Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Global Gypsies and Their Caravans

Em told me something strange a few days ago. Won't go into the utterly tortuous and convoluted channel of communication through which he received this information, but the gist of it is - A few years ago, we used to have a few Indian students living in the apartment complex where I used to live till recently. They were all on fairly good terms with me, friendly and pleasant, and at times we hung out together, although not very often.

But it seems that I was being excluded from their frequent outings, and at least one of them had an active dislike for me. Reasons - apparently I deny my Indian roots, fake a British accent, and avoid socializing with other Indians.

I won't go into all the different reasons why accusing me of "denying my roots" is patently absurd (and if you insist, then I'd ask you to either go read Bankim Rachnabali or Andha Yug for the purposes of discussion, take your pick). But I can't resist pointing out that it's incredibly amusing to be called a "roots denier" by my ex-neighbour who is a diplobrat, and barely spent two years of her life in India.


And now for the matter of the accent. For the record, I don't have a British accent (whatever that's supposed to be - I guess they mean a certain English accent). I've never lived in England, and have spent a sum total of 30 hours in that country, either in transit or transferring from one airport to another. I'm not Anglophillic, though there are certain things I like about the nation (I'm more of a Persophile and Philhellene than Anglophile).

What I do have is a generic Bong-Indian public school-worked for Oxbridge educated bosses for three years accent. And watched BBC and ITV shows when Doordarshan was the only game in town accent. Have things changed so suddenly and dramatically in India that no one remembers a time when we were encouraged to cultivate a slight English upper class accent? Yes it was a very class-ridden thing, and often condescending, but it was something that many of us aspired to.

But in any case, I do not in any way sound like someone who's lived in England, and to date, no English person has ever asked me if I've spent time in England. However, I do get asked by a lot of Americans if I've lived in England, if I have any English roots, or if I went to a British school in India. I guess they don't really distinguish between an actual English accent, and one that only sounds similar (very mildly). I'm told I sound very different from a lot of other Indians they know, and I'm at pains to explain that this might be due to a regional variation or a different background, or simply a generation thing, because a lot of younger Indians sound more American.

I can imagine someone who's not Indian being ignorant of all the different variations of Indian English, but it's strange to have an Indian accuse me of faking an accent, because I sound different from whatever their peculiar idea of an "Indian accent" is.

Anyway, the last couple of days made me feel even more how utterly petty and ridiculous such concerns were, as I listened to and read about the incredible travel adventures of friends who seem to be traversing all parts of the globe.

Two days ago, we had lunch with a friend who narrated her experiences of working for a month with a development project in a village in Ghana, travelling to Senegal to meet a cousin in a plane where the lights went out midflight, then quickly started losing altitude and the pilot made emergency manoeuvres to finally land it safely.

During her time in Senegal, she narrowly missed being injured in a street explosion, and then later in the week, went off to the jungle to follow the footprints of giraffe families. Her cousin, an American man, was an artist who was married to a French woman working for the UN. They had spent their entire adult lives in Africa, moving from country to country.

Yesterday, we had lunch with another friend, a Turkish boy with a Russian wife whom he had met in Japan (and married in Las Vegas, yes it really is that incredulous). He told us about how he and his wife had gone to Indonesia to work on a research project and spent a month travelling from village to village in Java, collecting data. Apparently the Javanese can give stiff competition to the American South with their love of fried chicken, it can be found in every street corner.

And then, you can feast your eyes on the absolutely gorgeous pictures by my friend Alex, who took a month off to travel through South-east Asia, visiting Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Alas, his travelogue is in German, but hopefully a good online translator will be found. Especially his one photograph of Luang Prabang is absolutely breathtaking. I'd never been very interested in Laos, but now, my curiosity is piqued.

Waaaaaaa, everyone gets to travel but me! So not fair. Even my boyfriend took off for a ten day trip to Hong Kong today to see his childhood friend who works there now. And he doesn't even like dimsum! Why, why?

In fact, this is the last detailed blog post you'd see from me in a while, because the next month or so will be crazy. In fact, I should not be writing this at all, but finishing off my goddamn dissertation which is long overdue. Yes, the blog will be in hiatus, but I'll peek into comment boxes here and there.

And before I forget, I'll be a good Bong girl and wish everyone my best wishes for Durga Puja. Shobaike Sharodiyo Shubhechchha!!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Silly Photo Tag

I've been tagged by Urmi with the silly photo tag, and now I'm kicking myself for not buying the crap photo they took of me screaming my head off on the Jurassic rollercoaster in Universal Studios (for the record, I'm a wimp and I hate rollercoasters, and was kind of tricked into sitting in that one). I almost never dress up for Halloween, so I don't have any of those as well. So I thought long and hard, and decided to make this a silly with a twist kind of tag.

Silly as in giddy, girly, fawning and nearly squealing with joy. You see, this is how it all happened -

Place - Piazza Venezia, Rome

Time - Evening

Becks and I are on our 10 day Italian vacation, and this was our first day in Rome. We had spent all afternoon marvelling at the Colosseum and the ruins of a Roman agora near it, bought icecream and water from Bangladeshi vendors who insisted on giving us discounts, and after a crappy pizza at a tourist trap cafe, were looking forward to a great, inexpensive Italian meal.

Ambling along Via Del Corso, we reached an intersection, waiting for the lights to change, trying to drink in the surroundings like good tourists. Suddenly, there they were, visions in white, two of Italy's finest, crossing the road on the other side. In a flash of a second, Becks and I looked at each other and said in unison - "Run!"

And we did, weaving through the Vespas and honking cars, screaming "Signore, signore". They turned around to face us as we caught up with them, sheepishly sidling up saying "Can we please have a picture with you?". They smiled and agreed, and we took turns to take the pictures, and both of us came out grinning ear to ear in the photos.

Well, I decided to protect my little shred of internet anonymity and blotted out my face (so you cannot see my obvious giddy glee), but you can see what caused that silliness - presenting TM and the fine officers of the Italian Navy aka Marina Militare Italiana

Edit: On the suggestion of Tabula Rasa, I've decided to add a layer of sophistication to this image by presenting a graphic re-enactment of what my giddy smile looked like. Enjoy!!!