Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who says you can't wear white after labor day?

Labor Day weekend was spent in a manner befitting the name. I labored Saturday, and I labored again on Monday. As an American I was not that excited about the prospects of spending my weekend in this manner but it wasn’t all that bad. Saturday Sept, 5th was the birthday of Dr Radhakhrishnan the first vice president of India. He declared that his birthday should be recognized as teacher’s day across India. This is a day akin to teacher appreciation day in the States but taken seriously. Throughout the day students would approach me and say, “Namaste. Happy teacher’s day Mr. James (or sir). May we take your blessing?” Sure why not, I’ve got lots of them. So each student would then bend down and touch the mandals, stand up, and then anoint their heads with one of the blessings, pretty much just like any other day back in the states.

That evening my colleagues and I attended a Teacher’s day celebration where veteran teachers were given special recognition for completing 10 and 25 years of teaching. The event was only two hours long and filled with dance, song, and celebration; a perfect time to try out my new kurta. I think this Kurta says “look at me” and “what are you looking at” all at the same time. You may have trouble believing this but despite all my efforts to assimilate into society I still manage to stick out.

Upon arriving here I needed to register with the foreign registry office to inform them of my stay. If you go there today you will find that I have my very own manila folder. In a rather large city I am the first American not of Indian origin to register with their office. I’m kind of a big deal. For many people I expect I am the first westerner they have seen unless they stop what they are doing and physically turn around to stare at everyone as they walk by. Less gaulking and more walking, please. There was even a dog for a little while that I am sure recognized me as not from around these parts and wanted to make sure I knew I wasn’t welcome. For three consecutive mornings I would watch him let three or four locals by and then I would try and pass myself. It would bark, snap and chase me down the street, almost as fast as the crux could manage. I varied my route and my time schedule and was able to outsmart him over the course of a few days.

The majority of the times, the people I meet go out of their way to make me feel welcome. Everyday complete strangers approach me at any time with questions, when I’m shopping, when I’m eating, when I’m trying not to die on my motorcycle. Where are you from? What are you doing here? What is your good name? How do you like the food? How do you like India? The last seems to be the most popular question so far. Everyone is anxious to know how I am finding India.

Even uncomfortable situations have turned around for the best. Most recently, about 30 minutes ago, I was racially profiled by two traffic cops. Here I am driving along obeying all of traffic laws I think should exist and I am pulled over by a whistle and a bamboo pole. For an instant I thought about playing dumb and ignoring them as they were on foot and I was on the crux. Fight or flight? I pulled over. I immediately thought of the warning I had received about having to someday provide a police officer with a grease payment, and I desperately tried to remember how I had done this the last time in Mexico. He asked to see my license and I told him I didn’t have it with me. This is partially true; I did not take the time to explain to him how I never got one. I handed him a photocopy of my passport and he looked it over for a minute or two while I babbled about what I was doing here. He stuck out his hand pointing slightly upward, I took a chance and slipped my hand into his and shook it up and down a couple of times. He smiled showing me his golden front tooth, and told me I had a strong hand shake. I almost started cracking up. He handed back my “license” and I was out of there.


  1. Hey Jimbo!! Did we not JUST have a conversation about the license thing?? I think you handled it perfectly!! I would love to see how the whistle and bamboo pole would work here in the states (although I'm sure it would be perfect for Warren!) I think the kurta says, "Yeah, that's right!" I'm loving it! Mom

  2. firm handshakes are how national alliances are made. International peace wasn't founded on the dead mackrel handshake.

  3. Jimmy,
    You look good in white. I suggest next time you get stopped you have a "gift" for the police!!! Why are you the only Fulbright teacher ever at that city?? Tom