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Monday, December 28, 2009

Sad Recollections of a Mean Drunk (who was mean to my dad)

Happy Holidays, Everybody!

After a little sabbatical, I'm back. And ready to attack.

Ok, maybe not attack but today I did want to share a little story about myself. It's not necessarily the happiest, or the funniest, so I am just warning you in advance. Just in case you wanted to excuse yourself.

I totally understand.

But I felt like I needed to do this. Over the past few weeks, I have given everybody a lot of grief in my posts about not being kind to my peeps (See Indian Food and Paging Dr. McGupta), and you may have thought I was being a teensy bit aggressive about it, so I wanted to maybe explain myself a little more . . . .

So sit back, grab some chai and get to know me, Kiran, just a little better . . .

"You F&%$ing Gandhi."

I turned around to see who was speaking and to whom they were saying this to. Whoever it was sounded REALLY angry and like they had a real bone to pick with someone.

A drunk man stumbled towards where I was standing with my father on the concession line. That's when I realized where the voice was coming from and who had wronged this man so deeply that he could speak with such . . . VENOM . . . such hatred.

The man was speaking to my father, who many of you know from my previous post "The Story".

My father didn't realize it at first. Like me, he had been distracted by the sheer enormity of Meadowlands Arena, where he had taken me to see the New Jersey Devils play the New York Rangers. My dad is partially blind, so he didn't see the man yelling at him from the side as he passed.

"It's people like you who ruin this country!" he screamed at my father while pointing at him violently, as if he was about to lunge. My father turned at that point, realized what was being said and looked down, not wanting to incite this drunk further. My older brother, Sudhu, realized what was happening at that point and protectively put his arms around my father in case the drunk acted out further. My cousin, Mintoo, also stood next to me - not quite sure what had just taken place.

People were startled from their own reveries by the man's aggression and nobody was quite sure how to react. I don't really blame anybody for not defending my father. He did look pretty scary, all 5'6" inches of him, on the other side of 60 with that constant knee limp and lack of any peripheral vision.

You wouldn't want to have rasmalai with him in a dark alley if you know what I mean.

The drunk was lead out by friends who did not apologize to my family as they walked by us, after they had just sucked the joy and anticipation we had all been feeling for the night right out of us.

The year was 1992. I was sixteen years old. Despite my father getting coveted box seats to this game from a friend every year there after, I never returned to see a hockey game again.

My dad tried to convince me.

"Come on, Beti. We will have nice food and drinks and you can watch the game from such wonderful seats!" he tried to convince me.

But I just couldn't go back again. My heart wasn't into it anymore and something about remembering my father's kind and gentle face as this man shouted profanities at him just made me want to cry.

At the time, I was deeply ashamed. Of myself. Of my family. I was embarrassed about all the people who had stopped to stare at the spectacle created by this unknown man, who I had never met, but who needed to tell our section of the arena how much he despised me.

Why did we have to be Indian? Why were we so different? I wanted to be like the rest of my friends, who never had to worry about explaining to everyone what a "sari" was and why my Ma might wear that to the science fair when all theirs were in cute jeans and t-shirts. I was too young, too inexperienced to understand that I had nothing to be ashamed of. And the sad thing was, while the man's words that day shocked me to the core, it was not the first time (or the last) that I would hear those kinds of words being spoken to me or someone I loved.

I also didn't realize how much I would come to respect a man like Gandhi, to realize that while someone might use his very name as a curse towards me, that there are few examples of humanity and humility in this world like this man. So curse away, because those same words would now be a blessing to me, whether you mean them that way or not.

My father looked down.

Many Indians at the time looked down.

Violence against Indian Americans was on the rise and stories about a group who touted themselves as "The Dotbusters" were frequently on the news. A group that was committed to harassing and sometimes killing Indian Americans. The majority of the violence was targeted around Indian Americans in Jersey City - but the incidents were becoming more frequent and more violent in nature.

My mother owned an Indian grocery store throughout most of the 80's and 90's and it was a constant target for such hate crimes. The glass windows of that store were smashed in with bricks, propelled by colorful letters filled with hate, contempt and threats that we "should go back to where we came from."

I don't think they meant Jersey City.

Those bricks broke our windows, but the corresponding letter broke our heart and our will in more ways than the brick ever could.

When my parents closed shop, these hate crimes were not the sole factor, but I was deeply relieved to know that these dumbasses wouldn't be able to harass her anymore and that a part of me could relax and not panic any time I called my mother and heard some stress in her voice.

Exhale. Collect my thoughts. This entry is hard for me, as you might have guessed.

I know that I get defensive quickly. Comments which are meant to be innocuous get my guard up faster than I can express. Someone can do something as harmless as make fun of an Indian accent. I laugh it off 95% of the time and you will usually hear me come back with my own retort. I will good naturedly take it and give as good as I just got.

But what you may not realize it that the first thing I feel is a punch to the gut. Then there is a slow numbness that kind of takes over and I can usually gather myself, straighten my face, smile and keep on, keeping on.

