Where from you?

Rahul da CunhaInternational travel, for us Indians, is getting impossible. The Middle East was a destination of much fascination, till the ISIS closed Damascus down.

Still, a city like Istanbul, flip-flopping between Asia and Europe, is a relentless temptress. With the Euro escalating alarmingly, Europe will soon be unreachable.

illustrations / Uday Mohite
Illustrations/Uday Mohite

I’m presently in Lisbon searching for my roots (My father instructed me, “We were Hindus once, now we’re not; find out why”). I’m crammed inside a tram, curving its way down the steep mosaic roads, Azulejos-tiled walls on either side. A wizened old man stares at me uncomfortably for a moment and then asks, “Where from you?”

I make the mistake of asking him to take a guess. He takes so long trying to figure this out that we are pretty much at the Portugal border.

Finally, he has an answer.

“Arabic”, he announces, eyes narrowed with suspicion.

The tram comes to a shocked standstill, and 60 eyes are focused at me.

“No, no,” I say, and hastily inform him of my nationality.

“Eeendia,” his three hundred crows feet dance with merriment. “El e Eeendian,” he informs his fellow passengers, relieved and amused.

I’m now the Vasco da Gama of this particular vehicle, as all the old men look at me with wonderment, “Ah Eeeendia, verry verry far, yes?” The old ladies, pity in their eyes, want to feed me as they imagine my weariness at long, long hours travelled to reach this Promised Land. The young seek selfies with me, virtually hanging out of the tram window, to get a church as backdrop.

Yeah, being an Indian in a foreign land today is quite something. A far cry from the sadhu and snake charmer days of yore. The responses I get are the following:
>> There’s the NaMo effect. His footprint is undeniably international (wish sometimes it was a tad national too). Our PM hasn’t been to Portugal. Though I think it’s on his to-do list. ‘Countries to visit in my next term’.
>> There is this one refrain: How can I possibly live in a city where the population is virtually six times the size of the entire population of that particular country.
>> Everyone reveres the Taj Mahal.
Except us.
>> The SRK factor. Big Bollywood has a hypnotic effect, though the hot favourite is still Raj Kapoor, and Awara is the film foreigners love. One waiter sang me the entire Main Awara Hoon song in an Italian accent, in between taking my order.

There was this trip I made to Cairo, just before the Tahrir Square Spring Uprising. Everywhere I’d go, I’d be asked, “Where from you?” and my answer would be followed by a thunderous, “Ah Eeendia…. Ameeetabh Baaashaam.”

It was getting a bit tiresome, till one day, I was buying some chewing gum at the airport, and the shopkeeper having identitifed where I was from, exclaimed, “Aah, Eeeeendia, Jackie Chaaan!”

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62@gmail.com

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