Three ubiquitous questions posed by inquisitive (or plain nosy??) Indians….

boby ewing

Typical.  Just as I am preparing to leave India and the little hamlet of N, things are on the up!!  A brand new gym has opened, just two minutes from where I live. Apparently it has been there now for about five months, but as all the adverts and billboards stubbornly and exclusively make their announcements in Malayalam, it was rather lost on me.  I only found out about it last week courtesy of Anandu.  Yes, Anandu still sporadically darkens my door, but I suppose we have settled on a truce:  I do not offer any work and he has stopped asking, so we just chat standing in the doorway.  Not only does N now have a gym where ladies are welcome, we also have a new supermarket in the same building as the gym.  I can combine a daily workout with daily stocking up on vegetables, fruit and milk.  I  have even spotted exotic items such as red and yellow peppers, purple spinach (I know, it’s not green, but it IS spinach!!), papayas and watermelon.  My food trips to Trivandrum are numbered, hooray, unless I want basil, or courgettes, or pak choy…!!!

Looking at yet another merciless downpour courtesy of the Retreating or North-Easterly Monsoon last Saturday, I paid the new gym a visit. And after ironing out a few crucial issues – I wear shorts in the gym, not a churidar, and will use the machines on the men’s side as much as on the women’s – I handed over my 1000 rupees and became their latest member.  It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of meeting new people in N as my face has become a familiar one here, but in the gym on the treadmill I am clearly fair game for the women and girls who give their curiosity free rein, as only people in India would…

‘What is your good name?’  A simple question, easing you in gently, after all it is only polite and it helps to be on first name terms in the neighbourhood.  Not that I have any chance of remembering their names.  But what is this issue about my ‘good name’?  Am I supposed to have another ‘not good’ name??  Is my ‘good name’ the one that appears in my passport and my ‘not so good’ name the shortened version I use every day?  The mind boggles…  After sifting through myriad internet entries on the subject, the consensus seems to suggest there are two viable interpretations: 1. it quite simply means ‘what is your name’ and is a rather interesting literal translation from Hindi; or 2. it refers to your proper/full name, as opposed to any nickname you may be using.  The meaning is clearly all in the context, or the origin of the person who asks the question…  I stick to giving them my shorter name, seems the easiest solution and has worked so far.

Once this hurdle has been negotiated, questions move on to your ‘native country’.  What’s your native country?  Native country???  All they want to know is which country I have come from…  So why not phrase it like that?  Simply: ‘Which country do you come from?’  But it seems that Indian English and its expressions have not moved with the times and are still firmly stuck in the post-WWII era…  Whereas the rest of the world has integrated and forged close bonds and all kinds of English have amalgamated into a universally understandable language (possibly excluding the accents of the North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the West Country, the drawl of the Southern US states…), Indian English has bucked the trend and gone its own merry way, relying on the English of the Raj and books!!!  It was like a breath of fresh air to bump into an American tourist on Thursday who shared my view after encountering similar problems with reading an ‘English’ newspaper in India.  Just like me, she needed to read each sentence at least twice to be able to grasp the meaning…

And then things turn to the last, inevitable question… ‘Where is your husband?’ as if the thought of a woman on her own in India, unsupervised by a man, is totally incomprehensible.  ‘Are you married?’  I used to let out a deep sigh before uttering the inescapable ‘D’ word whilst I could feel the tarnish spreading like a rash all over.  It does not matter where the blame lies, being a woman means that I am to blame.  A good woman does not lose her husband…   So, I have been tempted, tempted to use the ‘W’ word instead, as widowhood does not infer burning guilt.  And when I reach a country where the D word does not have the same stigma attached, I would definitely resurrect him and give him his ‘Bobby Ewing In The Shower*’ moment: of course he did not die, it was all a dream.  But for now, I have no intention of answering Remya’s indignant, ‘Why are you not married?’  I turn away, stung by the unintended accusation, and leave her question suspended in the thin air.  Some things are just too personal.

*for those unfamiliar with the infamous scene in the soap, Dallas, Wikipedia has the details, of course….

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