India can be a strange place. Your whole life is based around elders shielding you from the opposite sex and teaching you to be wary of strangers. That is unless they organize these interactions for you. My parents were not like that though. They moved away from India, in an attempt to get away from everyone’s sanctimonious attitudes, and settled down in an equally hypocritical country; Dubai. My parents, however, had a sadistic sense of humor. Indians are competitive, and Punjabi’s love to drink. After making a drunken bet that I could beat my brother and my dad at foosball single-handedly ended poorly, these traits became apparent in me. I don’t remember a lot from that night, but my family gleefully told me how I threw up all over the table when I lost. The next day, when I was nursing a deadly hangover, my family was discussing the various ways they could torture me. They were exceptionally excited due to the fact that I usually win the house bets and I’ve been known to empty their pockets more times than I can count. (Actually, I can, just by counting all of my lipsticks.) Then, my mom’s bitchy childhood friend called, subtly hinting that her son would be interested in settling down soon. I’d never seen my mom smile so villainously as she had said that I would love to meet him. I could only watch in silent horror. That is how I ended up at the most expensive restaurant in Dubai, located at the very top of the Burj Khalifa, also known as the tallest building in the world. The guy I was supposed to be interested in was named Rahul. Rahul sent me a text saying that he would like to eat there without asking me what I would have liked. Begrudgingly, I conceded and got dressed, per my mother’s request, as ‘sanskari’ as I possibly could. It’s meant to symbolize someone cultured and morally principled in India, but really it’s a way of dressing and acting to convey a virginal quality. (Sorry Rahul, but that ship has sailed more times than I can count.)
“You must be Megan?” came a voice from behind me.
‘Oh no’, I thought to myself. ‘He has the accent!’ Every Indian knows the accent. The famous accent of an Indian that travels and adopts the accents of the U.S or U.K, poorly. Honestly, some Americans are too illiterate to string together a coherent sentence half the time, so I did not know who this guy thought he was fooling. After we both exchanged pleasantries, I spent my time staring out of the revolving windows, looking down at all the glittering lights of the skyscrapers. I really didn’t want to look at his perfectly gelled hair, expensive suit, and fair skin. You could practically smell the bleach he used.
“Great city isn’t it? I think I might try and find a job here”, remarked Rahul. Of course, he loves it. It was as flashy and shallow as he was.
“So, great. I loved growing up here”, I lied, with a big smile, while noting how he kept finding an excuse to check the time, just so that he could flash his Rolex.
“So tell me a bit about yourself. No need to be shy around me”, he laughed.
‘Okay Megan, those higher level theatre classes can finally pay off now’, I silently encouraged.
“Well, I just graduated from Anglo-American in Prague–”
“Oh that’s great, I just graduated too, from IIT, which of course you must have heard of…” he interrupted. Of course, he graduated from IIT. Such a man could only be found in a traditional Indian parent’s wet dream. A graduate from the hardest technical university in the world, trying to settle down in Dubai with an educated girl who had spent her whole life there. I could almost see my life with him; me, a shiny trophy wife, who spoke English without the accent, and who knew which fork to use at restaurants. Little did he know there was no way that I was going to be so docile as to let him steamroll me into the ground. “Actually I wasn’t done speaking”, I said cooly, cutting him off mid-way in a story about his volunteer work in Nepal. He looked a bit taken aback and promptly apologized.
“Also why don’t we just cut the crap? You think you might want to marry me, right? So what do you have to offer as a husband?” I questioned, staring at him.
‘I mean, if I have to do this, I might as well have some fun’, I thought inwardly, as I sadistically saw him fumble for words.
“Well… I… I… I’m a really modern man. Like, a total feminist. I would definitely let you work if you wan–”
“I’m sorry, you’d let me work?”
“Yes, why? Do you not want to? That’s fine too, I can make enough to support us both because I also have a masters–”
“Man, fuck your masters. I don’t know how you think you’re a feminist if you think that it’s a man’s place to allow his wife to work”.
“That’s… No that’s not what I meant, you’re reading into it too much …”
“I’m not reading into shit. You’re a walking stereotype. Look at you. Bringing me to the most expensive restaurant, talking with an accent that’s faker than the shoes I’m wearing, hoping to settle down here, but let’s get real, the dream is moving to the U.S isn’t it? That’s what the Indian Dream is after all”.
“Moving to America, and fulfilling the American Dream”.
He was silent as he pondered what I had said. I knew he was angry, it showed in the tensing of his neck and in how he frantically ran his fingers through his hair. At the same time, I knew I was being a bitch. Everything about Rahul represented exactly what I despised about India. The hypocrisy, the sexist attitude, and wanting to be anything but Indian.
“Fine then. If I’m a stereotype, what about you? The typical Indian girl who grew up in Dubai. Sheltered, snobby and judgemental”, he retorted, dropping the accent.
‘Now that’s surprising’, I thought. “Damn right, I’m a stereotype, but do you know how much I pushed myself? I left this shitty place, I went out into the world, and I also fucking volunteered in Nepal, but you don’t see me rubbing it in people’s faces. I understood my privilege. I was sheltered, but I’m not anymore. I don’t judge people”, I retorted, boldly.
“Please, you judged me the second you saw me”, he scoffed.
“It’s not so much judging as I’m recognizing the same habits from people like you that I’ve encountered countless times over. The engineer who graduated from IIT? The guy who wants to move to the U.S? The guy who wants an English-speaking wife? Someone classy, light-skinned, and from a good fucking family? Please tell me if there’s anything I’m saying that isn’t accurate”, I smirked, as I leaned back in my chair.
“You might think you have me all figured out, but you’re wrong. This was a mistake”, he snapped, beckoning the waitress to bring us our check for the bottle of red wine we had drank during this fiery conversation.
“I’ll just tell my mother you didn’t like me. And you don’t understand India so don’t act like who I am was completely up to me. You grew up in Dubai, and you didn’t have a whole nation telling you weren’t shit till you became an engineer; might I add at a university where the constant pressure almost killed me, and the next step is to leave India, go to the West, but still hold on to traditional fucking values. You just got lucky. If you’d grown up in India, you’d be begging to marry me”.
“Come on Rahul. That’s all you got? Actually, who am I kidding? I bet there’s nothing you could tell me that would shock me”, I boasted, cockily.
He was silent for a few beats. Then what he said next scared me off bets for the rest of my life.
“Well, for starters, I’m gay”.
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