Indians are a very suspicious bunch. And rightly so too. In fact, if I ventured to take a guess, I would say that at any given moment, there are more Indians trying to bilk, cheat and steal from each other than any other nationality on the planet. Not just because there's simply a huge number of us, but because we, as a people have honed the technique of surviving in the concrete jungles and rural badlands of India by competing with our fellow countrymen for the meagre resources of our mother country. Every day in the life of an Indian is a battle against the rest of the world. And, as a result, the average Indian has the most highly developed, evolutionally sophisticated sixth sense of sniffing out any bilking operations that might be in the process of being executed in his vicinity that might affect his existence. In fact, it is so sensitive that frequently, it alarms out without any legitimate reason. This instinctive mistrust for one's fellow countrymen does not subside even after the Indian gets displaced to a foreign land. In fact, take an Indian away from his home turf and he becomes a feral beast in an unfamiliar environment. He trusts no one and fears everyone.
So, I guess I kind of have an understanding of the underlying reasons behind what happened the other day at my local Indian grocery store. I was doing my shopping, buying everything the average misplaced Indian needs to keep him from buying the next available plane ticket and flying back to India in a fit of homesickness. Coriander - check, Green chillies - check, Pickles - check, Frozen parathas - check, Rice - check, Parle G biscuits - check, yeah I had everything. As I moved towards the counter to pay, I got a call on my cellphone.
After ending the call and slipping my cellphone back into my pocket, I approached the Indian cashier. I placed the green chillies, the coriander, the pickles, the parathas, the rice, the Parle G biscuits on the counter and waited for her to tab me up. I observed that she was giving me a strange look. If it were possible to combine suspicion, loathing and disgust in a single facial expression, she had managed to achieve it. She snapped "What about the vegetables in your pocket?" I froze. I could feel the accusing eyes of numerous fellow Desis on me and suddenly for one instant, my mind raced back to my childhood days, when, as a little kid, along with my friends, I had gotten caught for stealing those wonderfully sour raw mangoes from a plantation near my home, and had to empty out my pockets, bulging with the fruit, which we had naively believed would not be that apparent to a casual bystander. Oh yeah, we got a sound thrashing from the owner of the plantation. It was probably the first time in my life that I was slapped hard right across the face. After the thrashing was over and we were allowed to go home, I still kept looking out of the window apprehensively for an entire week to see if the owner was going to pay a visit to our parents and inform them about our juvenile delinquency as he had promised us he would. Luckily for us he did not.
"The vegetables in your pocket, please", from the cashier brought me back to the present. Had I unwittingly put something into my pocket by mistake? How goddamn humiliating. Suddenly, I saw daylight. I reached into my pocket, brought out my cellphone and replied "This vegetable? But I didn't buy it here." The look of chagrin on the woman's face said it all. I, not wanting to humiliate her, did not pursue the conversation.
Because, as an Indian out of water, I could empathize. She was just a feral beast trying to survive in an unfamiliar land.