friends

“You like whiskey?” Birender asked, motioning me through the doorless doorway separating his office from where his drivers sleep. “We no talk business. We’re friends. India, America. Good friends.”

Jenny and I moved to India vowing to go against our inclination to avoid weird situations. When a snake charmer in Jaipur tells me to pet his cobra, I pet his cobra. And when a taxi boss invites me in for whiskey when I come over to argue about a fare, I drink his whiskey.

Birender barked orders and handed a hundred rupees to a driver wrapped head-to-shoulders in a thick wool scarf. The driver scurried off. The other drivers, squatting around a pile of hot coals, their sleeping cots piled with blankets behind them, stared as Birender led me into his sanctum.

I sat on his cot. He has a home and a wife nearby, he assured me, scrounging around for some glasses. Birender shouted some Hindi. A driver appeared in the doorway, looking at me. Birender passed the glasses and waved him off.

We discussed the threads that fate has woven, with his line and my line coming to intersect at this moment in space, at this moment in time: I, from New York in America, living in a flat five hundred meters northeast of where his cars and his men slept; he, from a village in Rajasthan, proud owner of two taxi stands and a mobile phone business.

The cups reappeared, now washed. The whiskey arrived, accompanied by a napkin wrapped around cubes of paneer dusted with fresh green herbs. The driver-cum-errand-boy lingered at the doorway, staring, before vanishing. India, America. India takes whiskey with water, America enjoys it straight up. “We talk no business,” he said again. We toasted. “Now we’re good friends.”

“Tomorrow is a holiday,” he told me. “You come to my village. Free of cost. Tomorrow is a festival. No pay for taxi. Good friend!” Our planned trip to Agra the next morning? “You postpone.”

“America very good,” he said. “I have friend in America. You talk!” He pulled a yellowed paper from his wallet, microscopic names and phone numbers covering all available space on both sides. Unfolding was a delicate act—too vigorous in his movement and he’d have a pile of little yellowed squares instead of one big one.

A mobile appeared in his hand. He scrutinized the paper, found the wrong number, dialed, found the right number, dialed. He spoke rapid Hindi that degenerated into laborious English. I caught words: “Mrs.” “Birender.” “Driver.” “Friend.” “America.”

And then he handed me the phone.

“Who is this?” She sounded seventeen. An American accent. A 540 area code: Virginia. Her furrowed brow came in loud and clear. I’m an American in Delhi, I told her. Fate had woven together my line with Birender’s line, and now her thread was intersecting as well. Does her mother know Birender? Oh, Birender drives her mother when she comes to Delhi. Or is it that Birdender drove her mother when she came to Delhi? So why am I calling? “I’m as confused as you are,” I tell her. “But I guess Birender wanted me to say hi.” America, India. Good friends.

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25 responses to “friends

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  2. Found your blog because it was linked to mine under “possibly related posts.” Love reading your adventures as expats in India. Good luck!

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  5. Haha this happens so very often in India! And I think it’s more than just in India. I have a few friends from Afghanistan who have done the same. Those conversations are so very awkward!

  6. PRANAM
    Sir& Madam,

    Our organization YFF has undertaken a project: Pushpanjali Prawaha ‘The flow of devotional flowers’ the new method for disposal of flowers and other puja waste in the year 2009 in Delhi . We have devised a special NIRMALYA “KALASH” which will be placed in public places for the immediate disposal of these flowers. These will subsequently be disposed by our volunteers at an appropriate place. This will help tremendously in the reduction of pollution in The Yamuna river.
    Since Delhi is preparing for 2010 Commonwealth Games, we also want to achieve the aforesaid goal in a very short time i.e in Seven months. If help to make Yamuna river pollution free of flowers and poly bags is granted, we shall leave no stone unturned to complete the work within the stipulated time to the satisfaction of all concerned. We hope that you will make your contribution for this noble cause.

    Awaiting a positive response at your earliest convenience.

    With kind regards,

    A humble citizen
    GOPI DUTT
    THE ORGANIZATION HAS PREPARED ITS OWN “ TASK-FORCE ” ENGAGING HUNDREDS OF YOUTH WHO HAVE VOLUNTEERED TO WORK IN DIFFERENT AREAS OF THE CITY ON EVERY ALTERNATIVE DAY AND MAKE PEOPLE AWARE OF THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF PLASTIC BAGS ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND ALSO TO COLLECT FLOWERS AND OTHER ARTICLES LEFT AFTER POOJA AND OR THROWN INTO THE YAMUNA.
    Email: pushpanjaliprawaha@gmail.com

  7. Hi Jenny and Dave,
    This is Atul. I am originally from Delhi and love your articles. I can really identify with all the topics. I moved to States about 16 years ago.
    I do miss Delhi a lot and read blogs on Delhi occasionally.
    I was witness to a similar incident here in Sacramento a few weeks ago. I went to a granite store and while I was at the store, there was this caucasian guy trying to negotiate a deal for his house. The manager of the store was from Turkey. So when the customer came to know that the person who he is negotiating with is from Turkey, he immediately made a call and gave the phone to the Manager. Turned out the customer knew someone in Turkey and wanted to impress this store manager.
    Keep up the good work.

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