Each big city of the world is unique in its own telling ways. To declare one city as the best is just as opinionated as saying that you love a particular ice-cream flavor over another. Rankings come and go and preferences do change over time. The things that don’t change are the harsh expectations of reality, finding your identity, and enjoying the many attractions of the city, all whilst making ends meet. That concoction can either make your dream come true or break you entirely (or any part of that spectrum in between). I don’t have decades of experience living in the City, nor have I ever purchased a generic “I love New York” T-shirt to cement my love for NYC, but I do find myself meeting an interesting bunch of people in the most unexpected circumstances. That is precisely why I love this city- for the lessons it keeps teaching me.
Discovering People of your own Heritage
Russell peters wasn’t kidding when he joked that whenever an Indian person (new to a foreign country) sees another Indian stranger passing by, the first thought is “Wow! They made it here too? I thought I was the only one”
The Indian diaspora in the US is constantly evolving. You may see a family of four who have been living in the States long enough to completely adjust into the mainstream American life, or a young man/woman visiting for a short-term project/degree, or second/third/fourth etc generation Indians with mixed heritage. My favorite sight is the one of three generations of one family at once – the dadi in her cotton sari and oiled and braided hair routine, the dada in his simple chappals (and I assume a tiny comb in his pocket), their working children who are busy trying to figure out the location of their next destination from a City map as their wide-eyed newborn is in the stroller, flabbergasted by all the different City sights and sounds his/her developing senses can grasp at once.
When I see any Indian or group of Indians walking around in the City, I wonder what kind of decisions led them to this immigrant experience, what stories they share with each other and what new stories will come out of their stay, temporary or permanent.
On this note of New York City and its splendid people, I will use this medium to share my Top 5 memorable and not so memorable conversations with men in the City.
I would usually reserve these tidbits of personal narratives for general amusement on Noseybook but I decided to collapse them all into one nice little post.
So folks, here it goes!
1) The Bangladeshi father
It was the week before the beginning of Fall semester. Students and their families were moving out and about, the former filled with imminent anticipation and resplendent countenances, the latter with immense pride for their children. A friend and I were at Columbia University’s campus to promote our upcoming 5K Walk/Run for a child rights NGO. Since the 5K was to take place at Riverside Park, we decided to pique the interest of students at Columbia given that the main campus is right across from the Park. With so many buildings in the City, it is hard to get a feel of a college campus but the happy faces of students made up for it.
The Indian men were easiest to approach (perhaps because two Indian women were approaching them or rather, they didn’t run away from us). There was one South Asian family who were elated that their daughter had gained admission in a renowned University in the US. The wife was dressed in traditional Indian suit, with bangles and a red bindi.
As soon as I mentioned that Child Rights and You NGO is based in India, the father retorted, “No India. No India. We (pointing to himself and his family) from Bangladesh.”
His simple command of English reminded me of my grandmother.
“But we are one in the same people,” I replied with a smile.
I don’t think he was pleased to hear that so we decided to wish them the best and move on.
His daughter, with her long black hair, and black eyes, intensified with the application of some kohl, could have easily passed off as my sister.
Imperialism did what it did but the divide and rule policy still has many us separated from each other.
2) The Hospital Janitor
I have to visit a hospital every two weeks for a relative. After so many visits, I am fortunate to befriend an old man who works as a janitor in the late evening/night shift on one of the many floors of the building. The job isn’t exactly pleasant with the necessity to clean bathrooms and pickup the left-over coffee spills and cups of visitors, patients, doctors and nurses alike. But without that man and his team, the hospital could not function smoothly.
I must say that he is a very kind and intelligent man. We end up watching a game of Jeopardy in his free shift on the hospital TV and he has answers to most of the questions. When I asked him about his life, he told me that he could not go to college because his parents could not afford it for him. On the bright side, he made sure he would work hard enough and do any job he could find to put his daughter through college [which he did].
He also shares his wisdom and experiences about life. One time, we spoke about the tradition and societal obligation of marriage, seeing as he went through a divorce.
“Don’t enter into a marriage thinking it is going to be some fantasy ride. It will get boring and it will get mundane. But that doesn’t mean one should let it stay that way either. The problem arises when people take more than they give into a relationship.”
