It’s the money that counts
Mandy was my best friend in Paris. We ate together, shopped together, travelled together. We went on assignments to the same European country at the same time so that we could later team up and paint the town red together. And I defended her fiercely against misplaced racist attacks from some stuck-up Brits on our multi-racial course in mid-career journalism in Paris in the early Nineties.
She did, too – she, too, defended me against racist attacks from a section of Parisians. There was this shopkeeper once who refused to sell me a book. I could see the book in the display but the woman kept insisting she did not have it on stock. Mandy made sure notes, on huge sheets of paper, were posted all over the street leading from the bookstore to our institute, clearly stating what had happened and exhorting all students never to buy from that store. I noticed that shop shut down for quite sometime after that though I am still not sure if it was the after-effects of Mandy’s campaign or just a coincidence. But they did not open their shutters for months later.
Then, again, at a street sale (much like our Fashion Street in Bombay), another Parisian refused to allow me to look at the clothes. Every garment that I would touch, she would snatch from my hands and say, “It will get soiled.”
Mandy, who was with me and watching this with one eye on me and the other on her own shopping, suddenly lost her cool. She then slid all the hangers off the rack and tumbled the clothes on to the ground (this was on a street, not even inside a shop with clean floors). “Now they are all soiled!” she told the non-plussed saleswoman. “Make sure you get them all cleaned.” She pulled my arm and stalked off with me to another store which was not racist and allowed me to shop happily alongside her.
It was but natural then that I should come her defence when one particular British citizen on the course took potshots off Mandy. When I offered an invitation to her to stay with me if and when she came visiting India, Jane said, “Be warned — you will find your refrigerator emptied out of everything when you return each evening and you will have to stock up every day for she will eat you out of home and hearth. These guys always do.”
Mandy looked hurt but could hardly say anything. For Jane was White. And Mandy was White, too. But Mandy was/is Australian. Jane couldn’t stand her and was very subtle in her racist attacks on Mandy. But when she said that thing about eating away to glory about Mandy, I just couldn’t resist telling a story out of Reader’s Digest to them both.
The story was about a British woman whose son migrates to Australia but his mother refuses to go along because as she puts it, “All the criminals went there. So, certainly not!”
Jane looked delighted and Mandy even more hurt when I started that story.
“Wait,” I told them, “I haven’t finished. There’s more.”
Years later, I continued, when the man marries an Australian and has two or three children by then, his mother comes out to visit her son and his family. She gets attached to her daughter-in-law and invites her to visit Britain some time or the other. The young woman promptly replies, “Certainly not! That’s where all the criminals came from!”
It was now Mandy’s turn to be delighted and Jane looked as though she could murder me. But then I was brown-skinned/coloured; so she had to hold her tongue. But if her looks could have killed, I would sure be a dead Indian by now.
However, it was not as though my relationship/friendship with Mandy was completely untroubled. Even though I could not articulate it then, I could sense the nuanced character with which that relationship was carried on. Read this link
It was a year-long course. At the end of it I do not think Mandy was my best friend at all. For, by then I had banded together (and bonded) with the other Asians on the course.
Still, I told Mandy I would attend her wedding in Australia. “Oh, yes. You will be the closest, compared to the others from Africa and Europe.” she said. “But can you afford it?”
Actually, I would have gone even if I had to pinch pennies and kill myself for it. But that comment (or rather the condescension behind it) hurt. I never did go to her wedding, then.
And in view of what Sharad Pawar told me (read the link) about Australians and their feelings about Indian affluence, I am not surprised at the continuing racist attacks on Indians in Australia and the combined denial of the charges of racism by all Australian authorities.
Pawar was right: they want our money but they hate us for it. And what is now getting even more dangerous is that they can also kill us for it!