My high-school art teacher used to say, “If Indians are participating in a relay-race, they will come last. Because they will be busy talking to each other.”
I made sure to remember her words. I started observing the talking-behavior of Indians around me. I was afraid to be like the masses, so I kept a close watch on my behavior. I thought this is true for most Indians living in India. But I realize that most Indians living in US are no different, and I am sure that most Indians across the world are same.
I find that most Indians have favorite talking places. Oblivious hot talking spots are making a group and standing in doorframes of main entrances, in front of staircase and escalator openings, and beside open car doors. It seems every door and entryway just invites them to block it.
I remember living in my parents’ home. When our relatives visited, relatives and my parents would eat, drink, and talk in the living-room. After an eternity, everybody would get-up to leave; we will say goodbyes. Then my parents and our relatives would stand at the open main-door for at least an hour to have a big discussion. Why couldn’t they go inside, sit like humans, and talk? I don’t know.
After an hour or so, my parents or our relatives would say that it is late; they would hug, and say goodbyes. All would climb down the stairs, cross the front lawn to our relatives’ car. Our relatives would open their car doors, and everyone would hug again and say goodbyes. My aunt would put her leg inside the car as if to sit, but she would not sit. My aunt and my mother would start talking again. That would be another hour of discussion. I used to ask my mother: wasn’t my aunt uncomfortable with one leg inside and another outside the car. My mother used to say that is the pain one bears for love. It was illogical to me then, and as I write this, I find it laughable.
When I was living in India by myself, I tried to discourage my friends from standing in doorways and in front of open car-doors to chat. All my friends called me uppity; they didn’t want to change their behavior pattern that has been around for gazillion years. My friends blamed me for pushing them out of my home. Hello old friends, you were not inside my home, you were on the doorway. At-times, I think that Indians are covert exhibitionist.
I visited India 7 years ago. Traffic was worse than I remembered; incoming calls on mobile were free. India never had any concept of driving in lanes, so roads were a mishmash of buses, auto rickshaws, cars, scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles. Every driver was driving and talking on their mobiles. It was as though a mobile phone was glued to their left ear. They were experts in driving their vehicles with just right hand. Scooter-ist and motorcyclist had an ingenious way; they placed their mobiles inside their helmets. This way they could drive and talk at the same time. I saw deliverymen on bicycles carrying two gas-cylinders on back of their bicycles. They balanced their bicycle handle with their right hand; they held their mobiles to their left ear with their left hand. I can’t even ride a bicycle with two hands.
My younger sister had pestered that whenever I visited India, she wanted to spend time with me. When I was in New Delhi, she wanted me to take her curtain shopping; she wanted to spend an entire day with me. I was not close with my sister, but I didn’t want to say no. So there I was, selecting curtains for her home; she was on her mobile. I understand if it was work related, but it was not. It was some girlfriend. I spend a day with her and her mobile-conversation. I shouldn’t have expected anything from my sister who never wished me on my birthday, but wished our neighbors’ daughter—who had same birthdate as me. But I did expect basic manners. And I suffered her and her mobile.
I thought I had left the free-incoming mobile-obsessed India behind me when I was at the New Delhi international airport readying for my flight back to US. It was after midnight. There was a security check that I needed to clear. It was a small booth. There was a woman—dressed in khaki salwar-kameez—holding a metal detector wand in her right hand and a mobile phone in left hand. Her mobile via her left hand was stuck to her left ear. With her metal detector wand, she pointed me to a raised platform. She stood more than two feet away from me; she didn’t want to end her mobile conversation; she didn’t want me to hear her mobile conversation. She extended her metal detector wand towards me; she could not reach the me; she leaned her body in a weird angle. I thought she was going to fall over, but she didn’t. It seemed that she had a lot of practice with that posture. That day I could have smuggled anything.
I was shocked about the security. But I just wanted to ask the security women, who the hell is she was talking to? I want to ask everyone in India, how do they find people that are available to talk to them at all hours of the day, every day, every time. Where do I sign up? I also want people like that.
When I first moved to US, I thought that Indians here would be different. I am learning that people are people. Here in US also, they form discussion-groups in front of mall entrances, escalator openings, elevator doors, and restaurant entrances. They just stand and block the walkways. I don’t know if they are unaware or simply don’t care. I am tempted to ask, what they are discussing. Why can’t they take a simple decision: Go inside or don’t go inside. It is not that difficult.
I had assumed that the Indian groups that block entrances and talk endlessly are not very educated. I thought educated Indians are different. I live in the heart of Silicon Valley; here it is difficult to find a plumber. Here, Indians drive 2015 Tesla Model S and are billionaires. But they still stand in groups in front of high-end restaurants, opera houses, and cinema halls, and talk for hours.
My pet-peeve is when I see Indian men dragging trolley carts with right hand and holding a mobile to their left-ear with their left hand. They shop like that for hours. I walk inside a store and finish my shopping; they would be talking and pushing their carts with one hand. They collide with everything and everyone. You can find them everywhere—in Target, Indian stores, Traders Joes, Whole Foods, and everywhere. Hey, my Indian people please tell me whom are you talking to? I understand someone might be dictating the shopping list, but how can that conversation last for hours.
We moved from our previous places, because it had a sudden increase of Indians. I know I sound racist towards my community. But try sleeping when a group of Indian men standing under your window, are talking either with each other or on their mobiles at odd hours of the night. I often wondered, don’t they have to go for work? And what important discussions are happening? And who are they talking to, every day, at weird hours? If some Indian is reading this, please enlighten me.
Of course, they talk during movies, concerts, and classes. Few years ago, I took a painting class; there were two Indian women in my class. All through the course, they talked among themselves. For an entire semester, the painting instructor was irritated, and I was pissed. Every time these women talked during the lecture, all other students glanced towards me, as though I am responsible for all Indians just because I am Indian. But how can you tell two grown ass women to shut-up.
Of course, the disease of talking endlessly on mobiles all the time is as bad in US as in India. Only difference is that the Indians here drive with both hands. I took a swimming class in my gym. There were four in the class—two Indian women, one Indian man, and me. The pool’s chlorine water couldn’t keep their mouth shut. They talked endlessly during the half-hour class. I quit that time slot.
I buy season tickets to an Indian theater organization in Bay Area. So, three to four times a year I hold my temper, tighten my gut, and prepare to be among other Indians. I go expecting that they will stand in groups and talk and block all the entrances. Usually, inside the theater, during the play, very few people talk. I think most realize that their whispers travel across the theater. I think that keeps them tame.
Two days ago, my husband and I watched an Indian rendition of Tracy Letts’ play August: Osage County. It is a sad two and half hour play. Yet, most Indians in the theater couldn’t stop whispering throughout the play. To avoid others, we always sit on side aisles, almost towards the wall. But this time there was no save. Three women in mid-fifties were in seats in front of us. When Ivy Westo talks about her hysterectomy, these three women giggled. During the play, they updated their WhatsApp and talked with each other. I wanted to yell, but my husband restrained me. I hope they find this post. Somehow, I know that they will never read this and improve because they are still busy talking with each other when the world around them flies by.