Hey hey hey! The stories of my misfortunes with the Delhi public were received with surprising enthusiasm and amusement, so I’m back with more.
1. The Metro-Bus Incident
Saransh and I were at Dwarka Sector 10 metro station and hoping to not have to take a cycle rickshaw and take the feeder bus instead because those are considerations for the poorer among us. There used to be a bus that took a route that crossed my house but it had been discontinued. I approached one of the conductors to find out the reasons for the same and I asked him, “Bhaiya, woh dusri Sector 1 vali bus kyun nahi chalti aaj kal?” The bus conductor looked up, ignored the question, and looked down. I repeated the question. This time he was gracious enough to acknowledge the question with a grunt before he looked down. I was genuinely confused as to why he wasn’t giving me a straight answer, so I asked him a third time. Positively annoyed at this point, he snapped incoherent noises and words having no relation to my question back at me. Saransh seemed to have a better grasp of the problem, so he stepped up and asked the question in the exact same words. I kid you not, the exact same words. With a swiftness and sweetness of tone that I did not think possible for this man, he informed Saransh that there were not enough people taking that bus and that it was economically infeasible.
It would appear that my appearance creates such a strong presumption that I do not speak the language that me actually speaking the language is not sufficient to rebut it. But there are also other times when people are less hostile about my Hindi speaking abilities – a panwadi’s daughter once repeatedly asked me to speak in Hindi because it amused her; another vendor cocked his head left and stared back in surprise and awe at the fact that I asked for the items in Hindi and had to be re-told the order before he snapped back to reality and gave me the items.
2. The Accent Incident
Speaking of being poor and the inability of people to understand me – in my fourth year a lot of my friends joined IMS law coaching classes as a teacher because it paid 500/hour for a three hour per class. I was very excited about this, I could double my monthly allowance with three classes. I prepared on the metro for my first class and taught Logical Reasoning. I thought the class went well enough – I made interesting analogies, discussed the Speluncean Explorers case, said ‘fuck’ by mistake and said it again while apologizing for saying it the first time. I spoke mostly in English interspersed at times with Hindi. All-in-all, I had a class that went as well, if not better, than any average LST/IMS class that any of us have attended.
Or so I thought. The next morning I got a call from Monica at IMS telling me that they are going to have to fire me because the parents of a few students complained that they could not ‘understand my accent.’ I have said this multiple times since and I’d like to ask all of you to comment and explain it if you can – WHAT FUCKING ACCENT?!?
3. The Ugly Baby Incident
In my first school, Mirambika, people were nice. At the very least they were not bigoted against black people. This will sound bizarre but it was not until I joined Mother’s International School in Class IX that I realized I was black. In the sense, that I did not know I was black in a shade that others were not until people in MIS started making black jokes. It was an onslaught of targeted jokes that I was not prepared for and I did not do the best job of dealing with it. I wasn’t even awarded the benefit of getting the good stereotypes of being black – somehow the jokes also included me having a small dick. Eventually I got used to the jokes and they grew tired of making them. By Class X I had realized that the best way to deal with your own insecurities is to have the confidence to make fun of yourself, because at least for me I realized that if I could joke about it, I didn’t care about it. The confidence also got me the confidence to joke that I was indeed black in all its stereotypes. And with that, the rest really got bored of them.
Then in Class XI the incident referred to took place. It was one of those incidents like Dave Chappelle said in his stand-up act Killin’ em Softly – one of those times you hear something so racist that you don’t even get mad you just get taken aback at how racist it was (Hilarious! Watch here.) A few friends and I were discussing the merits and demerits of adoption. The conversation was going as anyone would expect such a conversation to progress discussing the pain of labour and adoption being a good thing generally. One of my friends, Roshni, decidedly says that she would like to adopt a cute pink baby and Raunaq jokingly questions whether it necessarily has to be pink. Before she got the chance to respond, one of the girls who is white as a ghost, Manvi Abrol (#nameandshame #RCCandBeijing) looks at me and responds to the question, “Obviously. Thodi na koi ugly sa kaala baby adopt karenge.”
Like Dave Chappelle said, I didn’t get mad. It was just one of those ‘goddamn-that-shit-was-so-racist’ moments.
4. The Cure-to-Blackness Incidents
Many times people are not hostile or aggressive towards me because I’m black. They’re empathetic. Wait, let’s be clear, they don’t feel bad for me because I have to suffer the racism of Delhi. No no no. No, they feel bad for me because I’m black. As they would feel bad for a person born physically handicapped. “Rawls you speak so true, oh the horrors and injustices of the lottery of birth.” In Manali I was repeatedly offered kesar to make me fair. These kind souls with their misplaced sense of empathy seek to help me with their quick fixes to this curse that genetics has brought upon me. One such person was a man called Nirbhay who used to work at our house. Nirbhay would often tell me about the wonders that his hometown Bihar had to offer and many a statement from him would start with “Humarein Bihar mein …” One such day he came to my room evidently elated at the news he had to share with me and spoke to me with a sense of deep sincerity. Our conversation went as follows:
Nirbhay: Pata hai bhaiya, humarein Bihar mein ek davai hai jo aap le sakte ho. Agar aap uss davai ko loge, toh aap bilkur gorein ban jaoge.
Arshu: (trying very hard not to laugh) Accha. Koi nahi, mujhe vaise davai chahiye nahi, bhaiya.
Dejected that I did not want to use his miracle cure, he left the room to return to his work. Ten minutes later he returned, unconvinced by my refusal –
Nirbhay: (with absolute shock and disbelief) Aapko gora nahi bann na?
Arshu: (still trying) Nahi.
Again, he left, presumably feeling even worse that I had been indoctrinated into believing that it was okay to be black and feeling even worse for me. So much so that he felt he should not give up quite so easily so he returned for a third try.
Nirbhay: Aapko kaala hona pasand hai?
Fuck this Habshi. Nirbhay left.
5. The Samuel L. Jackson Poster Incident
Pulp Fiction is my favourite film. I love it and I love Samuel L Jackson in it. So when I got an SLJ poster of the Bad Motherfucker scene from Pulp Fiction, I was very psyched and got it framed and was bringing it back to college to put it up on my wall with the rest of my posters (My wall is covered with posters and now epitaphs for dead mosquitoes. I am very proud of it, it is very cool.) I know I look like SLJ and that it isn’t simply an Indian racist thing where any black guy with an Afro looks like SLJ because when I went to Toronto (Somil and Lalu – eternal love and gratitude) and joined Sachdeva for a party with his friends, all of his friends and none of them Indian told me that I looked like SLJ (where one of them even just came to me, screamed ‘motherfucker’, and left). But I thought it was not more than mere resemblance. At the platform of the metro station, another person came up to me, saw the poster and the movie title, and asked me, “Aap ki hai?”
He wasn’t talking about the poster. I wish I had said yes.