Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Tamil Nadu vs.Rajasthan Treatment

I am in India with a group of what they would call firengis or safeds. In Tamil Nadu I felt like one of them: no one talked to me an extra minute just because I looked like them. My Tamil experience can even be termed somewhat superficial and distant, which I realized only after coming to Jaipur where people automatically assume that I am one of them or at least 'on their side'. Let me explain with the help of some observations.

The several stores that we visited during the exploration of the city were ones where bargaining was possible. Well, haggling is an experience, too, and after lunch yesterday, Alan, David M, Dan, Eliza, and I decided to try our luck.

Without fail, every store owner at some point told me, "They will settle for any price you tell them is fine. Let them pay!" One said, "Why don't you tell them that these accessories are absolutely necessary to go with their purchase?" In a way, I was touched that they could make such requests to me, a complete stranger. In Tamil Nadu, I was grouped together with the 'foreigners', treated like them, and in turn, I, too, took all kinds of liberties that a local could never do (such as walking around in a towel after a dip in the sea).

Of course I know it is a common marketing practice to tell customers that she is visiting her brother's store and so she should (a) buy a lot of things, and (b) not bargain too much. Yet, hearing that stereotypical marketing 'line' felt welcoming: no one in Tamil Nadu said that to me. Or rather, they were too polite to say anything like that.

The waiter at a local dhaba (restaurant) felt no compunction requesting me to gather all the orders from the table and then give it to him together. Nor did he feel bad taking his own sweet time in bringing our food out!

The rickshaw-wallah driving us from the bazaar to the hotel used the twenty minutes we had to tell me his life story, share his local political views (how Indira Gandhi is the strongest PM India ever had, in case you're curious), and express his support for Obama and Clinton.

I don't have enough observations to use Tamil-Nadu or Rajasthan labels. Perhaps a more learned person can clue me in. At the same time, I concede that it could be me. However broken my Hindi is, it's there – infinitely better than the zero Tamil I speak. I guess I have to decide what the prevailing factor is: that I look like them or that I speak a bit of their language? 

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