New York Minutes #3: Desi Edition

There’s a moment when I think I’m back in London when I have an ultimately futile argument with a dishonest cabbie, who despite keeping the meter on, insists we agreed on a price when I got in. The metered fare is ten dollars lower than he thinks we agreed. I tell him I asked roughly how much it would cost and he told me an amount, assuring me though, it would be on the meter to ensure honesty and he was just giving me a ballpark figure. We argue. I’m transported back to London when I call him a ‘lying dick’ and he shrugs. We compromise more than I feel we should and I enter Tejal’s apartment with my suitcase and dignity rolling along the ground.

I am here, of course for my childhood best friend, Anand’s wedding. Tejal is the sister of the third in our group, Nishant, who became a proud father two days ago. International lives through laptops dictate that we converse with him in LA through Skype and watch the Brazil match, streamed from the internet on to a plasma screen, while Nishant’s dad checks his email from his Bangkok job and I blog. Where would we jetsetting types be without our laptops?

There’s a moment in the evening when I think I’m back in Wembley during Navrati, the Hindu nine days of dancing that lead to Diwali. The first night of the wedding is a sanji, an evening of flowing sarees, performances, gurba and bhangra dancing. Everything feels like a Gujarati event in Wembley or Harrow, even down to the candle arrangements and the chaat food available on entry. The mango lassis are sweet and the sarees all swirl around me. It could be back home. I always thought what I thought of as Hinduism and Gujarati culture was something that had mutated over the years in the UK, making it not quite the traditional ways. Tonight is evidence of how wrong I’ve been. The steps are the same, the traditions are the same, the lack of rhythm is the same. I became Indian consultant for Tejal’s lovely boyfriend, a writer called Hugh and am a smug fish out of water when I teach him bhangra and dandia steps. He is surprised by the repetitive nature of the dances.

Except, it would seem, no one knows how to do it right and I’m not willing to step in. There are people who know what to do, but a large portion of the Indians are listening to the instructions on the microphone. We are the diaspora and these are our cultures and for some reason, I feel closer to them than the teenagers in this room, despite my misgivings about religion. These are my people though and when they’re unsure, they clap, mostly in time, and I watch them, thinking I could be anywhere in the world.

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