"Excuse me, where are you from?” asked two girls as we pulled out of Dadar station Saturday afternoon.
The US. I live in Chicago.
Oh wow! You’re American. I’m from Portugal and she’s from India. What’s your name?
Catherine. What are your names?
I’m Anaidya and this is Sumeta. We’re here studying. We’re in 12th standard. It’s like 12th grade. Are you here to study, too?”
(Bless you, children, for thinking I’m here for school.)
No, I’m here for work. 12th standard? That’s great! Are you preparing to give (take) your exams? You must be excited about going to college.
Yes, lots of studying. We study all the time. What is your job?
I’m an architect. I design hospitals. We had some projects here but now the India team is working on projects in the US and I’m here to work with them.
How long have you been here?
Well, I’ve been traveling here for just about two years.
Oh wow! Do you know Hindi?
No, unfortunately not.
You’ve been here for two years and you don’t know Hindi? Why not?
Everyone speaks English to me! I wish I had learned Hindi. That’s something I should have done. I know how to say please, thank you, let’s go, stop, and hello. That’s it.
So where do you stay?
I stay in Nariman Point. It’s close to my office.
Who do you live with?
I don’t live with anyone. I live in a hotel while I’m here. My husband is at home in the US.
You’re married?! But you don’t have a necklace.
(It’s tradition for Indian women to don a necklace after marriage that is worn a certain way so as to signify their marital status. I wear no such thing.)
Yes, I’m married. See my rings? That’s what we wear in the US.
Oh wow! We should call you “Auntie” if you’re married!
Please don’t call me Auntie! That makes me feel old!
(If you’re going to call me anything other than “Catherine,” I have actually warmed up to being called “Madam.” Never thought I’d see the day when I liked that moniker. But those who know me well also know that you can pull a smile out of me real fast if you attach a “Madam” to the end of any statement. Something I once eschewed I now find endearing. So it goes.)
But you can’t be married. You don’t seem old enough. You are 22 or 23.
(Seriously making my day here.)
That’s very sweet of you but I’m about to turn 32. I’m almost twice your age.
Oh wow! So when do you go back to the US?
Tomorrow, actually. I fly home tomorrow night.
Oh wow! We were lucky to meet you today, then.
(Who says that they are lucky to meet a total stranger?)
Yes, it was very nice to meet you both, as well!
(They giggle, and only now do I realize that a whole flock of school girls has gathered around us on the train.)
May we take a picture with you?
Sure, let’s do it.
The group of girls start exchanging cameras and swap positions so everyone can be in a picture with me. I can only imagine where these “clicks” will end up but I also don’t care. It’s a country of a billion plus people so privacy was forfeited a long time ago. Plus, let’s be honest, I’ve been taking pictures of strangers all day long.
|Anaidya, me, and Sumeta at Victoria Terminus|
The train comes to a stop and we disembark. They gear up to head in one direction and I move towards the other.
“Goodbye, Catherine. Come back to India again.”
That is where the story ends and, so too, the blog. The “Incredible !ndia” tourist slogan that beckons visitors to this crazy land isn't so far off, as it turns out, and on this Thanksgiving eve, I am immensely thankful for these last two years and all that they have taught me. If I ever wrote a memoir I guarantee it would be titled, Just Two Minutes, Madam. But for now, that’s all she wrote.
|Goodbye cake (#2!) from the Trident staff|