III. Candid Verses: Flirting With My Nepali Identity!
I swear I’ll never be offended if someone labels me an Indian ever again, but Chinese?
I really didn’t want to go to that potluck dinner. For starters, I find potlucks extremely pretentious. I reckon the person who hosts these gatherings is either a virtuous cook, who wants to show off or an evil genius, who has planned out a clever scheme to score food for a week. Amidst all this, you have to bear the people yapping about the quality of eclectic food only to see them indulging on your favorite grilled meat that is fast disappearing.
Sounds familiar? If you live in the vicinity of several schools like I do, chances are you’ve been invited to more than one of these. Potluck is a poor students’ poolside party!
You’re here not only to indulge in exotic delicacies but supposedly, you also make new friends, connections, network or if you’re extremely lucky, a hippy date for yourself –sans expensive alcohol. Most of my potluck however have comprised of lousy food dominated by Chinese Dumplings and Indian curry, ugly people, and few nerds whose idea of a social gathering is playing an obscure board game from the 80’s while dimwits like me, have to sit around and compliment them. If you’re trying to assimilate with the white and black folks, you also have to let out a few catch phrases like “We should hang out sometime!” (Which really means, “I don’t want to see you again because we have nothing in common”!). And then finally, Karma comes around to bite your ass off. As you’re leaving, you realize in horror that no one has touched your food and nobody wants it for the road. Do you know what that does to our inflated ego when you return to your girlfriend with the very untouched food you boasted about?
Unfortunately, Madam had a meeting that evening and she insisted that I should work on my social skills. Fair enough! Grabbing the next best thing after food known to man since the dawn of civilization: good-old-6-pack, I went to the potluck dinner. As soon as I saw Ye Zhang, I knew this was the one I should’ve avoided: full of ex-workers and ex-classmates. Now, I also have to listen to what everyone has accomplished in the last six months. Just great!
Trying to remain inconspicuous as possible, I tried to make way to the kitchen following that scent of the grill. Ye Zhang, popularly known as Anthony, (don’t ask me why! The rumor is he embraced Christ as his savior because they gave him free pizza on a Sunday!), stopped me dead in my track with a plate of food resembling the Tibetan Plateau. Don’t get me wrong! I used to like Anthony. Like all Chinese folks, he’s extremely hardworking and has an insatiable appetite. Slowly I hated him, because like all Chinese co-workers, he worked and sweated twice as much as I did making me look like the laziest worker in the team. These people can really work their butt off. I was at a late dinner in Chinatown in SF few years ago, and I had asked the owner of “something dragon restaurant” if he ever slept. He said “At most 3 hours!” Yes three freaking hours. I sleep three hours in the morning alone. Sometimes my naps in the afternoon are longer than 3 hours!
Anyways, back to Anthony! I had taken him under my wing, not because I was brighter, because he complimented my command of the English language and how wonderful presentations I gave. This came to an end promptly one Friday morning. Zhang had recorded my presentation and gave it to me so that I could gloat over it for the rest of the day. Sadly, Zhang didn’t hear what I heard. I refused to recognize my own voice for the entire afternoon and into the weekend, because I realized even after a decade in this great country, I may dress, eat, and live like an American, but my accent was as crisp as only our southern neighbor. Thanx to Anthony- I lost my job and my esteem!
Anthony went into a melodrama on how the workplace was not the same without me, and then introduced me to a gentleman behind him, whom I had failed to notice. This was because most Indians that I meet show an expression of empathy that I am one of them- an approval of being part of the family. This gentleman, Shivaram Madhavan –whom I later came to know, bore an extremely surprised expression at me as if I were an alien. Before he would even shake my hand, he shook his head firmly in disbelief “I heard you were a Nepali. You don’t look like a Nepali at all” Together we made it to the kitchen, I popped open my first beer, gulped down half of it, and continued our conversation.
“Really? Maybe that’s because I don’t sing and dance, don’t wear flip flop with a sock and don’t have a bobble head!” I quipped feeling better already.
Shivaram kept on going, “No no! He looks like a Nepali” He pointed to Anthony, the comment, which made his squinted eyes open up “ You don’t look like a Nepali at all!”
Screw the potluck. Screw the classmates and the co-workers. Like a true Nepali, my blood began to boil instinctively. This was personal now. “Please enlighten me, who do I exactly look like” I raised my voice taking another long gulp.
“Seriously Yaar! You’re too fair. You look like a Bihari!” He patted my back as if it were a good thing. I am a man of tolerance. Over the years, I have been labeled a Pakistani when I forgot to shave, Mexican when I shaved, Guatemalian when I stood up, and a host of other South-American and Middle-Eastern nationalities which I had embraced graciously. I really didn’t know how to respond to “A Bihari”? Hey! Maybe it is a good thing coming from a quintessentially Indian gentleman.
So in company of my two newly found friends– I began to unload the grilled pork-chops, Basmati Rice, and savory-pepper steak that lay at the end of the long table. My favorite!
When I came back to talk, I saw that Shiva-ji’s eyes widened once more and smirked in disapproval. What now?
“Man I thought you guys were Hindu. You can’t eat BEEF! ” He asserted.
Thinking I’d get back at him for his earlier remark, I quickly replied “You should seriously try this! It’s really good. These are not like our cows. These are Christian cows. Bred for the meat!” He stepped back in disapproval while Anthony laughed digging into his plateau.
“Besides Shiva! Show me the religious text where it’s written that we can’t eat beef” I blurted out feeling a bit-tipsy. This remark suddenly gave me goose bumps as it echoed inside my head. Have you had this feeling of insecurity when you state a claim without any proof secretly hoping that the other person also doesn’t have an explanation? I had heard this from some Nepali Dai in our drunken philosophy conversation few years ago. (I chuckled in delight at Shiva’s silence!).
I thought I had backslapped him for good- that too without the usual bickering, fight or explicit swearing. Or so I thought I did. As Anthony got distracted in the kitchen with other folks, Shiva whispered in my ears “Yaar! Look at your plate. Pork, Beef, and Dumplings. You are not even a Bihari, you’re like a Chinese – You eat anything!”
I. Candid Verses: Not-So-Cute-Babies! (http://sajha.com/sajha/html/index.cfm?threadid=95576)
II. Candid Verses: Explicit Relationship, Implicit Rules!(http://sajha.com/sajha/html/index.cfm?threadid=95696)