Thursday, June 24, 2004

Monica's dinner guests

Monica has this in her character - she can make friends with just about anybody. The class/religion barriers that insulate most of Delhi from most of the rest of Delhi, not in the space of interaction (incredibly mixed for us all), but in the space you give to others in your mental horizon - in the space of the stories you're willing to hear (am i making sense here?) .... those barriers do not exist for her.

She listens, and wants to listen to all sorts of people, and they want to talk to her. (I used to be like that, but at 24, after six years in Delhi, I'm already a cynical bourgeoise grouch most of the time, and don't care to listen to anybody 'not my type', unless I get paid for it - defintion of ' urban researcher' - one who gets paid to do what most people should be doing anyway... pay attention to where they are.... ) So anyway, one of her friends is this urchin type little boy flower seller, who gives her a rose every time she passes his shop. and just like she would with me, or her friend the libyan diplomat (is this beginning to sound like that bob dylan song already... 'like a rolling stone'), she invited him home for dinner on tuesday...

she made a great dinner for him, too. a pretty damn kickass salad and noodles with tofu and broccoli and all the exoitc veggies she could find.... (in India, tofu and broccoli is still exotic, ... at least to me...) called him him up twice becuase he was late.... and finally he turned up, all togged out, with a bouquet of flowers, with his elder brother in tow, who was reluctant even about coming in.

Once he was in, though, he was pretty comfortable, and told us about how he ran his business (the flower shop) and how the family had emigrated from nepal but considered themselves delhi-ite (ajay, the kid, had never seen his 'native village'). ajay himself, though he looks about twelve, is already done with formal schooling. he spends half his day at the flower-shop, and the other half learning the motor-mechanic trade at the nearest garage.

then, in ten minutes, they got up to leave after drinking some squash.

the brother insisted that he'd just come to drop ajay, and he was leaving, and ajay could come back whenever. ajay insisted on leaving with his brother, though it seemed like he wanted to stay.
in that much hesitation, while the brother went doen the stairs, ajay had a chance to speak to monica.

- i have to go now, otherwise he'll thrash me when i get home. but i'll come again when he's not around...


monica wondered, later, whether she should have insisted more that ajay stay, as i polished off the wonderful dinner meant for him. (monica had told me to go easy on the food before, that i could eat sandwiches later....)

I said the kid was smart, that he knew his priorities, and that he'd be back...

it seems so simple.... the kid was overstepping his class limits... and the brother wnated to hold him back. in the hindi, 'aukaad mein rakhna', to not let him forget exactly where he was placed ....

but then the brother and his flower business probably made more money than monica and I would make together, in a month - barely that we are out of impoverished student mode...

so it wasn't aobut the money...
then why the hell couldn't ajay have dinner with us?

was it becuase they were from nepal, and however much they claimed delhi as home, delhi won't completely claim them?
becuase he didn't want his brother to fall into our un-intentional do-gooder trap of believing in the goodness of this city?
becuase however well puran(the bro) did financially at his honest hardworking business, he would never acquire the easy English-speaking sophistication that clings to us, even when we speak everyday, un-accented Hindi?

or maybe he was just jealous of the easy charm of his brother, which reached out to this 'exotic' woman with the short, red-streaked hair?

... who knows? these are all 'Hindi film type' explanations, but sometimes that's all there is... and sometimes it isn't that inaccurate

all i knew was that night we had hit a barrier, or a series of them. Not insurmountable, but indicative - of the complexities of delhi, and the little ghettoes we all live in, to preserve a sesne of who we are... that this metropolis is a million ghettoes of the mind, and i don't know whether they're opening up or closing tighter....

(say when the activists who define themselves and their politics by their sexuality, like the lgbt movement so powerful in delhi, are they opening up to the society at large or hemming themsleves in tighter?)

the next morning, i noticed that the bus i was commuting to work in was run by nepalis - maybe i wouldn't have noticed it if uit hadn't been for the night before.... but the Jai Pashupatinath Ki' on the door, and the the 'chinky' look of the crew convinced me. i remembered that the entire staff of one of my favourite cheap restaurants, including the cokk who makes the most amazing chinese food -are all nepali...

yet another ignored ethnic group in supposedly 'punjabi' delhi...

just what prevents this place from doing a yugoslavia to itself?




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