November 29, 2013

It happens only in India

Lately the series of 'Atithi Devo Bhava' ads have been on a roll across all TV channels. Amir Khan telling Indians what sort of a negative image do they portray by simple day to day activities.

Ever wondered what common people like us abroad think about when they first hear 'India'? Just like when I think America, I think of a typical day from the beloved American sitcoms we watch. When I think Australia, I am reminded of Masterchef Australia :P

Anyway, here are a few interesting (rather peculiar) reactions I got from people in Europe and South Africa when they first came to know I was from India:
  • Grocery Store Owner near Eketragaten, Gothenburg
    My younger brother and I enter into this little grocery shop to be greeted by its Swedish owner. He promptly recognized our origin without us uttering a single word. He asks, "Do you watch Bollywood?"
    Dumbstruck, we say Of course yes!
    He starts addressing my brother as Shahrukh and calls himself Salman Khan. Furthermore, he tells us that he regularly watches our bollywood masala movies. He defines regular as once a week! (Wait what? Even I don't watch bollywood once a week!) His love for bollywood was mainly for the mindless songs that pop in out of nowhere and the dance steps we choreograph. He mentioned a few favorites here and there.
    While I was leaving the store, I casually asked him, "How well do you comprehend the dialogues?"
    He says, "Well I don't understand, I just watch them for that."
  • Church Priest at Varvaderstorget, Gothenburg
    It can take me an entire blog post to describe this wonderful human being we met in our journey. The moment we enter the really tiny church, the Priest welcomed us with a warm smile. After learning of our Indian nationality, all he wanted to talk about was food! He wanted a pinch to digest the fact that some of us are vegetarians, have never tasted egg/chicken/pork or any other sort of meat.
    According to him, we survived on chocolates and salad only! :P
    We invited him on lunch thrice during our stay and finally he accepted that a vegan diet can be delicious too! He totally fell in love with our puris, parathas and laddoos ("really very sweet candies" as he would call them.)
  • Random lady next door in JohannesburgSouth Africa, thanks to their British rule boasts of a large population of people from Indian origins. Their great grand parents were shipped to SA as slaves during the British rule. As a result, these people today consider themselves to be of Indian culture. Our next house neighbor was one such lady. For the first 10 minutes she went on and on about how much she appreciated the culture we hold. The festivals we celebrate, the rituals, the sanskaar we instill in our children, the superstitions etc. We were ecstatic to hear about her enthusiasm towards our culture.
    In the end when we were about to leave, she asked my mum why she wasn't wearing a bindi and pointed out to the red dot on her forehead instead! She wore it as a mark of having an attachment to our land, to our culture, truly mesmerizing.
  • A fellow female passenger in the tram, Gothenburg
    The Swedish are really fond of their music. So much so that this passenger in the tram after finishing the detailed inquiry about us, she sang us a song in Swedish. Till date I never across that song again. She wasn't even ashamed singing aloud in front of the other passengers. In fact she sang it merrily and announced dedicating it to us!
  • A traveler in the train, ZurichWe were travelling from Lucerne to Zurich, a long distance via train. It was almost lunch time and our stomachs were growling of hunger. We Indians have this knack of carrying small packets of snacks along with us, wherever we go! We searched our bags and found our packets of namkeen and farsaan. This lady on the opposite side of the aisle asks me, "Do you have some bhujiya?" It took me seconds to understand that she was actually asking for bhujiya. I nodded in affirmation and handed over a handful. She ate it with delight as she recalled tasting it the first time she had been to India.
  • Owner of the hotel in Lucerne
    I was in contact with the hotel owner in Lucerne since I made the booking. He would give me weather tips, holiday destinations and helped me out with some sightseeing. During our departure, my mum casually asked him to visit India sometime. Instantaneously, he says NO.
    Whaaat? Why!?
    From his hallway, he removed a particular painting form the wall. He opened the frame to remove another photograph kept behind it. He looked at the photograph and said, I am scared of experiencing this, I will not be able to handle it at all. I myself was left shocked after seeing the picture:
    We explained that such scenarios don't exist now and besides, he needn't travel by train at all. But he refused to listen. The photograph indeed had a deep impression about the population explosion in his head.
  • Cute guy we asked the directions to some place in Paris
    Okay it is not very rare to find cute guys in Paris, but this one was weird. Paris actually is not a tourist friendly city. People generally refuse to communicate in English and when you ask them for directions, they ask you for the map. :\
    Okay, so to this guy we asked our destination, with a little bit of 'tout droit' and '√† gauch√©' he gave us the right directions. Then he moved on to ask the nationality. I said 'indienne' in his accent (I was up for a lot of fun :P ) and he said, "Oh Pakistan?"
    I resented, "No. India. "
    He repeats, "India - Pakistan, it's all the same right?"
    I was thinking really hard what to say. India and Pakistan have not been well known for their relation and this crazy guy thinks they're the same country. Would it be good to tell him?
    I smiled and said, "Is France and Switzerland same? No, right? The same way India and Pakistan are not" and left rather unhappy with his general knowledge.
  • Cab driver in Johannesburg
    This cab driver was the first person we met after we touched the South African land. Since he was the driver all my dad's colleagues called, he already had been with Indians for the past many years. After we reached home, out of desperation from the 12 hour flight travel she stormed into the kitchen to make tea. Before she could even offer, Frank says, "I would love some masala chai. It's the best part of people form India. Nobody here can make that way." Consecutively for the next month, whenever he came by, my mum made tea for him specially.
  • Bakery Shop in Paris
    I could not overcome the temptation of eating that soft, creamy and shining mousse in this Bakery Shop near the Eiffel Tower. I asked him the price for three pieces, multiplied it by 70 (Euro was 70 INR back then) and agreed to shell that out. He asked me if I were from India. And I said yes. Without any thought, he turned to his fellow baker and said something in rapid french (I tired hard translating but in vain). The other baker went to the computer, did some clicking and in no time was Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge playing. I really couldn't resist smiling. He boasted of having a lot of hindi song collection in his computer and mentioned how happy he was to see me! :D
  • Random lady in a mall at Cape Town
    Cape Town is full of posh malls and shopping areas. Each particular area would always have a Nelson Mandela Square. The South Africans are very proud of this great leader who fought for their country. But at the same time, there are an equal number of Gandhi Squares!
    We had taken a break from shopping and took some rest near one such Mandela Square. A lady, out of nowhere came and asked us our nationality. We were used to this and told her that we're from India. She sat down besides us, and started thanking us. Thanking for what? She was a total Gandhian, a person who follows Gandhi's principles to the core. It made no sense in her thanking us, because we are in no way connected to Gandhi. But it was her respect and love for that country Gandhi belonged to. As a memoir, maximum I could do was handover a 10 rupee Indian note I had with Gandhi's picture on it.
  • Passerby in Norway
    This was the funniest perception of India I ever came across. This fellow, asks my father, "You're from India?"
    "Yes" my father says.
    "Your wedding must have cost you a fortune! You cannot even divorce your wife ever."
    Apparently he had come across documentaries in which he saw the big fat Indian weddings we have! He really needed to confirm if we actually spend that much amount on our weddings. With that nod my father gave, and the comments he passed, we still laugh on his idea of being an Indian!
We never really realize, how little things affect. But yes, small incidents also embed deep and lead us to form perceptions about everything - even a vast country like India.


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