Jul 27, 2010

Country neighbors

I was comparing neighbors (in the loosest sense of the word) as I was walking back from the school bus stop this morning. In the US, where I might have been more conspicuous than a bulbous zit at the end of the nose, the natives just passed me by with a direct gaze and bright "Hi". In Pune, I was just part of the scenery.

Here in our little Malayali village, I am a curiosity. It doesn't help that I deliberately converse in both Hindi and English with my elder son and croon English rhymes with my younger one and that I wear sneakers with my chudidhars. I just love to see people watching me covertly with puzzled faces... . Please don't take it that I do it to get a rise out of them, but I just want to see how many of them will satisfy their curiosity, directly or otherwise. And I've been very happy with the results.

There have been people who have come out with direct questions as to where I live after having ascertained that I understand Malayalam. These are in the majority and I am now sure that it would be very difficult for strangers with ulterior motives to find a foothold in our community where everyone knows who their neighbors are and makes sure that they know each one's business too.

Some people make friends with our toddler as we walk together and satisfy their curiosity that way. Others make inquiries to our nearest neigbors and I have heard them discuss us within earshot just after I passed them on the wayside! But no one is intrusive to the point of rudeness. For instance, no one has commented on my choice of footwear although I have caught several open/covert stares from the ladies. I have been perfectly ready with the explanation about my knee surgery, but it has never been required.

There have been funny situations - for instance two teenage boys at the temple asking my husband "Malayalam?" with wags of their heads to ask whether we understood Malayalam. And the stare of a boy at a store when we conducted a conversation in Hindi and a boy nearby watched with open mouth. Ahhhh, we all have our own forms of entertainment! What are yours?

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