“Excuse me, I think I might have left my Ipad on the roof…”
It occurs at work around the 23/24th December, when everyone is going around wishing everyone else Merry Christmas. They’ll know I’m probably not a Christian. Nine times out of ten, they’ll think I’m a Muslim and I don’t mind that at all. What gets my goat is the stark lack of awareness.
Usually they mean well and would like to wish me too. They’ll come up to me and the conversation will be stereotypical……
“Hey, Arch, ummm….what are you…I mean you don’t celebrate Christmas, do you? You’re Muslim, right?” In this part of the world, they say ‘muslim’ the way you pronounce the ‘u’ in ‘must’, while the rest of the world says it like mooslim.
“No, I’m a Hindu, Stephane. We do celebrate Christmas though, maybe we don’t go to midnight mass and all, but we do have a Christmas tree at home, y’know,” I say to him. He’s bowled over, thrilled to hear even I have a Christmas tree at home.
“Oh yeah? Cool, man, cool. Anyways happy holidays, man, okay?”
“Thanks, Steph, and Merry Christmas to you too, man,” I say with a smile and I start moving forward when Stephane gets his next comment off his lips.
“Hey when is your big festival like, man? What’s it called? Ramadan or something, right?” Ramadan is made to sound like he wants to ram someone named Daniel. Ram a Dan.
“No, Steph, that’s a Muslim religious ritual. Ours is Diwali, the festival of lights.” Earlier on when I was new to Canada, at this point in the conversation, I would launch into an enthusiastic description of what Diwali is all about. And now? I just don’t bother anymore.
This time too, I realize that Stephane’s attention has begun wavering and he has already started edging away from me. I am certain he hasn’t heard a word of my response. To him, we are all essentially the same. Arabs all. And oh, they won’t say ‘Arab’ like the rest of the world does. They usually make it ‘Aye-rab’.
The above conversation has happened sometimes with the very same guy, multiple times over the years. I am definite Stephane will come up and have exactly the same conversation with me, Christmas 2014. It now sounds more like some pathetic pantomime and not a real conversation where questions are asked in a sincere effort to learn.
In fact Muslim is probably as far as they would like to go in identifying folk darker than beige, who are from places east of the Pyrenees. Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs they just don’t want to know about. Its way too much of an info overload. We are boring.
This imbalance, the ignorance in the West versus the generally high level of awareness in the East, hits you when you step foot here for the first time. In sharp contrast, I recall how closely we were taught to follow artistic, political and scientific developments in the West, right from our primary school days. I used to know President Kennedy’s and Winston Churchill’s rousing speeches by heart. We were taught Shakespeare, Orwell, Hemingway and Jane Austen in middle school. And it definitely was not for the lack of great Indian personalities to read about and study.
Anyways, the upshot is that after a while, you tend to get used to the ignorance all around and fall in step with it, not bothering to talk to anybody about home and how life is led back there. No one wants to know.
The awareness is largely restricted to the negative stereotypes, like the corruption scandals, the crowds, the poverty, the lack of hygiene and how the Indians are snatching away North American jobs.
And of course the lunch table jokes…..
‘Hey, check out the stupid accents they have in those call-centers, man. You can’t understand a single f—in’ word’. **mimics South Indian accent**
‘Hey, Arch, is it true they have cows travelling on roofs of buses in India?’ **hysterical giggle**
‘Don’t be silly, Marge, they would have nothing to hold on to. They’d skitter off the roof in a curve.’ **unrestrained guffaws**
‘Imagine you’re standing at the curb for your bus and suddenly you get hit by a flyin’ cow,’ **serious ROFL**
‘Mooo, there goes my chances of catching that flight to Tingypore,’ **affects deep mooing tone and sniggers catatonically**
‘Do you guys actually pray to bulls and massage their balls?’ **helpless with mirth**
If all the mimicking wasn’t so funny I’d take serious offense. I have learnt to tune out of most such conversations and just keep smiling vacantly and interject here and there with a ‘Ha, ha, very funny’.
I believe that some day, this awareness imbalance will begin retarding development and growth in the West in ways that they cannot comprehend right now. But then, maybe I am being unreasonable. General awareness flows in the direction of migrations usually.
A significant awareness increase in the West can only happen if and when the immigration meccas switch to the east. I hope that doesn’t happen too fast though. I just got here, for C’s sakes.