13 March 2008

To Pune, With A Homecoming Indian

The taxi moved at glacial speed through distended bowels of Mumbai, struggling to reach the freeway and burst forth into the city of Pune. Meanwhile, its passengers made friendly conversation.

I would only later realize what a coincidence it was, sharing a vehicle with an Indian who once lived in the Philippines. Exchange between ours and the spicy subcontinent is not so vigorous. Mohan's family still runs a general store in Bacolod. He has since, however, moved on to establish his very own general store in more developed Santiago, Chile.

(The initial fantasy/stereotype I carried was that Indians do a subtle and apparently benevolent kind of conquering, via their bhangra, marvelous curry and reasonably-priced, well-stocked general stores.)

“In Chile, it is not like this. There it is orderly. People have discipline. It is not dirty like this. People are not lazy,” he mused, obviously irritated and disappointed at the lack of change since his last visit home.

I looked at our driver to my right (!), who remained reaction-less. So, I said "mmm-hmmm" and continued bobbing my head to the filmi music playing on the radio. Oblivious to any annoyances, I was still google-eyed and infatuated with the banal sights that slowly brought flesh to the skeletal idea I had of India. Illustrated signs bore proclamations in the strange and curvy script, while trucks reminded all other vehicles to “Horn Please OK”. Women dressed more colorfully than an Eat Bulaga! dance number and had stuff on their heads, while men wore untucked and pressed collared shirts.

When we pulled out of the airport earlier, Mohan had immediately begun qualifying the mess that I was seeing. This was not really Mumbai, it was something a bit off the city center, Mumbai was really more beautiful, etc... These I already knew.

We have our own ill-designed airport (with its surrounding vehicular flow nightmare), a relic of past generations and a victim of unprojected variables. In fact, our first thirty minutes on the road could have easily passed for a ride through the streets of Metro Manila. I must admit that I am acquainted with the fear of visitors letting these tidbits mar their whole experience.

As we pulled off into the spacious inter-city tract, the number of cars tapered off and I thought of the multitudes of immigrants who mouth semi-contemptuous apologetics about their homelands. It is never difficult to find something to complain about-- and it always feels better to do so from a comfortable position. These people had always bothered me. Now, however, I wonder if they really mean it, or if they are only trying to make themselves feel alright about being away from home.

As Mohan spoke, more softly now, about the virtues of fresh Indian cooking and how his mom chose to move back from Chile, I imagined the hugs and dishes waiting for him in Pune.

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