Bewildering Stories

Deep Bora writes about...

Scrutable Westerners in Assam

Very recently I was introduced to Betty, my aunt’s friend’s niece born in Canada and married to an American. She is also the niece of Bhupen Hazarika (the numero unero singer of Assam and recipient of National Awards too). Betty is on a scheduled visit to Assam with her husband and baby child. Her accent was very nice and she seemed to appear more Canadian than the “original Canadian woman.” Get what I mean?

I am not yet married and am a bachelor. They say I still behave like a twenty-year old, and I am used to such comments. You see, in the end it is stamina and strength what matters most. I am also a complete teetotaler. I don’t drink and do not smoke nor do I indulge in any of the intoxicants. Hash? Well, me and grass do not mix!

I am not that old either. Not in my earlier twenties!

The latest fad? I have heard, getting stuck to the scent of Dendrite, an adhesive gum commonly sold in India. Cough syrups are out these days. I wouldn’t know the details! Perhaps the counselors and psychologists are aware of the latest teen problems.

My close cousin is leaving Guwahati within the weeks that follow. For Philadelphia. I asked him about the reality of “The Philadelphia Experiment.” His gaze was blank. So was his knowledge of the real events that occurred outside the purview of that movie.

The first and last time I met Jane with her boyfriend was in Calcutta and somewhere midway between Siliguri and Darjeeling, I managed to hoist her up on the roof of the deluxe bus. For the previous bus had a cracked axle, and we required to move on the national highway. Her friend was squatting next to me, soberly watching the activities of village teens and young chaps looking directly at her sitting next to me on the roof of a bus!

Did I marry her or what? You don’t see a tomboy stunt like that even in western movies! Was she married to the foreigner sitting next to her? The gentleman decided not to interfere with their initial and — later through the journey — their complex advances.

Ask her, now perhaps in Stolkholm or Belgium and she'’ll tell you I was applying physical prowess of the other kinds to keep the peasants at bay. On the roof of the bus!

Why did we climb on the bus top? Simple really! There was no space inside or even at the sides to cling on.

An hour later through the journey on national highway yet through villages, her friend started relaxing and this lady had blonde hair flying away with the wind.

Blonde: Come with me to Darjeeling. We've heard it is the cosiest hill station around here.

Deep: Well... thanks a lot, but I've got an appointment in Guwahati.

Blonde. We’ll pay for your fare. You can help us take a single taxi.You know this region!

Sober gentleman: Yeah man. You can accompany us. Please don’t refuse.

Blonde: “We’ll even pay for your hotel bills. Please...” Her intelligent eyes were imploring and I could understand her outward and frank request.

Deep: Oh no, it’s not the money part. I’m equipped for the journey. However, you see, I must attend to this appointment.

Blonde: Please, be our guest. We know you can spend for your vacation. We would yet like to pay for all your expenses.

Well, me being their guest in my own territory. I really explained to them the urgency of my work and they finally understood and conceded. The lady’s expression was very sad and she gave me her permanent address in Belgium. Out of courtesy I asked her friend for his address. The same town.

Deep: Are you married?

Blonde: “No, We are friends.”

She accepted my visiting card and scrutinised it remorsefully, noting no giveaway signs printed on it denoting personal likes and dislikes.

Blonde: OK. Take a cigarette please. I’ll... Here, please take the entire packet.

She keenly understood my prying glance at her small travelling bag.”I have one last packet for us.”

I attempted to extract one cigarette as an offer to him.

Blonde: “No. Don’t spend from your packet.” She opened her cigarette packet and offered one to me. Then fitted one into her slim lips. Her friend accepted one too. I extended my lighter to them in turns.

Standing in front of the bus terminus and sipping a cup of coffee each, we needed that “refreshing” taste of good tobacco. Sara Toga. Definitely Egyptian.

I called up a good and clean-looking travel agent from amongst the crowd gathered around us and told him to ensure they be taken safely to Darjeeling.

Kancha quickly noted my knuckles and gave me his best smile. “Sir my name is Vir Bahadur Thappa. I am Nepalese.”

“You know the rules?”

“About safety to foreigners?”

“About personal safety to my friend foreigners!”

His smile indicated he would be a very good friend of mine in the coming days. Correctly so, he still visits me once a year and brings Darjeeling tea as a present.

Digressing: I looked over my shoulder half an hour later and noted the lady watching me all the way to the end of the bus terminus as I hauled up another taxi for Guwahati. Nay, it was perhaps a bus.

I don’t know whose vehicle disappeared across the horizon but I think I saw a slim arm waving me goodbye.

“Inscrutable Westerners”? Well she was more scrutable than my Indian girlfriend in college!



Copyright © 2005 by Deep Bora

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