As a student, there are lots of parties one could attend here. Welcome parties, potlucks, barbecues, international students' parties, Indian parties, departmental parties, you just name it. There were enough to make sure that my weekends were full, and some of my weekday evenings too.
That wasn’t so much good news for me. I guess I’m rather introverted, especially after evenings, when I like to retire with a book or a movie. Crowds intimidate me. Unknown faces do so more. Even if I was forced to attend a party, you’d find me at one corner, with a glass of water, watching the crowd from a distance. Sometimes, I get into a different mood and dance the night away. But that happens rarely.
So here I was attending another of those parties arranged to welcome international students. I had gone there straight from my classes, and it’s just the white hat on my head (the one that I’d got from a dollar store) that distinguished me from my “jeans and tee shirt” student look. It was amazing how the other students, so young and from such distant countries found their way so easily here, laughing and dancing and making international friends. I was feeling utterly uncomfortable amid unknown faces. So I settled at one corner of the room, a glass of water in hand. There were beer and steaks and sandwiches too. But I had no appetite.
I saw that girl from New Zealand who had long, Maggi-like hair, giving her a nice electrocuted look. I saw that mathematics student back from Siberia I’d met a few days back. And then there were these guys from Korea, and this pretty female from Sweden. I’d been introduced to them a few weeks back. I am not very good at remembering names. Indian names, maybe sometimes. Non-Indian names, no chance. I had strangely remembered that girl’s name who was from Sri Lanka, but I don't remember it anymore.
I guess I was never going to learn to go up to a group and introduce myself. People call it being a social outcast. I see it as intellectual lethargy. If everyone talked in a room, who’d listen?
So here I was lost in my thoughts when a girl came waving at me. She must have deciphered the SOS message on my face and came to give me company. Well, I could actually do with some company. Before this, I was talking to a good looking man from India. Okay, not really good looking, but it reminded me of someone. Weird lines of thought. There are some faces you remember, even if they do not fall into the typical “good looking” category. An engineering graduate from Ahmedabad, he was the only Indian I’d met so far.
So this girl comes up to me and introduces herself. As usual, I did not get her name. But I got it that she was from Spain and was a graduate student in engineering.
So wee-rrrrrr yu frrmm?
Oh wow. I love Indian food, she chimed enthusiastically.
Ah, yes. India is a great place.
Aww yeah, I know. I was there for a couple of months.
Yeah, I went for a 3 month project from my department. You know, I was mainly interested in topography analysis. With this, she went on to give me a detailed account of what she was doing there, most of which went as indigestible as the food here.
So where in India did you visit?, I asked.
She looked a little confused, looked up the ceiling, and said, ummm… this place on the west, very hot.
It took me a lot of effort to not laugh out loud.
Well, do you know the place?, she asked me.
Of course. It’s Gujarat.
No, see it goes like this. Watch me do it. Gooo-ja-raaat.
Gu. Gu. Say goooooooo. Gooo... as in Google?
Yes, very good. Now say, gooo-ja-raat.
Suddenly, the teacher in me took over and I was hell bent on making sure she said it the right way.
Common, let’s do it once more. Gu-ja-raat.
The poor girl seemed flustered. Ju-ga-raat?
Oh God, just forget it. I surely wasn’t going to spend this evening caught up between the gu-s and the joo-s. People around me would freak out.
Gujarat, I said one last time.
Well, Jugarat is also fine. Just practice a few times in front of the mirror and I’m sure you’ll do better.
After exchanging a few more words which didn’t start with a G or a J, she went back to her crowd. I looked around and saw the good looking man from Ahmedabad. May be he could teach her how to pronounce it the right way. As if reading my mind, he turned to look at me. He smiled. I smiled back.
I hadn’t realized that my friend (the girl I’d come with) was back from socializing. She was sitting beside me, watching me smile at the guy from Ahmedabad.
So who is this young man you are smiling at?
What?, I was startled, not expecting to find her behind me.
This handsome man?
Oh, he? He is an engineer from Jugarat.
Oops, I’m sorry. I mean he is from Gujarat. Ahmedabad.
My friend gave me the weirdest look. Was she eyeing me with a mixture of suspicion and pity?
Okay, that was just a slip of tongue.
You know, I really believe you are stressed. Jugarat?
With this, she swayed back into the crowd, leaving me sitting alone with my water and wondering, Jugarat? How could I have said that?