Tuesday, May 27, 2008

15 minutes

Photo credit: Mrs. VFR

Resting on a park bench deep inside Lodhi Gardens, Mrs. VFR and I thought we had found a rare slice of solitude in the middle of a madhouse city.

Our senses had been battered all morning by Delhi's claustrophobic masses of people and cacophony of car horns. We barely noticed the faraway group of schoolgirls copping quick glances in our direction.

They, on the other hand, had clearly noticed us.

A small group gathered and huddled. Their glances became longer. We noticed. They pointed. This continued for several minutes. Trepidation finally gave way to curiosity, and they ventured in our direction.

They came, at first, in drips of two or three. But before we knew it, we were surrounded by a crowd.

They didn't speak much English and we didn't speak a word of Hindi. That didn't stop them from enthusiastically taking as many pictures as possible with us. At the end, we shook hands with each girl as they said "thank you, thank you."

We had experiences like this all over India.

People were fascinated with us. All across the country, people wanted to take pictures with us and shake hands.

Paranoid at first, I considered the possibility the picture-posing was a ruse that pickpockets used to gain close access to my wallet. This wasn't the case.

Then I surmised it was an obsession with anyone or anything American. But it wasn't happening to other American tourists. Or to any other white people. So that theory seemed wrong.

When we told Mitra, who lives in Delhi, about these encounters, she said she had never heard of such a phenomenon.

But these weren't isolated cases. This happened eight or nine times, all across the country.

Another group asked us to stop and take a picture with them inside the Taj Mahal. One of the kids asked me where I was from. I returned the question.

"Assam," he said.

"Oh yes, Assam!" I exclaimed.

"You know where Assam is," he asked with wide-eyed amazement.

'Oh yes, northeast India," I said.

The truth is that I only knew about Assam because of circumstance -- Mitra's family hails from the state. But this kid breathlessly reported to his friends that I knew Assam, and that was a big deal.

Outside the Taj, we had two crazy encounters.

Dead camera batteries left one teenage boy so dejected that he hired one of the professional photographers on site to take his picture with us.

Near the entrance to The Taj, one elderly gentleman nearly burst into tears of joy when he handed us his infant granddaughter. We posed for several minutes while the entire family eagerly clicked away. The grandfather's face beamed with pride.

Were these cases of mistaken identity?

Are we, in fact, celebrities unappreciated in our own country?

Something else lost in broken conversations?

We'll always wonder.

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At 6:28 AM, Blogger Todd Cohen said...

Cat...I just saw Bollywood's latest flick at the Edison multiplex and the main chararacter looked EXACTLY like you.

Maybe that explains it.

(It's just the cat in the movie had a smile and an outfit with more colors than a box of Fruit Loops the whole flick)

At 8:42 AM, Blogger Smokey Robinson (aka Matt) said...

Ancient Indian legends have long foretold of the coming of a man of prophet-like importance with a raven-trussed woman at his side. Supposedly, his appearance signifies the arrival of a time of unheralded prosperity for local oil prospectors, as prices will skyrocket to record levels. Also, they say the prophet will have been college roommates with a guy named Matt. I'm pretty sure that's what it was.

Hey, speaking of India, I keep forgetting to ask you how the burgers were. I bet they're divine.

At 12:39 PM, Blogger S. Mitra Kalita said...

I forgot all about the kid from Assam you met. I love that story. Makes me laugh and cry because you are having a baby. Play the bongos!


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