He drives the big machine in the corridors of the place where I sit and never fails to give me a broad grin and call out “Happy Monday/Tuesday…” (based on which day of the week it is). I don’t know his name; just know that he is a mechanic working in the same area where I sit. He might be an American, Mexican or some other race – I don’t know. There is another “he”, who waves or slightly nods in acknowledgement when he crosses my place and catches my eye. On Days when I am sad / blue / thinking of something bothersome when one of these two smile/wish me – for a moment there I feel so cheerful. I have heard often and got many forwards that say “A Smile can change the course of day / A Smile is a curved line that sets things straight” – it is in these moments of cheer that I feel all that is so true.
And that sets me thinking – there are zillions of Indians working in this place (in fact at lunch you see such a crowd that you wonder if Americans are at a tourist spot in India) – and atleast 10 people in my area whom I cross almost every single day – but not one of them has ever smiled at me or said so much as a Hello. I always thought that belonging to the same race/religion/state/community gave one a feeling of togetherness. When we lived in Vizag, we would often find so much solace in finding a fellow Tamilian. But, coming to the US of A made me realize that it is not so – or atleast from the experiences I had, or my friends shared with me. Why do Indians run away from fellow Indians in this country? Why are they so wary to even share a small courteous smile or “Good Morning”?
For nearly 90 days, I took the same ferry from Newport across to New York and each day I would see this trio of Indian girls – talking and giggling. I am not a person to go out of the way and start a conversation – I am too terrified to do that. But, after a month or so – I decided to take the bold step (especially after hearing snatches of conversation in Telugu from them) and talked to one of them – that too in Telugu. All I could get out of them was a “Yes” or a “No” – close ended answers that were hinting – “why the hell are you still standing here making a stupid conversation?” I was not asking them for money, nor was I threatening them and neither do I look that bad/dull/boring – then why this cold shouldering? Even the other day, here, I tried smiling at 2 girls who walk past my suite for lunch – and then tried to squeeze out a half baked smile before hastily turning away their eyes.
When we trekked in Smokies, every single American/Chinese family that crossed us said “Hi” and few of them would smile and remark – “That is one wonderful trek”/”Boy! You have a long way ahead”/”Hang on – you are half way up already” – something nice, polite and charming. Then comes this Indian group/Couple and the moment their catch us, they either start furiously searching for something they “lost” on the ground or start admiring non-existent flowers high up the trees. Hey! Mister/Miss – why happened suddenly? Don’t I look familiar? Coming from the same mother land as yours? Will smiling at me reduce your bank balance by 1000$? Oh! I give up! A couple of years ago – on my 1st and 2nd trips to this country – this bothered me a lot – but now I guess even I don’t care!
My day started off well today. This German person, Michael was trying to take out something at a Vending machine, close to where I sit, and his Dollar would not work – so he caught me on the way back to my seat to ask if I could exchange my Dollar for his. While walking to my place, he started a conversation – inquiring which part of India I was from. He told me about his visits to India – where he went and how he liked the place. He is never going to meet me again for all that I know – what was the need to talk to me? He could have just taken his dollar and walked off! But that small conversation with him was nice – just humane.
Before I end off – though I have seen this typical behavior of Indians avoiding unacquainted fellow country men, I was pleasantly surprised one day in the Gym – when this elderly Indian person started a casual conversation with me – of this and that. Maybe things are changing .... for good.