Uber conversations, Indian-ness and chanced occurences

Not being able to drive means having to take cab for wherever one has to go in US , given  almost non-existent public transport outside of metros. Though it riled me to no end initially, in the last 3 months, thanks to Uber, I have loved my daily rides. I have met some amazing drivers and have had some most memorable conversations. Having traveled and lived across 4 continents now, I have learnt one thing “For an Indian, there is no escaping Indian-ness”. So better be proud and well informed, dear Desh Bandhus and Bhaginis.

Last year in Brazil, every new person I met, wanted to know about Indian Gods and Indian Castes. I am not exaggerating. Probably after Soccer and Petrobras corruption, Indian Caste System was the single most important topic that has captured Brazilian imagination. I was among the few Indians around, no chance they could have let this opportunity pass by. There was a reason for this national fascination, a pretty entertaining one at that, a prime time Soap Opera – Yes a Saas-Bahu equivalent – Caminho de India (Path to India), was  aired on Brazilian television not too long ago. While the cast was all Brazilian, the script was set in India, wherein, the protagonist was a “lower caste” man in love with a “higher caste” woman. This leads to tension and opposition ending the love affair. Eventually, the guy moves to Brazil, finds love there and settles down. Pretty interesting story actually, check it out here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caminho_das_%C3%8Dndias . Now I am sure, finding love is Brazil is every man’s ultimate fantasy. Not every one gets lucky like the protagonist. With the 30 hour flight, Indian men, even lesser :D. Nonetheless, the concept was so novel and unheard of in Brazil before that it led to interesting discussions. Happy I could add some context to the curious questions.

Only last month, loitering around in Mexico City, being mistakenly identified as a Mexicana and my ensuing “No habla Espanol” led to a 30 mins of Q&A on Yoga, Ganeshji and Lakshmiji. The young Mexican, by his own admission, was intrigued by Indian culture. He wanted to know why Ganeshji is invoked foremost in any puja,  the significance of his elephant’s head and why Lakshmi is said to “sit on the tongue”. He was smart and well read, and when I explained the concepts and stories, his eyes shone. Massively impressed I was with the guy. Such instances make me proud and grateful for my Indian-ness, one that gets me recognition (and sometimes awe and respect) just by being born in it.

But I am digressing, let’s get back  to Uber conversations in US of A. Now if someone tells you that don’t ask personal questions to Americans, listen not. If they tell you, Americans maintain loads of personal space, listen not. At least, so has been my experience. Or maybe it’s an Uber phenomenon, where personal boundaries really don’t matter, probably a function of being strangers, lower chances of meeting again, and no skin in the game. Or maybe it was just that I being Indian, didn’t mind conversations steering into personal space – mine and/or theirs. From the usual politics and terrorism to more intense and personal – aspirations and failures, marriage and motherhood and even family feuds. But among these, “arranged marriage” soared high on curiosity index.

Once my driver was an African American lady in her late 20s. Here’s how the conversation went

She: “Morning, so you are headed to xyz”

Me: “Yeah that’s right”

She: “You look Indian, are you based there or here”

Me: “Indeed, very much Indian coming from Mumbai”

She: “Have you seen “Meet the Patels” (Thankfully, the weekend before my Brother and Sister in law mentioned about this movie, which is about a certain Patel family based in US, who (like most NRIs) go to India to find a bride for their amrikan born son)

Me: Have heard, yet to see. You’ve watched it?

She: Oh yes! I am just amazed about this arranged marriage thing. Like parents finding brides. Does that still happen?

Me: “Umm..Yes” (and I am almost getting into my defensive mode). “It’s not so bad” (but she cut me before I could explain…)

She: “Bad..oh no, I think it is fascinating. You guys are lucky. Your parents don’t give up on you. I am almost 30 and single but my parents won’t do nothing about it” (She was visibly upset)

She: “Are you married?

Me: “No”

She: ”Why??? Did your parents not find someone for you?”

Thankfully, my destination arrived and I could escape with “They tried…yes” :d. Nevertheless, this conversation got me thinking. Reminded me of a similar conversation I had few years ago, in US, with a Colombian colleague. She was a little tipsy and a little upset from a recent heartbreak, even more so because her parents wouldn’t do anything to set her up with guys, like her close Indian origin friend. These women were so right. Our families do care, something we’ve taken for granted. We  don’t value our social systems enough. Sure, there always is scope for improvement, but at least the system ensures most people end up with someone and life goes on.