“Is that what happened to you?”
“No. My wife and I separated because she wanted to be with someone else. We still talk sometimes for the sake of our daughter. In the end, I was very happy to get custody of our child. I knew that I would be able to provide for her better than my wife ever cared for her.”
2) The Indian co-worker
I am fortunate to work with amazing men and women in the past (and at present) and I am also fortunate to experience the great degree of freedom New York City gives me as a woman.
Recently, I was chatting with an Indian co-worker and the (unfortunate) topic of “Blurred Lines” video came up.
“I don’t see the problem with the video. It is supposed to support the liberation of women,” he said, by quoting I want to liberate you lyric.
“I understand that the models willfully paraded, all naked, except for their skin colored underwear, and hopped around the male singers. But I would have loved to see the men lose their fancy suits and strip down for women to ogle their bare buttocks, all the same. You are only perpetuating the rape culture when you say that a woman is asking for it under the pretext of blurred lines. It’s consensual or it isn’t.”
He was taken aback by my response and even more taken aback when his “fear” of my being a feminist was confirmed [Contrary to the biased notion people have of feminists, I don’t burn my bras as they are an investment of hard-earned money and even if my husband was the breadwinner and I, a housewife, or vice versa, it still wouldn’t make either of us less of man or woman.]
He questioned my need to become so because he believed (perhaps, within the realm of his boxed up cubicle and watching movies like Pyaar ka Punchnama) that women have enough privileges today. Hearing him say that reminded me of a viral blog post by an Indian woman who, also in her misguided narrow-mindedness, stated that women are treated in a more special fashion than men. She ends her post as follows: “Poor guys. Thank God I am not a guy. I can be as lazy as I want to be. The biggest advantage of being a girl. Really. There are hardly any guys who are really out of a girl’s league. . .She will never run out of options, while he gets just a few options in any case. A guy’s ugly is a girl’s cute. Dear feminists, please leave them alone. Really. They are mostly cute.”
I find it strange that people forget the laws, the catalysts of equality that the feminist movement has brought to the world. For God sakes, women weren’t even allowed to run in Marathons till 1970s. It wasn’t until the historic participation of Kathrine Switzer as a numbered participant in the Boston Marathon in 1967 that women slowly gained acceptance to be an officially recognized participant. I also find it strange that people question the need for feminism even as violent gangrape cases, men abducting women and imprisoning them in their homes or brothels for sexual slavery, domestic abuse and plight of women and children continue to flood our headlines. Yes, reporting of such cases has increased. Yes, the death penalty has been awarded to Nirbhaya rapists today, but the progress doesn’t end there.
As a side note, there are perks to be an Indian in America. People generally assume you are smart and/or highly educated. But all of that shouldn’t erase the fact that our nation ranks poorly in its treatment of women. Moreover, human rights violations especially that of women and children, are rampant in Southeast Asia. Forget blurred lines, I think Honey Singh will soon have to come out with a song for Indian men and alter the lyrics of “Brown Rang De” as follows:
Mundiye ne tere brown rang te, kudiya nahi pat tengi kissi bhi town de,
Na koi kamm tujhe aava na, roti kya tu bhi khaave ga,
Gori gori kudiye tere munh pe chanta maare na,
Hogein tere charche Star News to BBC,
Saale jail main jaake kaat apni rapist wali mentality
I recall one news channel did some “serious” investigative journalism by making one of their female reporters dress up in tight jeans and a black top and walk around casually in crowded public spaces in India. With the help of a “khufiya” camera guy, they were able to capture some lecherous facial expressions of random men who stared at her boobs, her ass and some even turned around to take a second glance, just to confirm, I presume, that she was a woman (sex ratio makes us a rare species in an environment of big packs of men). No remarkable insight there because such ogling of women (where the duration of staring is directly proportional to a man’s supposed ability to unclothe woman with his X-ray vision) happens in every country.
I didn’t have an answer to demonstrate my “need” to become a feminist, but I did have a question.
“Do you have a sister?”
“Yes, she lives in India,” he replied.
“Is she married?”
“What would you do if, one day, your sister told you that her husband had raped her?”
