When in Rome, do as the Romans do…

Wearing Western clothes may be a bit of an issue after all… I felt fairly secure that in the confines of my own accommodation, going Western would have been wholly acceptable, but may have to revise the situation, unless I keep all doors and windows closed and only receive visitors by appointment.

There I was in the kitchen minding my own business and brewing a well-needed cup of tea when suddenly a face appeared through the window. Although I am always careful to dress appropriately when going out, I do not apply the same amount of care in my own house, so I was not exactly dressed for friendly people making conversation through kitchen windows. Conversation in this instance is clearly an exaggeration as my Malayalam is non-existent and the milkman’s English has reached the same level of proficiency. I do not think that standing in the kitchen scantily dressed in very short shorts and a strappy t-shirt without bra is the dress code expected for women in India and it may have been because of this that the milkman was more than persistent in trying to explain that he was there to milk the cows – in all the confusion and gestures I offered him a cup of water thinking that he was a poor man without a home who was thirsty… What was clearly body language for ‘milking cow’ looked very much like ‘hoisting a heavy bucket of water from a well’… The things that get lost in translation…

Anyway, I only found out that the face at the kitchen window belonged to the milkman, because I got caught out again on the same day… Having ignored my doorbell on numerous occasions before and left neighbours and workmen unattended – in my defence, I did not realise that the chirpy bird sound I occasionally heard was the sound of my doorbell – I felt it would be very impolite not to answer… I was still wearing the garments described above; as it was well past supper time, I did not expect anyone and it might have been a friendly female neighbour coming for a chat. In the event, it was Anundu, a local boy who came with a welcome offering of flowers and promises of help with chores and shopping (for a not yet discussed or agreed payment…). How could I not invite him in for a chat and a cup of Indian Darjeeling tea (brewed as only a ‘foreign visitor to India without a teapot’ would do it: using two cups and a strainer!)? I am not sure whether I should have politely made my excuses and withdrawn to the bedroom to find a big shawl to cover my upper body and possibly a towel to tie around my waist, but I sat through the experience and tried not to think of the poor boy’s mother who would probably have been mortified at the thought of her son being in the company of a ‘woman of loose morals’. I wonder what the locals will be saying about me, because even wearing the appropriate clothes I do get stares, so maybe for now I should be grateful that I do not yet understand a word of Malayalam and am spared any gossip….

By the way, it was Anandu who shed light on the appearance of the milkman at the kitchen window – he comes twice a day to milk the cows. This is clearly a small town where everyone knows everyone, so maybe I should just cover up to be on the safe side as after all some of the town’s children are at the school where I teach. Well, I shall definitely don a bra from now on….

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