Wife's retelling of Aurelius1982's story.
It had been my idea to go to the Diwali party, and Ajit, the wonderful husband that he is, agreed immediately. I was looking forward to re-injecting some long-forgotten Indianness back into my life, and a party with fireworks, good food, and new people while wearing elegant traditional clothes seemed like a great idea. In theory that is. In reality, I was regretting coming up with the idea in less than an hour of getting there. At least for the first hour or so. And the regret stemmed mainly from the fact that I had forgotten how much I loathed the monochromatic company of the typical cocoon-dwelling Indian immigrant in the US.
Ajit and I entered the big house hosting the party, put the food we had brought in the kitchen, poured ourselves a couple of drinks, and got into mingling mode. A couple approached us and started talking. We started off with the basics like where we were from, where we lived, what we did and so on. He was in IT, she was a housewife. They had also come to the party after seeing the flier. We all talked about how chilly it had been getting recently. And from there, the conversation went downhill as the couple's cocoon started showing.
And by that, I mean the conversation turned to the extremely short list of banal topics that most Indian immigrants appear to think they're legally obligated to bring up when talking to a compatriot. First it was about visas, stamping procedures, green card applications, priority dates, and USCIS customer service. Then it was about the Bollywood potboilers which seemed to have names as long as entire paragraphs. Then it was about the Indian restaurants in town. Then the guy started talking to Ajit about cricket and the woman started talking to me about how America is so boring and there is nothing to do but shop.
Now, shopping I love. Actual fun shopping - fashion, clothes, shoes, even electronics. But she was more into shopping topics like where you can get the best deals on toe socks, which Indian store has the cheapest Basmati rice and how crowded Walmart is on weekends. Then she launched into a thesis on the various calling cards for India, and which ones you can save 1/8th of a cent per minute on if you avoid toll-free numbers and buy 3000 minutes during Hindu festivals while standing on one foot facing Varanasi and chanting the Gayatri mantra or some such load of crap.
When she started talking about some cable company that offers Aastha Channel in their very cheap Indian package and how listening to some Swami or Baba's early morning spiritual sermons makes her feel one with the universe, I was about ready to shove a bag of Basmati rice down her throat. I tried catching Ajit's eye to give him the "Rescue Me!" signal, even tried to slowly merge our conversation with the one he was having with the husband about cricket. I actually contemplated joining a conversation about a game I find unbearable. That's how much I wanted her to shut up.
Ajit was in the middle of describing the "old world languid elegance and compact stroke play" or some such nonsense of some cricketer whose name sounded a lot like Che Guevara. He was too immersed in his conversation to take note of my misery. I always envy Ajit's equanimity and ability to find something in common with anyone, get a conversation going and actually enjoy it. Send him to a Trappist monastery and he'll have those guys yakking like teenagers. I was about to gently nudge him when the woman grabbed my elbow and said, "come, let us get some snacks".
She almost dragged me to the table and started heaping appetizers on a plate. I hoped that eating them would make her shut her trap for long enough to get me some relief. I picked up a samosa and munched on it. I was about to make an excuse and escape from her when she said,
"Oh! There are some of my keertan mandal (prayer club) friends! Come, you should meet them. And join our group."
And suddenly my ordeal got way worse. I was now surrounded by five more replicas of this unbearable woman. Actually worse, because most of them had kids. The conversation centered around diapers and late night feedings and potty training and so on. Luckily, now that they had each other, I didn't need to pay too much attention to what was being said. I quietly munched on the samosa, sipped on my drink and waited for a few minutes to pass so I could slip away without seeming impolite. I noticed that Ajit was in a group of guys, but he seemed to be having a much better time than I was.
"Yashodhara, do you have any issues?"
I noticed that everyone was looking at me. It took me a couple of seconds to parse the question, which was phrased in a typically Indian-English idiom.
"Well, who doesn't have issues? We all have issues. I do my best to deal with them." I said and giggled.
If there had been any crickets chirping in the vicinity, they would've caused a din. My joke had fallen completely flat. In India, that question is a quaint way of asking if you have any children. I had tried to joke about it using the non-Indian meaning of the word "issues".
"What?????" the lady who had asked me the question said after a couple of seconds.
"It was just a joke." I said.
"Never mind. To answer your question, no, no kids."
"Why not?" asked a middle aged lady. "Any medical problems?"
I just stared at her in shock. I had forgotten how intensely nosy other Indian women could be, especially the older ones.
"If you're having trouble conceiving, let me know. Our Guruji back in Meerut has this special concoction that can help. I'll ask my sister to bring some when she comes. But for that to work..." she threw a pointed look at the empty glass in my hand, "... you cannot drink any alcohol."
"You drink?????" another woman, this one in her early 20s but dressed like a grandmother, asked me in a voice that suggested I had assassinated the aforementioned Guruji.
"Excuse me." I said, exercising the utmost self-restraint in not flipping off those harpies and went to find a bathroom.
"I think she got offended." I heard the 20 year old grandma whisper in a voice loud enough to cross oceans and another woman let out a derisive laugh.
I rapidly made my way through groups of people towards what seemed to be the door to a bathroom. I put my hand on the doorknob when it turned on its own and the door pulled back open, making me lose my footing. I stumbled forward and banged against a man in his 60s dressed in a cheap gray suit. His hands shot up and held me by my shoulders. My hands instinctively grabbed his arms for support. I mumbled an apology and straightened right away. His hands lingered on my shoulders for a second and then I felt his fingers rub against my boobs before he pulled them away.
I looked at his face which wore a naughty grin for a split second before he pursed his lips.
"Are you okay?" he asked, sneaking a quick peek down my cleavage before looking at my face again.
"Yes, fine, sorry." I said and walked past him into the bathroom. He stepped out. As I turned around to close the door, I noticed him checking out my butt before walking away.
I just sat on the toilet seat for a few minutes, cursing my decision to come to this party. I had nothing in common with anyone here except for my passport. Why was I voluntarily sticking around in a place where musty-brained old women asked you about your medical problems and passed judgment on your drinking within minutes of knowing you? Where do they get off? Well, none of them looked like they had gotten off in their entire sorry lives, I thought to myself and chuckled at my own joke.
A few minutes later, I composed myself and stepped out of the bathroom, resolved to find Ajit and get the hell out of there. As I walked towards the living area, I passed by the same man who had taken the chance to gently feel me up a few minutes ago. As I passed by him, he twisted his neck like a corkscrew to check me out again. I scanned the crowd and saw Ajit was in the far end of the room in a group of guys who were laughing and having a good time. I took a couple of steps towards him when,
It was a woman about my age, clad in an orange sari, standing next to a man dressed in a shervani similar to Ajit's. She was holding a wine glass and he had a cup of chai in his hand.
"We were standing right behind you when you were with those women a few minutes ago. And we couldn't help overhearing..."
"Oh, I didn't mean to..."
"Those women were such..." she said, looked around and added in a whisper "total bitches to you!"
"Stupid fucking bitches!" the man next to her added in a whisper.
"I know! Thank you!" I felt so delighted to find someone sane.
"So typical! Personal questions and nasty judgments. That's why I hate coming to these desi parties."
"So do I." the man said. "I'm Rahul. This is my wife Shreya."
I shook their hands warmly, glad to meet a couple who, at least at first glance, seemed normal.
"I'm Yashodhara. My husband Ajit..." I craned my neck to spot him again and did a double take when I saw what he was doing, "is over there across the room on his knee, for some reason swinging his arms like Luke Skywalker with a light saber."
"If I'm not wrong, he's demonstrating Kevin Pietersen's switch hit technique." Shreya said.
"You like cricket???" I said in a mock whiny voice, "Just when I thought we could be friends!"