Thursday, April 25, 2024
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Bob’s Banter

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By Robert Clements

Are You Indian?
‘Namaste!’ she said, as all of us in the New York church turned to greet whoever was sitting by our side on Christmas Eve. For a moment I was startled. I was thousands of miles away from home, and the last thing I imagined I’d hear was a ‘Namaste’!
She saw my surprise, and asked, “Aren’t you Indian?”
“Yes,” I said proudly, “Then namaste!” she said again.
I smiled. It felt mighty good being recognised as an Indian. I had to fly halfway across the globe to leave behind the doubts and slurs by country leaders who had started deciding who was Indian and who was not. Who was more Indian and who was less. But a simple greeting by an African-American made me realise that whatever the present dispensation thought, the rest of the world knew I was Indian!
And she must have known what it was to be black, if not she then her grandfather or grandmother, who by the colour of their skin were judged to be less American, less equal than the others. And those same forefathers of hers would have put their head down, accepting the slurs of their white brethren, till bold men like Martin Luther King fought for equality and won it for her. She was worshipping in a church where there was no segregation anymore, where nobody told her she was not allowed in because of her colour.
Did she know that from the land of Namaste, the fight had only just begun?
How easy it is to divide a nation? How easy to tell some people they are superior to their neighbours, not because of better education, not because of gentler culture, not because of more money, but because of how they worship God! How easy it is to brand people as ‘us’ and ‘them’!
If I had told her that in my land there were leaders and their followers who felt I was not worthy as much as they to be ‘namasted’, she would have shook her head and said, “But why? You all look the same! Can anyone be less Indian than you?”
“No,” I would have replied, “Not for a moment have I ever thought of myself as less Indian, but there has come a group of those who garner votes by promising some they are more Indian than others!”
Her fight to gain equality was a hundred years ago, but the fight rages on as men like Trump have latched on to a white America and ride the white wave just as leaders back home garner votes doing the same.
But that ‘namaste’ said it all! To the world I was as Indian as an Indian can be, and so are each of you who live in Bharat that is India, and with a smile and a greeting loud and clear I shouted proudly back to her, “Namaste!”
But even as I shouted ‘Namaste’, I remembered poor Kanimozhi, a former Union Minister, daughter of one of Tamil Nadu’s most famous chief ministers, and in one’s own airport in Chennai, was asked, when she spoke in English and not in Hindi, “Are you Indian?”
Now, I am not an MP or VIP and wondered how I would react if the same question were asked to me, “Are you Indian?”
“Well don’t I look Indian?” And in my mind I hear the American saying ‘Namaste’ to me.
“Yes sir, but are you?”
And after having with great difficulty pulled my luggage up the unfriendly ramps, that most airports have, I look dumbfounded like Kanimozhi, at the security man, as he also stares at me, and repeats, “Are you Indian?”
I then reply:
“My shoes are bought from Bata, my socks from Tata too,
And if you look quite closer and I ask that you please do,
You’ll see my shirt is faded, and my trousers out of date,
My belt has let my tummy out, while you just made me wait!
Now if all this doesn’t prove to you, how Indian I can be,
What other proof dear sir, would you want to see of me?
“Are you Indian?” asks the security man sternly, like the wife of Tevye in Fiddler On the Roof, asking her husband, “Do you love me?” And now deeply frustrated I reply:
“Well I was born in India, and both my parents too,
My wife says she’s Indian, and so do my daughters two.
The missus she buys her veggies from the hawker down the road,
Even though there is a mall, where it’s cheaper I am told.
Now if that doesn’t prove to you, how Indian I can be,
What other proof dear sir, would you now want from me?
“Sir, are you Indian?” asks the security man again, and in his face I see no relent.
I sigh, and say:
“My skin is brown, my hair is black, and of my nose hair, I can’t keep track,
I gargle noisily and also use, tap water, to wash behind my back,
I laugh out loud, and never think, that others may not like the sound
Of me repeating a new joke, from a joke book I have just found!
If all this doesn’t prove, how Indian I can be,
What more proof do you dear sir, now want from poor me?
“Sir,” says the security at the gate, “Are you Indian?”
I sigh and reply:
“What more proof can I give dear sir, than all I have just said to you,
Now the only thing I have left to do, is give you a hundred rupees or two,
Whoa! You have let me in, you give a grin, and even pat my stubbled chin.
And in the midst of airport din, I have proved to you my kith and kin that I am Indian..!
The Author writes a daily column. If you’d like to receive it by WhatsApp every morning, send a ‘YES’ to him on his WhatsApp no 9892572883
[email protected]

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