About a week ago one noticed a Desipundit listing for a post that commented on the almost ritualistic eyeballing between two specimens of the brown kind. And a couple of days later this same post was picked up by that academic cum excellent blogger from Banglore, TA Abhinandan. Invoking that God of good natured self deprecatory humor and the supreme creator of the peerless Ajay Palvayanteeswaran, Abhi opined that things have changed since his time in the US, as a grad student. While one can't agree or disagree with that last line, it is certainly possible to add our own spin into the mix, which BTW, seems to be shared by at least a couple of commenters on Shake's post.
In the past few months that I have spent in desh away from desh, I have certainly experienced enough to identify with everything Shakes mentions. But at the same time, I have also seen things go farther, past the piercing stare stage. It goes like this. Back in the desh, if Pammi mongrel strays into the area ruled by Bunty mongrel, Bunty proceeds to size up Pammi from nose to tail. And then ritualistic sniffing occurs as Bunty seeks to identify what Pammi must have had for dinner the previous night. Some folks have claimed that Bunty is disgusting enough to risk a taste, but I am not being judgmental. For you gotta do what you gotta do. Anyways, if Bunty is satisfied that Pammi stinks just right, then friendship happens. Again whether Bunty gets some, later is beyond the scope of this discussion, but one can safely concur that the two wouldn't curl up with a DVD of Brokeback Mountain.
Okay, too much digression. What we are trying to say is that in most cases this staring ritual is not allowed to proceed. But if the ritual goes forward, the next stage in a large percentage of cases would be a ***drumrolls*** business proposal. Yes, the often lamented I-toiled-for-years-to-make-money-from-my- day-job-and-now-I-have-my-fortune-through-a-unique-business-opportunity-that-I-would -gladly-share-with -the-person-standing-in-front-of-me -at-the-grocery-store-billing-counter. Or the parking lot of the local strip mall. Or the rest room at the strip club. Wait, maybe not the last mentioned, since one has never seen the interior of a strip club. Ever.
This theory has been developed not by conjecture, but through experience - experience that has left us all wary of eye contact and has contributed toward the other common theory - desis will neither make eye contact nor small talk with strangers of the same kind in a constrained environment. This theory is as widespread as the whole A guy and a girl can never be "just" friends theory.
For example, some months, I parked my car in front of the local subzi mandi and seconds before I was to walk past this desi gentleman, I noticed him stopping and staring at me. I hesitated for a second and this was enough for him to start to say something. He started with a 'I have seen you somewhere'? line making me hesitate even more. His next question 'Where are you from'? Too shocked to be silent, I replied. The moment he found I was from Chennai, he switched to Tamil and soon he had shared with me that one of his cousins had graduated from the same college in Tamil Nadu 5 years before I got in. I was startled enough to reply truthfully to all his questions and soon came the standard line about a business opportunity that would let me make some extra money without much effort. He said that his company had a number of patents in biotech and this business opportunity was in cancer testing or something. By then I had started taking evasive measures. It made no difference to me that his idea seemed to be nothing like the ones I had heard so far.
Here is where I get to dispense with some advice. If you ever have to change your cell phone number, remember to never forget the old number. There are situations when such knowledge can help, like this one. My old phone number flew off my tongue without hesitation. It certainly helped that I had changed the number just a week before this incident, but I have resolved carry the memory of my 740 number to my grave, lest one of the pall-bearers hired to lay me down to rest is one such businessman.
If you think this was an isolated incident, here is one more anecdote. A few days ago, considerable part of a weekend day was spent walking around the Jacob K. Javits Convention 11ther, on 11th Avenue between 34th and 39th streets in NYC. Past 9 pm, tummy and soles complaining, we headed down Newark Avenue in Jersey City looking for a desi eatery to gorge on dosas and such. The food was ordered, and soon tummies were in the process of being placated when a tiny hand moved in our line of sight and dipped three thin fingers into a full plastic cup of water. Before we could react the child had run away.
Looking around to see who the kid's parents were, I found my eyes locking on a face that had a questioning look. It was the father (as we found out barely seconds later when the kid plonked itself on his lap). I averted my eyes, but not before feeling a twinge of disgust since the guy apparently did not care much about the fingers in our water. A couple of seconds later, I looked up to find the guy's eyes still locked on me. This time he croaked out a 'You went to the auto show'? I nodded and before long the guy was in the midst of a monologue, peppering us with questions and my talkative friend was soon opining about how there were no new car introductions this year.
Meanwhile sensors of a different sort had been kick-started and I was waiting to hear the line that I dreaded most. But I was made to wait. At different points, the monologue was interrupted by breaks when the guy got up to make small talk with the restaurant's owner and then with another family and so on. But he was always back after a couple of minutes, for another round. He managed to give us a two minute version of his life story and made sympathetic tut-tutt-ing sounds when my ever-talkative friend reciprocated with his. In between, I managed to evade some direct questions about my place of residence, but as is the norm, he managed to go one up and brought out the right answers out of my mouth, against my will and he proclaimed that one of his cousins had lived in the same apartment complex as me years ago when the sight of a desi in Pinebrook was as rare as the Caucasan complexion is on Newark Avenue in Jersey City. This exercise in chummy-ness continued till we were the only customers left,when he realized that it was time for him to leave (we were still gorging on dosas).
As a parting shot, he asked me for my card. I gave him my standard answer about being in the last in the food chain in my company and that I was years away from a business card of my own (actually not so long now, I think). The friends were quizzed for theirs and standard answers of denial were given. He gave us his card, which bore his name and the image of a pair of hands meeting for a shake, with a vague name for a company. My companions and I exchanged knowing looks after a glance at the card. He then asked for my phone number. My talkative friend gave him an office number while my cousin latched on to me and told him that my number was his contact as well. The guy then walked out of the restaurant, leaving us amused, with three cards to show for the 'yada yada yada' droning that we had to endure.
I am sure that if Shake's had witnessed this exchange, he'd tell us that his staring theory had been validated. But what is more important is that, my theory has been validated as well.