Friday, February 12, 2016

A foreigner in my own land

Two random people. Two occasions. Same question.

I lay under the glaring lights in the dentist's office, looking my most uncomplimentary self. My mouth pried wide open, I shivered on hearing the drill and the suction pump inside my mouth. I wrenched my hands together, paralyzed with fear. The seconds tick by, painfully slowly. My mouth felt dry and salty. When I was asked to wash my mouth, I smelt dental cement. I spat blood. 

I was asked to lie this way, my mouth agape like a crocodile's. The dentist has seen me in a way no one else has- vulnerable, afraid, open-mouthed. He got up to wash his hands, instructing me to stay still, my mouth wide open. Knowing full well that I will not be able to reply, he asked his final question-

“Aage to US e chhilen. Okhankar passport hoye gechey?”

(You were in the US before this, right? Do you have a US passport?)

What was I supposed to say? And why him?

And then, a guy showed up one fine morning to do my blood work. I think Calcutta is the only place where I can afford such luxury. You pay someone a very reasonable price, and they show up with their paraphernalia to draw blood. I am mortally afraid of seeing blood, already reeling from a 12-hour fast. So I held on to dad's hands tight, looking away. The man took hold of my right hand, pricked a needle, and drew four vials of blood. 

"Didi, hoye gechey. I am done. I'll be on my way"- I soon heard, much to my relief. And while he was putting on his shoes, the final question. 

“Green card hoye gechey?” Are you done with your green card?

I am too confused to make sense of his question. How is a green card related to blood work? They don't even offer Green Cards in Germany, even if I wanted one.

Paraphrasing Jane Austen's opening line in Pride and Prejudice, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person living outside the country must be in possession of a US passport or Green Card, even if they do not live in the US, and even if that piece of document has nothing to do with their health, dental or otherwise."

Go ahead. Delegitimize me, because I do not live in the country country. Although you are the one who swears by McDonald's and Subways, celebrates Halloween parties, replies in accented English to my Bangla queries, and shows up in western wear whereas I hardly wear anything other than sarees, I am the outsider. I am the foreigner. I should be the one trying to fit in.


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