One other time, a young and curious second generation American Korean Uber driver picked me up. He was a biology student on a 2 month break before joining medical school. I look Indian enough so there is no surprise that most people recognize me as such. After some initial homilies, the boy came straight to the masala. He wanted to know all about Indian dating scene, Alcohol consumption, and Arranged marriages ? I guess, through India he was trying to understand his own Asian roots . More than once he mentioned, that whatever I said resonated well with what he has seen of his cousins and their life in Korea – closely knit families, pressure to get married (esp. for women), respecting elders and customs etc.. So far so good. Then at some point questions got a more personal – about me – my age, my marital status. The guy was young and looked so, I was probably a decade older to him. When I mentioned that to him, he actually turned back  to take a good look at me, with eyes wide open (as wide as Asian eyes can get) “You’d easily pass off 5-6 years younger” he said and it was my turn to smile wide and blush, just a little  (C’mon, I am very much a woman after all 😀 ). After this, his curiosity increased even more, a barrage of questions followed

Why are you not married? Aren’t you dating? Are you happy being single?  Is your family okay with this? Why aren’t they trying to arrange something like Indian parents do? How would your family feel about marrying a non-Indian especially a white person? How would people in Mumbai look at you if you went out on a date to a restaurant with a white guy? Have you explored dating sites in US? What will you do if you find someone here?…

Phew!!!! Not my family, not my neighbors, neither have any vella desi aunties grilled me like this.  India or America, Young or Old, the topic of relationships is top of mind for human beings in general. Some are open about it, some avoid it, but thinking about it, people always are (unless of course one has mastered vairagya). So next time, your bajuwali aunty-ji or some dur ki mami-ji asks you about shaadi, be sympathetic. It’s only human 🙂

There are co-incidences and there are co-incidences. They become even more special when far away lands and mysterious strangers are involved. Social Media is a huge part of our social life. Virtual network more often than not exceeds and also adds to our real life network. I have one such person in my virtual network, a certain someone with similar ideological leanings. Let’s call him – A. Few months ago, we realized our work travel destinations were same and decided to catch up. I have some very good friends in real life who originated on internet, so am always game to meet new people. However, it so happened – not once, not twice but thrice that when I came in the city, he left and vice versa. The catch up just wasn’t meant to be.  But what’s this got to do with Uber you ask?

One fine morning, I get an Uber to drop me to office, as usual. And as usual, conversation starts from my Indian identity, once again rightly guessed by the driver. This driver was more professional. Not bothered about arranged marriage or spicy food or castes, he asks – I presume you are in IT. Where do you work? (Fair assumption, but some of us do non-IT stuff as well :|) Never mind, I politely denied and explained my job. But that was the extent of his interest in me, didn’t care to know more. In stead, he started talking about a passenger he dropped the day before, a guy from Sri Lanka, who visited US often for work. My driver was visibly excited about this passenger and I was happy not having to do the talking so I let him speak. He started telling me about the passenger’s professional life, his work, his company, his awesome style of  motivating subordinates. What more, he knew the passenger’s culinary preferences along with quantity caveats and EVEN his age. The driver couldn’t stop gushing over this male passenger. While this gushing should have appeared weird , my mind was busy with something else. The factoids about the passenger (not qualitative, but objective ones) sounded familiar. But then, I don’t know a soul from Sri Lanka, how could I know this person. Nevertheless, I asked the passenger’s name. And lo behold, it was the same virtual friend A, who I was supposed to meet the day before, and twice before that, but couldn’t as his plans changed last minute. To be very sure, I showed A’s WhatsApp picture to the driver. The driver was taken aback, it indeed was A. Wonder where the Sri Lankan identity came from, its usually the other way na? Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, all go as Indians?  Whatever, both the driver and I were in shock and in awe. We two strangers, meeting for the first time, actually found a common acquaintance in  another stranger, one who the driver had met in person and I was yet to meet. What were the chances?  Mind you, A and I were in different cities, some 90 minutes apart. The driver and I couldn’t stop laughing till I reached office. I took the driver’s picture as a proof of this happening: D.

While this episode was entertaining, I was a tad bit disappointed, having realized that striking interesting Uber conversations wasn’t my exclusive domain. And as far as meeting A goes, that meeting, dear friends, is still elusive; a non-incidence, enhancing the astonishment value of a co-incidence!

ॐ शान्ति!


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