This mind numbing morning when I wanted nothing but empty thoughts, I was accosted by an old Chinese guy at the CTA station wearing the ubiquitous yellow Burberry hat. He walked up to me to strike a conversation.
‘You Indian?’ he asked knowledgably.
Friggin hell, how the heck did he figure out? Surely not my brown skin or thick black hair or the distinct Indian features could have given it away. No way! How come no one asks me if I am Norwegian?
'Mmm’, I nodded not wanting to encourage a tea stall conversation. Any other day, I would have shown some courtesy and found out why Chinese loved the Burberry pattern, whether it was in their tie, socks, handbag or tongue cleaner. But today was not the day.
Not at all discouraged by the cold easterly winds emanating from my direction, Sherlock Holmes proceeded to explain that he knew 3 languages, which included Japanese (He turned out to be Japanese and not Chinese- so much for my detective skills). “I don’t know Indian, too bad. But I know Geography very well. All the capitals of all countries. You ask, I will answer.’
Is he kidding me? What is this, a quiz program that I was unwillingly getting steered into? I hope he isn’t mistaking me for another Indian, Siddharth Basu. Please God, let the train come.
Train came. Halleluiah!
I rushed inside and sat right next to another hopefully sober person even though I prefer sitting on empty seats. A small sacrifice for mental peace, I decided.
But my comrade didn’t falter even for a second. He apparently got some friendly vibes from me, trotted up to my seat and declared, ‘I don’t mind standing. I will stand near you and answer your questions. I can start. You want to know capital of Armenia? It is tough one. Starts with Y.’
I couldn’t care less if it was Gumidipindi. I just wanted to cry. He was like a 7-year old, a really over enthusiastic annoying 7-year old whom you couldn’t even slap.
‘I don’t know.’ I conceded half hoping he would lose interest in the dim-witted soul that spelt M-E and move on to that bright looking blonde with green highlights in pink shoes touching up her make-up.
‘No, it’s Ok. You couldn’t have known anyway, it is tough. It’s Yerevan!! Ask some more. This is fun.’ He shouted in glee almost clapping his hands and hugging me.
We played this for 7 stations, during which, he asked and answered capitals to countries I hadn’t even heard of while I grunted and nodded and shifted uneasily. If body language was anything to go by, I might have been mistaken for someone who needed to use the toilet badly.
Anyway, there was a silver lining to this extremely dark nimbus cloud. It was the fact that he stopped showing off his capitals and moved on. ‘There are many religions. I am Buddhist. There is Christians and Hindus and Jews and… I forget one more..’
‘Moslems?’ I smiled, finally warming up to him.
‘No..no..no…mmm…wait...wait..Islam..yes, Islam!’ he jumped up in sheer happiness.
I congratulated him.
‘You know Islam religion is very violent. All these terrorists are Islams.’ He added not in very hushed tones.
I froze with shock. What the heck is this guy up to? Trying to get me killed? Jeez man!! I tried my best to salvage the situation looking around apologetically at fellow passengers, ‘No, Islam is not like that.’
Luckily for me, he decided the matter wasn’t worth pursuing. He clearly wasn’t into discussions (only monologues involving general knowledge). Phew!
‘You know there is a famous Indian man I know in History. I’ll tell ok. You don’t tell. Wait’
After a long pause and immense deliberation,
‘Wait wait…don’t tell…don’t tell’, he protested even as I sat calmly not really wanting to participate.
After more time and agony, he agreed to let me divulge the name.
‘Gandhi?’ I prompted.
No no…I’m not getting it. Starts with the letter M, I’m very sure.’
‘Right Right! Mahatma Gandhi. What a great man he was.’
Great man indeed! If not for him, some violence would have taken place for sure (of me hurling myself out of a moving train).
Footnote: Rhyncus has written this story from the old man's perspective. Hilarious.