Small talk

I am always curious about a foreigner’s perception of India. Where did they go, what did they eat? Did they see the colours and sights? Did they see the chaos and dirt? One or the other or both? Do they know how different it is from my city? I worry they may not look back fondly on their holiday, and I am angry if they exoticize the country of my birth – the one which suffocates and sets me free in turns.

The tall white man and I are both waiting for our pizzas, and when he agrees to answer my question, I do not expect the response I received. “The most interesting thing I did,” he starts, in the singsong way that is at once a question and statement, “is going to India for my friend’s wedding.” And suddenly, I am more invested in his story than I should be. I offer him one more question. “Where in India?”

Pathankot. “It is a small town in the northern part of the country,” he tells me. “Close to the Himalayas. We went on a trek too.”

“I haven’t been there.”

“The wedding was so colourful!” he says now. “And long. Three days, can you believe it? One ceremony went on for ten hours.”

Oh..

“The groom arrived on a horse!” he continues after a moment’s pause, collecting more interesting details to give me. “I tried eating goat curry – that’s something I’ve never had before.”

He slows down. “People came and went however they wished. The entire village I think. It looked like only the couple stayed for the entire wedding.”

I want to tell him for all the differences among her people this country may bear witness to, this wedding is almost generic. All the food, the people nobody seems to know, the congratulating and the smiling that go on for hours. I can sense myself getting into one of my moods, ready to launch lectures on unsuspecting individuals – about our collective obsession with the wedding as the focal point of one’s life, about inequalities, and our pan-Indian preoccupation with the white skin. Which is when he adds, “I don’t think they had seen a white person up close before.”

Our pizzas are ready. We say goodbye before I have a chance to overwhelm him. Did they treat him like a white demigod? Did they rush to pull out chairs for him and give him second helpings? Did they look at his blue eyes? Did he fall sick from the food? Did his trip change him?

But what I really want to know is, would he go back, even though it shouldn’t matter.


I was at a creative nonfiction writing workshop this past weekend, and one of our activities was to go up to a stranger during lunch break and ask them what was the most interesting thing they did in their life. This is what I wrote in twenty minutes after my conversation. While I can see all the ways in which this piece could be better, I think both talking to a stranger and writing about it helped me with my confidence.


Top three on the nonfiction grid this week!

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19 thoughts on “Small talk

  1. Oh, wow.
    I don’t often says this, but I almost felt like I could have been a fly (okay, a big fat fly) on the wall as this conversation happened. There’s a certain ‘visual’ feel that your words bring, and it is something that a lot of writers / bloggers fail to convey.
    As for the foreigner, from his experience, it does sound like he may return. Maybe for another ‘generic’ wedding.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The gentle humor of this piece was something that I especially enjoyed. I grinned ear-to-ear after reading these lines – “The entire village I think. It looked like only the couple stayed for the entire wedding.” Very nice read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you.
      I did not realise it would be somewhat humorous, that’s a bonus!
      I hoped it would encourage some reflection on the reader’s part; regarding culture, tourism, and a certain kind of privilege that exists unspoken.

      Like

      1. “I hoped it would encourage some reflection on the reader’s part; regarding culture, tourism, and a certain kind of privilege that exists unspoken.”
        –> My own superficial reaction to this piece reminds me of a Crazy Mohan line – “Neenga sollardhu budhisaali kuzhandhaigaluku…naan solradhu unga kozhandhaiku!” (from the play, “Oru Baby-in Diary Kurippu”)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. In all seriousness, I don’t think you needed to have been more emphatic in your writing at all. Then there would have been the temptation to ‘feed’ more to the reader. The fact that I reacted superficially wasn’t a miss on your part; it was just that my own life experiences made me react in a more amused manner than anything else. Try talking about friendship, grief or longing – en reaction would have made you think, “naan idhelaam sollave illaye! romba yosikran pola!” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As an American who lived in Honduras for a couple of years, I do get questioned by people of Honduran decent on how I liked it, my experience, etc. I completely related to this piece, only from the tall white guy’s point of view (even though I’m a short, white girl 🙂 Very well done!

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  5. “But what I really want to know is, would he go back, even though it shouldn’t matter.” I’d love to hear more about why this is what you really wanted to know.
    This piece is a lovely insight into the conversation. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! Maybe I should write a part 2? Hehe.
      I think my perspective at that point was..in spite of all the cultural nuances, and the specific kind of privilege that a white male commands simply by being who he is..what I was most concerned about was that he should have liked the country enough to want to go back. I didn’t expect that thought.

      Like

  6. I’ve never been to India, but I love that that’s the question you wanted to ask. I have found myself on the opposite side. I have been to a number of countries, but there has never been time to visit more than a couple of locations, generally very touristy. I always wonder what people’s daily lives are like and whether they are very different in another part of the country. This made me think and wonder. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I understand the sentiment about people exoticizing and generalizing about your country, and the instinctive internal reaction you get. This is an interesting creative exercise!

    Liked by 1 person

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