He paused, not sure of what to say. Finally he said, “I would beat him up and throw him in prison for life.”
“Too bad Mister. Marital rape is not observed as a criminal offense in India. This is one of many reasons why we still need men and women standing up for gender equality and justice. That, my friend, is the basis of feminism.”
4) Krishna’s avatar at ISKCON temple in Brooklyn
The most striking beauty about the ISKCON temple in Brooklyn is that a great diversity of individuals blend together so seamlessly by sharing the same language of pure meditation and mutual respect. When I first visited the temple, the most surprising part was that there were more people of different backgrounds than there were of my own ethnicity. Some members are so moved by the discussions and the singing during the kirtans that they get up and start dancing in joy to the percussive rhythms of the drums and the soulful vibrations emerging from people’s singing. It is at this temple that I regained the powerful understanding that each and every person, as unique we are, are also the same mere drops, which when pooled together, create the vast ocean of humanity. If New York City is a true melting pot of many different kinds of people, then the ISKCON temple is a microcosmic representation of that diverse pool.
Although, I never had any conversation with the man here, I do feel that he deserves a special mention. At the Janamashtmi (Birth of Lord Krishna) festival at the temple last month, this man played the role of Lord Krishna in one of the skits on stage. All of us were mesmerized by his performance, by the equanimity of his voice and gracious presence of his movement. Needless to say, this man, of African descent, nailed his Krishna avatar! 🙂
5) The Haah-vad educated banker
It’s scary that most, if not all, pejorative terms originate with women.
Before I speak about the banker, I once asked a guy in college if it was okay that I call him a girl, seeing that we so effortlessly call each other “guys.”
“No! Why would you do that?” came his quick reply.
“Ok nevermind. Tell me, what is the worst thing you have been called?”
“I dunno, a douchebag maybe.”
“Do you know what a douche bag is?”
“A guy who is a jerk?”
[I first heard the term when I read an article where it said that victims of rape remove important evidence because they douche themselves after the traumatizing incident.]
“Douche bag is a bag of fluid used by women for medical or hygienic reasons.”
He couldn’t believe the origin. To my readers– I’m sure you know where derogatory expletives like pussy, cunt and bitch come from, don’t you?
Ok, now coming to the original subject of discussion for this last conversation.
I recently met a fellow at a finance related event. He started off with his educational background (with extra emphasis on the brand name of his University) and continued his monologue about his ‘hot-shot’ Wall Street occupation (yawn).
I am not generalizing men who come from such “prestigious” ranks of society, but if this “Unofficial Goldman Sachs Guide to Being a Man” is anything to go by, you can estimate this particular man’s behavior towards women.
Here is some of the advice they give in the list, followed by my repartee.
“When in doubt, always kiss her.”
When kissed in such a fashion that invades your personal space, always kick him.
“Pretty women who are unaccompanied want you to talk to them.”
Pretty women have better things to do than being approached by strangers just because they don’t have another human being next to them.
“One girlfriend at a time is probably enough.”
“Desserts are for women. Order one and pretend you don’t mind she’s eating yours.”
Order that pie and throw it in his face and tell him- Desserts are for everyone!
“No selfies. Aspire to experience photo-worthy moments in the company of a beautiful woman.”
Because your ugly male best-friend is not good enough?
“Revenge can be a good way of getting over anger.”
“Own a handcrafted shotgun. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Call the cops. This guy is a lunatic.
“If she expects the person you are 20% of the time, 100% of the time, then she doesn’t want you.”
There goes my degree with a course in statistics 101.
“Hookers aren’t cool, and remember, the free ones are a lot more expensive.”
If your sexist notions are where you dick is, then please keep it all to yourself.
This banker fellow tried to guess where I was from because New Jersey is too vague of an origin. I saved him from his misery by saying India to which he proceeded to discuss his college thesis on something related to reducing poverty levels in South Asia (should’ve said I’m from Antarctica and left).
After a half hour of politely listening to more one-sided blabber, I had to interrupt him to ask one question.
“Do you think the bubble is ever going to burst?”
“Oh, you mean the real estate ones in BRIC markets?”
“No, I mean the one you have forged of yourself in your head.”