Monday, November 21, 2005

Stranger in a deranged land

Diplomatic ignominy
This morning's visit to the Indian Embassy of Kathmandu was even more amusing than usual. Of course, there was the requisite "no madam you must come tomorrow" drama - all the books say it's open till 12.30 noon, so naturally, they have changed their hours to 12 noon sharp. (Last week I walked all the way there in plenty of time, to be told by a hand-written sign it was "closed for Guru Nanak day." I looked up the official Sikh Guru Nanak website and it said he was born on April 15, and left his body September 22. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for his holy day to be November 15.)

A bunch of unusually aggressive Dutch (gone too long without their hashish fix? man, if you can't score that in Thamel, you are a loser, even Henry Kissinger had no problem) glommed up around the first window (there are 3 windows, and no signs in any language to indicate where you ought to be queueing for the various stages in the procedure). There were no glass-encased authority figures available, so I enquired of the Dutch as to what this line was for, where I needed to go and so on. They refused to answer my polite questions ("Do you know where..." "NO!").

Rebuked, I joined the longest line available simply because it held more promise of someone with an answer. Any answer. This queue was mostly neotechnodigitalhippyPhisheadbabies with their fake dreadlocks, glittery bindis too flashy for even a Bombay bar girl, and technicolor halter tops that looked like a bunch of macrame potholders stitched together. Turns out they were waiting in vain to get their papers, and would have to return after 3pm. At least they didn't bark at me when I asked them polite questions about which line they were standing in, or for what purpose.

I wondered if these wide-eyed, fulla-fresh-mountain-air crunchy granola bars - as sweet and harmless as they are - had any idea of what was awaiting them across the Indian border. Would they notice that none of the women around them were similarly dressed, and still complain as they got harassed? ("He grabbed me! Hey, stop staring at me!") Proof positive that human beings are not actually natural organisms. All other species adapt to the surroundings and adopt camouflage to blend in. Only the western human wants to make a Statement of Individuality. Then, conspicious as a toucan in the Arctic, they wonder why they're preyed upon mercilessly.

Since I'd just spent 30Rs on a cab there and obtained nothing more than the form (they won't accept it after a certain hour), I decided to sit and watch the proceedings, or rather, lack of (since none of the lines moved an inch during the half hour I was there). The only available "chair" was a wooden coffee table where I sat next to a group of burly, stout folks with Mongolian features and that stolid groundedness that could only come from living close to the land and eating lots and lots of potatos. They appeared somewhat Tibetan, but lacked the identifying scent of rancid butter, and spoke what sounded like a Slavic tongue. Turns out they were from Russia. I was pleased when they automatically said to me (wearing my best green Punjabi suit) "And you are from India?" "No," I countered with a smile, "I am from USA." I guess they still believe all the Soviet propaganda about Americans being blonde, tan Reebok-wearing jerks. Either that, or they watch The Bold & the Beautiful (a dreadful kind of poor man's Dynasty I nicknamed "The Bored & the Botoxful").

I've long since lost count of the times I've been told, in the past 3 years, that I could not be American, because Americans do not have dark hair. TV & movies are no excuse; there are loads of American stars with dark hair. The other version is that if I am indeed American, I must have dyed my dark from its "natural" light golden colour; because it is impossible to have green eyes and dark hair. What is wrong with these people? Haven't they ever seen the National Geographic Afghani girl?

Things I miss about India: Standing up for the national anthem before each and every feature film.

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