Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Of ritualistic eyeballing and the scent of wealth

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.

36 comments:

dev2r said...

My count is a low 1. In my case it was a guy I had only talked to on phone who tried to hook me up with his brother for an exciting way to earn more 'active income'. What is it with Jersey and these proposals?

rajesh said...

quixtar b'tards...

lost many friends in the scam!

Abi said...

Hmmm, the Desi Business Opportunity happens in Desh as well. It happened to me at a children's park (of all places!) near where we live; it turned out to be one of those pyramid (aka blade) schemes, and I really regretted giving that bloke my phone number. It wasn't before several calls that he took pity on me, and left me alone.

"... one has never seen the interior of a strip club. Ever."

Yeah, right! Wonder who the 'one' might be ...

Shakes said...

the staring happened first so my theory/empircal evidence wins! i mean don't get me wrong, we have some lovely gifts for you as a runner-up, but only the winner goes on to play Jeopardy tomorrow... wait where am i?

GratisGab said...

Don't you start your conversations with strangers with a "This better not be about Quixtar"??? I do and it works :)

twinkletoes said...

"one has never seen the interior of a strip club. ever"
hmmm...
wonder wot That was about? :o)
yanyway,
the "desi stare" has scorched our eyes many a time too... especially in temples... when aunties size you up..or in restaurants, when you are looked at like one looks at a new dish on the menu.
wot's with the staring, we ask...
now we have discovered a new solution: we make silly/funny/scary faces when being stared at for too long-works most of the time.
:o)

anantha said...

Twinkie: Hmmm... our face already looks funny, so we wont dare make faces at people.

Gabby: "Mommmmmyyyyyyyyyy"! :D We are way too nice for that. We believe in the inherent good that is inside each person and are prepared to let that come out...

Shakes: Thank you Thank you thank you...*opens a long peice of paper and starts reading..Sugar one pound, coffee 500 gms.. oops... that was my grocery list!

abi: I have heard about that. My uncle seemed to have gotten into one of these sometime ago. I put my foot down when my government employee mom went to one of their meetings upon my uncle's request. The one is the one and only me!

Raapi: Hear ya, bro! Hear ya!

Dev: Just you wait. I have been here two months longer than you. So when you complete 5 months here, you will have two notches yourself. Btw, what have you been upto? Me caught up with lotsa stuff at work so havent seen Newark avenue in the month or so.

Anonymous said...

one thing really appreciable about non-desi's is that if you notice them looking/staring at you it always results in a warm smile and nothing more. can sometimes even lighten up a bloody tuesday.

so not sy/empathic, but am leaving a comment in your blog finally :)

~orangutan_jp (sudha)

qsg said...

Timely post. Had one of the worst desi stare incidents. The stares followed me across multiple countries, continents and the Atlantic!

Flattery, very soon turned to irritation, to I-would-like-to-gouge-your-eyes-out! Now, I don't mind an appreciative glance (really!), but...!

It happens only in India (or by Indians across the world!). Very irritating indeed!

anantha said...

qs.: You know what you should do? Give it back! Then the feeling of flattery will again change into irritation, this time on the other side.

sudha: What, the other days don't light up? Pavam, its not their fault. It's a conspiracy by the power companies!

Anonymous said...

waaat ...u dont know the tuesday conspiracy theory?

~sudha

capriciously_me said...

nope...never happened to me...not even once...

anantha said...

CM: You have NSG commandos for protection, right? so why would this happen to you??

Sudha: The whole world runs on conspiracy. The goverment does not want us to know about a lot of things.

Anonymous said...

Machi,

Insult them directly da. Dont spare them. Its your chance to give back to the world :)

I never miss such opportunities.

-Prabhu

twinkie said...

oh c'mon.
wot about makin a scary face.. act like you've got fangs (or better yet, grow some!)
or, do the "ET" face..and if they keep looking, say slowly " ET. go. home"

anantha said...

Prabhu: Machi... The term "give back" is for positive things. We can help people as a way of giving back. We can't insult them. We are not like you. ;)

Twinkie: We hate horror stories/movies. And I thought people consider E.T to be cute. If I do something like that, they might just pinch my chubby cheeks and smile!

twinkie said...

o yesh, they do. what we mean is, peoples generally do consider ET cute. just lookit the possibilities..

anantha said...

Twinkie: Sadly the talkers aren't cute gals/women. So the possibilities are not exactly worth looking forward to.

qsg said...

Potential solution for male-business-proposal-types: At the first sighting and contact with the types, put forward a "fake" or "unfake" business proposal, in fact ask them for an advance payment on whatever you are selling. Highly risky in terms of frauds, but can get rid of the not so persistent ones! Will work?
cute-female-proposal-types: I am sure you can handle those! :))

anantha said...

qs: Is this one of those "if you can't beat them, join them" type of ideas? As for the proposals of the second types, do they exist at all? Not the characters, but the proposal types :p

qsg said...

Whooops! That was meant to be cute-female-BUSINESS-proposal types: yes, they exist.
Nope, if you can't beat them, give them a taste of their own medicine, which should disorient them. Then beat them at their own game! :) Your biz proposal will be fake, silly, only to scare them! Wicked, wicked, me! :)

Hawkeye said...

amway kazhutharappu innum pogalaiyaa.

i wrote about the same desi mean stare in my recent blog...but in airport setting. good to know everybody thinks so.

btw: a boy and girl, who are unattached, can never be friends :-)

anantha said...

Hawkeye: Ya.. I read that post :) And believe me, all of us do agree!
And we can keep arguing about that last one for ever. And as I said, its just widespread. Never did I agree or disagree.

q.s: Nah.. we have never come across a proposal from a female, cute or otherwise :p

Alpana said...

Anti, if it doesnt kill you it will only make you stronger. So drink that glass of water and boost your immunity :-)

Me said...

aNTi Superman enna pudhu per lam vechi kalakareenga....:p

anantha said...

Me: That one big story.....

Alpana: Ya, am actually immune these days and thats why I am clever enough to give them my old phone number.

Me said...

adhu enna story aNTi...enkitta mattum sollunga...nan yaar kittayum solla maaten......:p

qsg said...

Sorry, couldn't help myself from cracking up that a post about UNWANTED business opportunities gets a "spam" comment promoting a business web site! :-p

dev2r said...

Blogger formerly known as Anti?

anantha said...

Scott: I am deleting spam from you for the third time on this very post! And to think you have comment mod on YOUR blog! Stop this dumbfuckery!

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