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Last night at dinner, Pat said, "I put The Elephanta Suite on your night-table. I think you'll like it, and it has big print."
Pat's a super-fast reader. I am a slow reader.
Malgudi Days, which I'm loving, is right up my alley. Simple. Essential. Touching.
I've written here before that I'm a slow reader, but a relatively fast writer. Probably, that's why I prefer to write than to read.
Growing up, I was ashamed of my slow reading speed and I know it's why I majored in Comparative Literature. I needed to prove I could read and comprehend in not one, but two languages (English and Hebrew).
Also, it's probably why I like graphic novels. In our three-plus months here, I've read both of Sarnath Banerjee's, Corridor and The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers.
When I was buying the ...Wondrous Capers book at Blossom Book House in Bangalore, a pretty woman looked at it in my hand and smiled, saying that she appreciated Banerjee's books, too. Pat was right there and enjoyed listening to the exchange, she told me later.
Also, later, Pat and I agreed that while at the bookstore, we felt in the thick of the society, like we did when we were with mostly Indians on that early-Sunday-morning Lal Bagh tour.
"Have you read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel?" I asked the woman, "It's actually a graphic memoir, and amazing!" (I wrote a bit about it previously here.)
"You'd love it! It's the most literary book of its kind you've ever seen! It's Fun Home, and Fun is short for Funeral, like, Funeral Home."
I like the manga Buddha series, she said, pointing to a daunting stack of titles. Wikipedia's great because now that I've scanned the info. on the Buddha books, I'm interested in going back to the bookstore and trying at least the first one.
The bookstore didn't have Fun Home, but said they could order it. I said, "That's OK. I own it already, and it's amazing." Later, it occurred to me that "funeral home" might be a bit of a foreign concept here, since most of the dead are cremated.
I must admit that I'm willing to be ignorant about this for now, as I don't feel like researching the Indian funeral home industry, or lack thereof. Ideally, one of the people who finds his or her way to this blog will know and will educate me.
Digging for Discrimination
The latest Banerjee novel is the closest I've come to meeting a Jewish, Indian immigrant, and the character's fictional(!) as well as multi-century and multi-geographical. The book is stranger than his first, and compelling.
As a non-fiction Jew myself, when I read about how the character is a merchant for the rich, I found myself digging for an anti-Semitic sub-text, mostly without any satisfaction...namely, I didn't really find one.
From experience, though, I became nervous, looking at cartoon depictions of Jews by a cartoon-artist who wasn't Jewish. Historically, and even currently, they were not typically flattering.
Still, even without anything overtly anti-, the character's role reminded me of a conversation I had a month ago with one of the otherwise smarter people in India.
"I wouldn't guess you were Jewish," she said.
"Well, you don't seem like a bean-counter."
"What do you mean?"
"Jews are known for being careful with their money, though nothing compared to the Chinese!"
"Where did you learn that?"
"You just seem more fun --"
"I didn't think there were enough Jews in India for anyone to have an opinion about us. What have you read?"
At that point, another of the smarter people in India, who was listening, interjected, "Anyone here *would* have read."
"What? The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? I heard that that was big elsewhere in Asia, actually."
They looked at me blankly, and so I inferred that the nutty rag didn't ring a bell. "What if I made a generalization about Indians?"
"We wouldn't mind. In fact, we're terrible to ourselves. If you walked into a restaurant here with a disabled Indian friend, who needed assistance, they'd help you first because you're white."
I've never felt so white as I do here. I've always thought of my skin as greenish and definitely not pink, like full-fledged white people (like white people who are not on the hate-list of the Ku Klux Klan). And yet in India, I feel like a white person.
At a glance in the United States, of course, I am registered as white. I do not feel as white there, though, both proportionally and culturally. That is, there are many more white people in the United States than here, and so there's a hierarchy of whiteness, I feel, that is absent here. Instead, there seems to be a hierarchy of brownness. It is definitely all relative.
To India-based Indians, in my experience, Jews are mostly literary characters or occasional figures in news from Israel; we're not part of their basic frame of reference, and so here, I'm just white and also assumed to be Christian.
I can't recall if I wrote this here or not, but during our first week, staying at the Windsor, we asked the concierge to see if there were a synagogue or anywhere for us to worship with other Jews during our Sabbath.
At the end of the week, she reported hopefully, "There is no synagogue, but I have the address of a Methodist church if you like."