, are discussing the recent housing market collapse. The Desi is confident and the loudest most obnoxious person in the restaurant. "THIS IS THE RIGHT TIME TO BUY, IF YOU HAVE A MILLION YOU SHOULD BUY A HOUSE IN CUPERTINO, BEST SCHOOL DISTRICT!". Our man has been hearing about house prices and stock market every place he goes to. It seems all that people talk about here is fucking houses and stocks. Cupertino, he makes a mental note, good school district. But he is not interested in houses for now. He is just struggling to send the monthly payments to his parents in Hyderabad. He takes comfort in knowing that his parents are being taken care of. House, maybe some other day.
His food arrives. Ah, the smell of hot and spicy fried rice. He wants to eat with his fingers but resists the temptation and picks up the spoon instead. While munching he gazes through the window at the street outside. An old Indian lady with a walking stick wearing an old sweater over a punjabi dress and tennis shoes is hobbling down the footpath. The area has a few redneck car dealers. Monster sized trucks and SUVs whiz past the old lady at high speeds. The noise and vibrations emitted by these great American engines make the lady tremble. Our man gets a little concerned. But she'll get used to it, he thinks. After all, when he first got here he regularly walked three miles on the interstate highway to get to the nearest Walmart. He still gets the jitters thinking about the roar of the passing 18-wheeler trucks and their loud angry honks.
The lady comes to a stop at a bus-stop nearby. Two Indian guys are waiting there carrying a few plastic bags filled with grocery items, looking completely out of place. Green vegetables, tortillas, milk, eggs. Waiting for the bus to arrive, wondering who the heck did their grocery in India or for that matter who cleaned their houses or washed their clothes or cooked their food or cleaned their dirty dishes or paid their bills. One guy has forgotten his jacket at home and is now shivering uncontrollably. His partner pays no attention to him and keeps staring blankly in the direction of the arriving bus. A relationship run efficiently, just like a business. He had never imagined that cold could be this devastating to your body and soul. In movies they showed people dancing on snow capped mountains and then lighting a campfire and getting horny and then wham! bam! thank you ma'am! Not like that here.
The bus arrives, the Indian posse gets in. Our man finishes the last grain of fried rice in his plate. He takes a sip of water and rinses his mouth making a little gurgling sound. The loud Desi on the other table hears this and contorts his face displaying mild disgust. Saala desihe thinks and continues his solo speech "SO THE GOOGLE STOCK IS DOING GOOD. IF YOU HAVE SOME SPARE MONEY YOU SHOULD INVEST IN IT!".
Our man gets out of the restaurant. It has gotten much colder. "Oh bhennnnchod" he screams and sprints towards his office. He thinks of calling his roommate to pick him up from work tonight. Can't walk home in this biting cold. Fucking roommate, counts every penny, even gas for a ride, efficiently running a relationship, like a business.
Samaapt. Dhanayad.
p.s. A hilarious paragraph from Suketu Mehta's book Maximum City, where he talks about his immigrant childhood -  

I missed saying bhenchod to people who understood it. It does not mean 'sister fucker'. That is too literal, too crude. It is, rather, punctuation, or emphasis, as innocuous a word as 'shit' or 'damn'. The different countries of India can be identified by the way each pronounces this word - from the Punjabi bhaenchod to the thin Bambaiyya  pinchud to the Gujarati bhenchow to the Bhopali elaboration bhen-ka-lowda. Parsis use it all the time, grandmothers, five-year-olds, casually and without any discernible purpose except as filler: 'Here,bhenchod, get me a glass of water.' 'Arrebhenchod, I went to the bhenchod bank today.'
In my first New York winter, wearing a foam jacket my parents had bought in Bombay which actually dispersed my body heat out to the atmosphere instead of preserving it, and sucking in the freezing winds during my mile-long walk to school and drawing them to my body, I found I could generate warmth by screaming out this word. Walking into the wind and the snowdrifts, my head down, I would roar, 'Bhenchod! Bheyyyyyn-chod!' The walk to school led through quiet Queens residential streets, and the good Irish, Italian, and Polish senior citizens who happened to be home in the daytime much have heard this word on very cold days, screamed out loudly by a small brown boy dressed inappropriately for the weather.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good ishtory .. shahid bhai !