Sunday, January 14, 2007

Meeting Sarita

Having said goodbye to Aaron and Sandra, I went back to the hotel, had a shower, and a brief rest (catching up on the news on cable television). I had arranged to meet my penpal Sarita at 5pm at the corner of Henry Road and Colaba Causeway, the nearest intersection to where I was staying. I had never seen her before, so I didn’t know who I was looking out for, and like all intersections along Colaba Causeway, the sidewalks were madly congested with pedestrians, amongst other things. She had seen a small picture of me before, the one that appears automatically when you chat with somebody on MSN Messenger. She had never entered a picture into her profile, which is why I had never seen her face before. After waiting about 15 minutes on the street corner unable to find her, I returned to my hotel room to phone her mobile. As I didn’t have a phone, she had no ability to phone me. She said she was running a bit late, but her train had now arrived at Churchgate station, and she was getting a cab. After another 20 minutes or so, I went to call her again, as she should have certainly been there by now. It seemed she and the cab driver were lost. Incredible that the cab driver couldn’t find the place, considering Colaba Causeway is only the absolute main street in Colaba. I gave her more precise direction, and returned to the street corner. After another 15 minutes or so, not able to find her, I went back to my hotel room for a third time. She told me that she was there at the corner waiting for me, and was also told me that she was wearing a black skirt and a white top. I went down, and we immediately found each other. It was almost 6pm by this stage. “Sarita?” “Ant!” We both laughed a bit, and then I suggested we walk to somewhere else.

For some reason, I had unconsciously developed a mental set that I was looking out for a girl in traditional Indian dress. Sarita was smartly dressed wearing fashionable and modern western clothing - a long but figure-hugging skirt, as well as a figure-hugging top with very short sleeves. Girls dressed in such modern western ways weren’t even being considered in my mental radar as I had previously scanned the crowd awaiting her arrival. She had a slim build, about 5’7, dark skin, and facial features that at least in my mind, weren’t stereotypically Indian. Later she would tell me that her parents are from Varanasi, so I thought perhaps heer facial features were more typical of that region.

She took my hand with hers as we walked. I wasn’t sure what this meant, but she smiled, so I simply returned the smile. While walking, two guys holding hands walked passed us, a sight I had seen many times since I had been in India. I had assumed it was no more than an indicator of close friendship, but was not 100% sure. I decided it was the perfect time to find out, so I asked Sarita about this. “It just means they are friends” replied Sarita. “So, they are just like us then?” I followed up, but that was the end of the dialogue on that matter, and we both smiled as we continued walking in no specific direction.

Whenever some tout or beggar would approach us, Sarita’s personality appeared to change instantly, and she would sharply tell them to get lost. Her personality would then appear to instantly change back into the warm friendly person she was to me. Likewise, when we went to a restaurant for a drink (non-alcoholic), she appeared to speak to the waiter in a terse fashion, almost as if she was speaking down to him.

It was when we were in the restaurant that I really noticed other people were staring at us. In this part of Mumbai, foreigners are very commonplace and thus one is unlikely to be stared at. However, the sight of an Indian girl out with a foreign guy was clearly a different matter. People were not just staring out of curiosity, but also out of a disapproving attitude. As we walked back toward the hotel after the restaurant, I was no more aware of the disapproving looks such as the ones we received from a group of girls in their early twenties who walked passed. However, far from bothering Sarita, I was getting the feeling that she actually revelled in the attention, although she would never explicitly admit this to me. I think it was somewhat similar to an older man who dates a much younger woman. On one hand, his contemporaries might look on disapprovingly, but also a little jealously. It’s conceivable that the older man takes some satisfaction from the jealousy of his contemporaries. I think Sarita took satisfaction in believing others were jealous of her. If this perception of mine sounds a little conceited, it isn’t that I necessarily think that I am that special, it is just that I have a certain western appearance, which in the context, did make me special.

When we were almost back at the hotel, Sarita asked me what my room was like. I told her truthfully how I had a really nice big room the first few nights, but as I hadn’t reserved it and the hotel was close to full capacity, I had been forced to move to a small room that morning which wasn’t as nice. She expressed a desire to see what the room looked like, so I her invited her in. When we walked into the building, the guy guarding the entrance (to keep out undesirables) called something out to her in a language I didn’t understand, presumably Marathi (the primary language in Mumbai), and presumably something not very polite. Sarita replied, shouting something back in the same language. I looked back, but she motioned me to keep walking. When we got inside the room, I immediately asked her “What was all that out about?” “Nothing.”

“It wasn’t nothing. Tell me, I want to know what was said!”


“Please, tell me!”

“He just asked how long I was going to be staying in the room, and I replied ‘not that long’.” I wasn’t convinced, and now the warnings that Almora had given me back in Perth were at the forefront of my mind. “I think I better walk you back to the main street to catch a cab.” “Ok” she resigned. We walked across to the other side of Colaba Causeway, away from the hotel, sat down at a bus stop and talked a little, but the mood was now a little strange. “Are you ok to get home by yourself? Is it safe?” “Sure, I can ride in the ladies’ carriage.” Eventually, we said goodbye, and I she took a cab to the station.

As I walked back into the hotel, this time by myself, one the door guys made some comment I didn’t understand, which I assumed to be related to earlier incident, and which I also assumed to mean something like “Have a good time?” in the sarcastic connotation. I stopped, walked right up to him, and said “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Did you say something?” He didn’t reply, but the guy with him tried to gesture that he didn’t say anything, but I continued, challenging him “No, you said something, but I didn’t hear. Why don’t you repeat it to me now while I’m listening carefully?” He was may be about to say something, but the other guy, sensing confrontation, started to try drag him away, saying “Nothing, nothing” as if he were breaking up a potential bar fight. “Oh, because I could have sworn I had heard something” I continued, “Oh, you were asking about my friend, weren’t you? She just wanted to see what the room looked like, that’s all, nothing else.” I said patronisingly.


At this point, purely for future reference, I should point out that there are certain things in life that one would should not publicise to all and sundry, and I would not write such about such things to be published on a freely available website. Quite simply, I am above that. It would take something like a GENEROUS BOOK DEAL for me to abdicate from these high principles of mine.

No comments: