In our neighborhood of Cochin, called Thevara, we walk sometimes in the early morning or late afternoon—been doing this for over a year now. Yesterday, some ice melted on our afternoon walk. Our ice, well-melted by warm neighbors. The ice I refer to is a cultural separator between the we that has been and the we that is and will be.In this case the ice was the result of our relatively pale skin and facial structure: we are definitely not from here, nor likely from anywhere in this diverse country. It was the result of our wearing “other” clothing rather than local clothing. It was the result of our stopping to pet a cat every time we pass through, which no local would ever do. They have been watching this for a year, getting accustomed to us, and the ice was getting thinner.
And it melted when we passed the home where two little girls live, one of whom frequently sees us petting the cat, and gigglingly calls out to the entire neighborhood to see such a spectacle, and all the kids have a laugh about that. The cat was there yesterday, the kids laughed, and then the girl’s father came out to see.
It was Onam, he said to us, and his family would be very glad if we would come into their home to say hello. We met all the members of Suraj’s extended family, and sat as a guest of honor tasting their meal, and telling them who we were. Suraj translated. Before we knew it, his brother was on the phone talking to us from another country, thanking us for joining his brother and their family at Onam meal.
A bit more conversation, and we discovered that Suraj has been a driver for 14 years. When we asked what he drives, he said visitors. We liked that. He does not drive a bus, a truck, or a car: he drives visitors. Then he said that this was why he was so happy to have us there. He learned his English from visitors, and earned his living from visitors, but had never had visitors in his home before.
We excused ourselves and returned to Suraj’s home with some items from our own kitchen, and we sat a bit longer, talking, ice long gone.
(In the photo above, Suraj is on the left holding his younger daughter; you can guess who I am.) When we were positioning ourselves for the photo I told Suraj’s family to stand in front of me. They looked up at my height, realizing my point. They laughed about that too…