“I’m going to Indee Yah with my boyfriend! We’re planning to go to Jay-Poor and Khair-Allah and Nude Ellie! I’m so excited!”
I smiled at my Chinese-and-British classmate AW as she gushed about her upcoming trip to me and a couple of others. The poor thing took more courses than any of us last term, and she totally deserved a break!
“So I’m really interested in Indian history and culture and I want to know more about it. Can you recommend a book that I could read on the plane?”
My mind ran from imagining the task of decoding Indian history and culture on an eight-hour journey, to a book that could encapsulate India even if not very well, to how shameful it was that I knew so little about books and about Indian history. I needn’t have gone through this arduous exercise. The question was not directed at me. It was directed at another British girl.
I wasn’t offended, for two reasons. The first being that my constant silence in class and among classmates might have led her to believe that I could not speak if I tried. The second, and more probable, being that she did not need to know an Indian’s India. She needed to know a tourist’s India, and I was as useful or useless for that purpose as anyone else.
The other girl recommended Naipaul, himself a tourist, and after several attempts, the name was taken down without spelling errors.
AW is back to school, tanned beautifully and raving about Indee Yah. She found me sleeping on the sofa today, and I asked her how she liked the place.
“Oh! It’s amazing! Jay-Poor is so beautiful! The food has so much Gee that my boyfriend was in the loo the whole time! Khair Allah is awesome! The beaches are so clean! I went swimming! The food was also much lighter!”
I told her that the food was no lighter in Kerala, and they were planning to nuke the world with Malabar Parathas any day now. It was probably that the food was cleaner, as the south is generally more conscious about hygiene (bias mine).
“Oh! But I read that the South was much poorer!”
I tried to calculate the per capita income of all Indian states, remembered I had no data, and switched the conversation to her data, or the book she had read about India.
“I got this fabulous book. Maharani. It’s about these four princesses and it’s so romantic! The princess has one maid just to do her eyes, one just for the left part of her sari, one just to paint her toenails…”
Now I was torn between imagining the “romance” of this roomful of women, and sighing at the fact that I had nobody to paint my toenails in this DIY country.
“I bought these three saris. They are so lovely! Turquoise and Purple and Black. They have all this gold detailing on them. I figured they were too thick to wear, not like saris at all, so I just bought the sari fabric, and figured I could do creative stuff like book covers, or just throw them around the house like drapes, you know….”
Ah, purple and turquoise Orientalism. How familiar you sound! I offered to help her put her sari on, and she was pleased. She then informed me that people stared at her, and I told her she must have been more uncovered than covered, because she does not look like a foreigner at all. She informed me that all the women in India were wearing Indian clothes, which means the country has changed completely since I left, and I must visit soon.
“And we saw all these men with rods through their cheeks hanging from wooden sticks in Khair Allah. It was some sort of festival. Hindoo Festival. Are you Hindoo?”
Made mental note to ask Joker Anna about Kerala festivals and if there are none such, then about drug abuse in Kerala.
“In Nude Ellie, the people were so hospitable! Both at the Sheraton and at the Oberoi.”
Ah! Nude Ellie. Will not leave me in peace ever. I suddenly remembered I had some important reading to do for tomorrow’s lecture.