About 10 minutes ago, one of my co-workers strolled in with an impressive Styrofoam container, filled with something pungent.
“Hey…is that Moby Dick?“, another asked. Seven of us are on this team; we share a decently sized office which is cube-free and thus collaboration-ready.
“Nah, it’s curry.” Â…annnnd my ears are pricked.
“Oh, really? From where?”
“Lunch buffet…place across the street.”
At this point, my eyes slightly bulge. He’s referring to a place I went to once, an establishment which left such an awful taste in my mouth that not only did I hate my lunch, I couldn’t even enjoy complaining about it afterwards, because my then-BF scoffed, “What were you thinking? Food from restaurants named after mausoleums NEVER tastes good. Don’t you know that only gora eat there?”
“Man, I love curry. Wish I had gone there instead of Cosi.”
“Yeah, it’s great.”
At this point, I’m engulfed by weirdness. I’ve mentioned to them in the past that the restaurant in question is blech-inducing. Hmm. Did they not believe me? Wait–is there some issue with my brown credibility? I trust my Lebanese friends when they advise me about which hummus sucks like a Dyson, what gives? I shake my head to clear it, but the discordance is rotting my brain.
The room spins a bit; did I hallucinate that entire conversation with them last week? The one in which we discussed the very difference between these two eateries? No. We totally had that talk. They know I vouched for Heritage India, which is a whopping two doors away from the hole from whence this styrofoam came. I start to feel a bizarre dissonance and I calmly attempt to explore it. Perhaps IÂ’m viewing this improperly. Despite my slight discomfort, maybe we’ve come a long way, baby, if I’m not automatically looked at every time someone utters the word “curry”. Yet oddly, I’m not thrilled. I know. Impossible to please.
This reminds me of Nike’s “Vamp like an Egyptian“-shtick. Is half-assed brown better than no brown at all? I vote Â“noÂ”. Still, why do I care so much? Who appointed me Ambassador to Brownland? I watch co-worker number two dig in and I almost cringe, I canÂ’t get over my sororal proclivities, my innate bossiness. If he likes to eat sub-par desi food, why should I give a shit? I have work to do, which I attempt to lose myself in, but then…“So how was it?”
“Hey, did I tell you I just saw Musharraf?”
“The President of Pakistan. He was at Brooks Brothers with his entourage.”
At this point, I whip off the noise-canceling-phones which don’t cancel anywhere near enough annoyance to really make a difference and I hold my breath. This is a matter most mutinous. Maybe I can run over and snap a picture, tell him I know Sin, something.
“WHAT?”, I blurt out spastically.
The Mushie-spotter disinterestedly turns my way and mutters, “yeah”, right before showing me his back again.
Co-worker One: “Dude…you should’ve asked him where Osama is…”
Robust laughter. The conversation turns to the Daily Show and how it takes news so much more seriously than actual news programs. The other four people in this room are discussing the Pakistani dicator-in-chief, IÂ’m obviously interested in what they have to say and instead of being included, I’m sitting here, feeling more foreign than I’ve felt in a while.
Actually, I have felt like this before. This reminds me of the time I was in college and on my way to a wedding. It was well over a decade ago, on a Saturday morning and I had asked my Dad to stop by my sorority house briefly so that I could run in and check my cubbie for “mail” (as well as for more candy from my big sister). I was expecting something important regarding our upcoming Formal and I hadn’t been able to visit the house the day before, when it had been delivered.
Trussed up in six yards of Kanjeevaram, my earlobes dipping from the weight of bright yellow gold, arms shimmering from the magnificence of all those diamond-cut bracelets Daddy brought me from Dubai when I was six (in anticipation for a wedding which should occur twenty years later), I swept through Delta GammaÂ’s french doors, past three of my “sisters” who were in gym clothes, post-Saturday-morning athleticism.
“What’s up?Â” they asked, before returning to their MTV. Not a single double-take, raised eyebrow or moment of “hmmm” to be found.
Suddenly very conscious of the clattering of my heels on the hardwood floor, I started mincing about so lightly, I was nearly silent, which is exactly when I was overtaken by the weirdest sort of thought: “now I’m not here at all”. They hadn’t seen me, now they couldn’t hear me, either. I smiled bitterly. I was the only girl to ever walk through those doors in a mantrakodi; what, that wasn’t noticeable at all? I’m not saying I wished to be gawked at, but I definitely wished forÂ…something. These were the days before I was “Brown”, so all those years ago, I just wasn’t sure what it was that I wanted.
I picked up an envelope and a fat bag of sugar tied with our colors and walked out without saying a word. Daddy looked at me impatiently as I gingerly held my pallu with one hand while simultaneously securing my pleats with the other. I got in the backseat gently and off we went. I had never felt so capriciously invisible.
There’s a middle ground between painfully obvious otherness and invisibility, between being singled out and ignored; it’s a sacred space for me which I rarely get to visit and it’s one of the concepts which inspires me to Mutiny. Partly because of my involvement in our fabulous never-ending cocktail party, I know exactly what it is that I wanted so many years ago and it’s the same thing I wanted 15 minutes ago– I want to be seen accurately, clearly, entirely.
Flashback to1994: bronze, pink and blue ribbons tied lovingly around gifts from my big, hand-made for a pledge with a sailor hat on her hair and angular letters on her shirt– that was me. A kumkum-based pottu, keshava-bordered silk and the same 22k choker my Mother left India with over three decades ago? Also very much me. That strange cocktail remains potent to this day; it still threatens to slosh over my rim. Sorority girl in a sari: even now thatÂ’s my steez, yo.
Let me pre-empt the flaming comments some of you are arming your bows with right this nimisam– IÂ’m not requesting or requiring that all South Asian-related conversations which occur in my ear space include little ole me. I wrote this post because I experienced a moment of utter, preternatural dissension and I just had to bore you with it. IÂ’m not a twit who couldnÂ’t deal with being the odd kid outÂ—thatÂ’s been my role since pre-school and I relish it, sathyam.
IÂ’m just articulating how it would be nice to be seen for exactly who I am, to have the multitudes I contain be recognized. My iTunes spins M.S. Subbulakshmi more often than the Pixies. The International Delight Irish Cream-flavored coffee goop I brought to leave in our kitchen was accompanied by a jar of hot lime pickle and some random frozen dinner which featured chawal and chole (which got JACKED I might addÂ…someone on the sixth floor has good taste in other peopleÂ’s lunches). The pictures of me getting carded at ChuyÂ’s nestle next to images of my Mother and sister, resplendent in silk at a cousinÂ’s wedding. My notes from meetings are decorated by a border of squirming, wiggling shapes which are my attempt to scribble Â“laÂ”, Â“thaÂ”, Â“vaÂ” and Â“naÂ”.
ThereÂ’s a dichotomy at my very core, and I may get mocked for stating this, but to have that be ignored stings a tiny bit. IÂ’m not an either or a neither; IÂ’m a both. And I am just as vexed by bad Indian food as I am by jerky, thudding approximations of bharatnatyam.
IÂ’m a sour, slightly bitter drink, I know.