About 5% of the time, I can't do an about face and recover fast enough. Those times there is no keep on, keeping on. Those are the times when a small, well meant joke becomes something much more. The tears well up, my heartbeat quickens and that drunk from the Meadowlands is tapping me on the shoulder again saying,

"It's people like you who ruin this country."

And I remember the look on my father's face and him trying to put up a brave front for me, and I break.

The day the Twin Towers collapsed, I was standing at a client site lounge room, watching the news unfold on the television. Once the second tower was hit and it was confirmed, a distraught man stood up, ran his fingers through his head and said:

"Those God-Damned Indians." I looked closely just to make sure it wasn't the same drunk guy from the 1992 Hockey Game.

Nope. Different asshole.

I didn't have the heart to correct him. This God Damned Indian was too busy worrying about whether friends and family in both the Pentagon and the towers could make it to safety.

There is something very permanent that impacts a person's psyche once they have been a target of discrimination. To some extent, every person will feel it in some form in his or her lifetime. Some much worse than me, some much less.

Some of us respond with humor, others with anger. Some of us are really good at brushing the experiences aside, while others carry the scars of these encounters very deeply within us.

I will honestly tell you that I am a scarred person who pretends that some of my demons have been exorcised. I'll tell you a joke in one second and burst into tears the next when I encounter a "sensitive" situation.

I am all kinds of "f%^$^ed" up, basically.

I am still working through this - through the history that frames many of my knee jerk reactions today and trying to gain some perspective. If you stick around with me long enough on this journey, I would love some help from you as I get my head screwed on right.

I never want my daughter or son to hear those kinds of words about their heritage. A time will come when it will happen, and I hope they have more grace and fortitude than I do.

So, yeah, kind of a buzzkill. I know. I was just reflecting on this story and so many others that I have tried to forget. But each is intrinsic in explaining why I respond the way I do to statements, comments, questions about my culture in the way I do.

When I figure it out, I will let you know.

Hope you have a fantastic week friends and family.



Glennon said...

i love this post and you.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

Oh, sweetie, I am sorry for the ignorance and intolerance of those in our country who, for some unknown reason, think themselves to be entitled. Ignorance is the biggest disease in our country as far as I am concerned. Within my own family there are those who I am ashamed to claim. My son adopted three little girls that I love with all my heart. We have had each one from the time she was a few days old and they are as embedded in my heart as any biological child of my son's would be. Both my husband and I were raised in the deep, bigoted south. My granddaughters are black and my sister-in-law asks constantly if we are "shunned" because of them. It makes me so mad I could spit, then I take a deep breath and realize that it is her problem, not mine. She has never met my babies and I doubt she ever will, as my son is not likely to subject his daughters to her bigotry. Her loss.

Anonymous said...

Hooray for Indian Americans! Cuz I said so. I lived in Michigan for several years and thank goodness for the mamajis and auntijis who ran groceries and such where my sister and I could find uncommon ingredients for her favorite recipes. And mounds of henna. Mounds and mounds and bags. I adore henna. (Used to do it for a living in Michigan.)

I promise to be part of a world where people are taken on a case by case basis.

Thank you for sharing this post.

The Glamorous WAHM said...

I am an African American with Native American heritage so I get a double whammy! =) My father grew up in Birmingham Alabama, where his friends were two of the little girls that died in the bombing of a black church. He can vividly remember the police riding by his house with a shotgun, yelling out of the window, calling he and his siblings "niggers" and telling them to get off of their own porch.
Yes we have a black president now, but we still face the same racism and I don't believe that will ever change. But God has changed my heart to examine (not judge) people on an individual basis. There are good and rotten apples in every bunch. It's a fool who lumps a race into one category. Be blessed sister!

Nilsa said...

My dear daughter-in-law. I feel for you because I have been there myself. Some people are cruel and ignorant. For those we must pray that they get it. Life is about the person within. We must learn to dust off the hatred and keep on going. In time you will learn more than you knpw now. Been there, done that.I love you. And...if anyone does that to my grandchildren, I will personally kick their ass!!!

LiLu said...

Just found you for the first time, but I'm really glad I did. Love this... thanks for sharing it.

Monique-aka-Surferwife23 said...

I find that writing these stories, full of feeling and emotion are a step in my process to healing. And I hope this can be a piece of your deserved happiness. I'm so sad, angered and disappointed right along with you. Thank you for sharing such an intimate part of you.

Lisa said...

I got so upset reading this - it just made me so angry and sad. It's such a small, mean, ignorant mindset and such ugly and deliberately hurtful behavior. It's assholes like that who ruin things, not immigrants like, um, just about ALL of us.

Mangesh Chaudhari said...

Oh dont (pronounced as "dunt") hate them Kee-run (Kiran), once such guys start eating butter chicken and gulab jamuns (pan cake balls from heaven) they will no more be that ignorant.

On the other hand i'm wondering how could a computer programmer (a.k.a ├Źndian) could ruin things :)

Being Indian you got to know when to say "Chalta Hai!" and move on


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