Saturday, May 15, 2010

"This is my daughter...from the US." "Oh my son-in-law too..."

A year ago, I had made a post confirming my revulsion with the induced overt-awe of an academic degree. Obviously there was more to the matter than what I picked up naively back then.


I had settled on the bean-bag after a power lunch to watch a matinee telecast of 'Veerasamy' on KTV with a bowl of jelly and a cold glass of mango juice in attire that would make Mahatma Gandhi proud. Mom and dad left to see someone and Pammi decided to give up on stealing the remote and retired for the afternoon. The bell rang A middle-aged couple with their smatter-stache tall-than-me high school son showed up to see the apartment we planned to rent out. I was a bit twitched about being interrupted but tiwo had finally made it to Tata Sky cable so I led them towards the apartment, remote in hand.

"Hi, I am buzz-buzz-blah", said the gentleman as he shook my bony hand and took notice of my skinny build. His wife nodded and his son looked away. I lead them to the apartment and told them to feel free to look around as I parked on the sawdust-layered kitchen counter. The mom examined the apartment in great detail as they noted each point and nodded to herself and looked to the head of the house for his approval grunt. The son occasionally did a slight dance with his feet and said something to his dad, all the time looking at the ceiling. My saw-dust house sketch was nearly complete when the gentleman walked over to me and asked me, "Are there any elders in the house?".

To this day, I have always had the distinct privilege of receiving a semi-dismissive comment on my age and how it poorly fits my current degree of study when my parents introduce me to someone they know. But even as a hardened player, I was not happy about getting that from Mr. Buzz. I reached for my beard to stroke it but I realized that it had been discarded, in part to help me resemble my passport photo. Nevertheless, I was a 25-year old and I was going to stand up for myself.

"You can talk to me, I own this place" I said. Maybe I had over said something there in my moment of irritation. But I was still going to stick with it. I did not call you balding Mr. Buzz, even though I noticed it before I shook your hand.

But Mr. Buzz was not convinced at all. He still had control on the conversation. So he took a deep breath and let it out loudly and responded, " what is the rent?"

"We quoted it on the newspaper ad", I responded coolly.

Mr. Buzz gave a sly smile perfected by the average Indian negotiator and started, " I know but what is THE rent? See, basically I am from Mumbai. I have been living there for 20 years. I lived in Juhu. You know, Juhu beach? It is a posh area. We had a proper society apartment with amenities like a swimming pool and a club house. Even there I only paid 28,000."

A number of thoughts swam in my head. Alright Mr. Buzz. You have just knowingly or unknowingly, in perfect Indian fashion, thrown some mud on my ancestral home that we all blindly loved. Generations of our dogs have marked their ownership of this place with so much uric acid that it would fill your swimming pool a dozen times. The colony that you have somehow found your way to, is an equivalent to Pali Hill or Malabar Hill in Mumbai. And Juhu is NOT a posh area.

I gave a tired smile and responded, "Just tell me how much you wish to pay".

"Thirty thousand." He had read my expression and was now losing some of his confidence.

"Alright. Just give me your number. I have your name and your quote. If we decide to negotiate on the rent, we will get back to you." Mr. Buzz was visibly displeased with how he had to do this routine with a cold little skinny kid but I was the oldest person he was going to meet that afternoon. He said, "Ok" with a grunt towards the end and started heading out as the rest of the family shuffled after him slowly. I retured to the bean bag to continue what was left of my afternoon.


Four hours later, the phone bell rang as I just returned home from walking Scoobie. I picked it up,

"Good Evening."

"Uh. Hello?"

"Yes please?"

"Hi. My name is Mr. Buzz. I had come to see an apartment this afternoon."

"Yes Mr. Buzz. Tell me."

"Uh. Are there any elders around?"

I handed the phone to my father without a response and sped off to the kitchen to report to my mom on the caller. Dad joined us in a few seconds, "He is coming over to see us. Wear a shirt Harish."

I had stopped arguing with my parents a couple of years ago. I walked to my closet and returned in a t-shirt that misspelt New York and Brazil and had a tea stain on it. Mom and dad exchanged a glance but said nothing.


I was revising our photo album for the nth time. Scoobie and I had retired to my bedroom for similar reasons. Mr. Buzz had been sitting with dad and mom for the last half hour and judging from the level of noise and the topic of conversation, it was clear that they had hit it off well. The phone rang.

Mom answered, "Harish. Its Abi for you."

I cursed and sped out to pick the phone up and bring it back to my room. But mom had picked up the dusty, abandoned supply phone that could only be used the old fashioned way.

One ten-second phone call later, I quietly tried to slink away, when dad turned to me, "Harish...This is my son Harish. He is studying in the US too."


That was a chorus by both Mr. and Mrs. Buzz. Mrs. Buzz's expression turned from shock to one that reassured her that all the kids of these days end up there anyway and it was nothing special. Mr Buzz's expression turned from genuine shock to a substantial regret that dripped from his expression as he nearly dropped the dry snack he was holding. Sonny boy kept looking out the window at our neighbor's abandoned old garage.


Amongst other things that can be concluded from this post, I think now that it may have been interesting to rewind the evening situation to change what my dad said to, "This is my son Harish. He is pursuing a doctoral degree." I guarantee a lesser shock. It think it can sometimes be a bigger social deal to be elementary schooler in the USA rather than a graduate degree holder in India.

"Have you no ambition? Don't you want to study well, go abroad and make your country proud?"
-some nameless R.K. Laxman cartoon.