An incident in Kolkata

I’m still writing about Kolkata. Here’s another excerpt.

On the way home I stopped at an internet cafe. I never knew how many security procedures I would have to go through to get online – sometimes I was waved straight to a computer, others asked for a photocopy of my passport, and one joint had even demanded I place my thumb on an electronic pad so my print could be kept in their system. ‘Terrorists, madam,’ they had told me. The young man behind the desk at this place just asked for my name and phone number, and suggested I buy a coke from his fridge.

‘Sure, why not,’ I said.

He asked my country, and I told him. “Ah,’ he said, handing me my drink. ‘Why do you keep beating us?’ he asked.

I smiled. It was the cricket again; India loves Ricky Ponting. I laughed and said ‘Oh, because we’re so good.’

The young man didn’t say anything. We looked at each other and I tried to read his expression. It was something like disgust, a look I hadn’t seen very often in India.

I realised, with horror, that he was not talking about the cricket. He was talking about the attacks on Indian students that had been happening in Australia, and particularly Melbourne, over the past few years.

‘Oh no, I thought you were talking about the cricket,’ I said quickly, stumbling over my words to explain as quickly as I could. ‘Everyone talks to me about the cricket, I thought you were asking why we beat you at cricket, I’m so sorry.’

He understood what I was saying, but he only unstiffened a little. ‘So why is this happening?’ he asked.

I didn’t have any good explanations. I said it was horrible, and it brought shame to us, and I meant it. I said most Australians weren’t racist, that these were just a few hooligans, though I didn’t know how true this was. I suspected that the India media had … well, beaten up the story beyond the admittedly awful facts, but I didn’t think that was an appropriate thing to say.

And I realised that I was here because I was writing about a lone Australian being attacked in India, while Indians were being back attacked in my home town. I felt a bit sick.

‘I was going to apply to work in Australia, but now I think it’s no good for Indians there,’ the young man said. ‘I think I’ll try for United States instead.’

I clutched my coke and nodded. ‘Now go, go, number six computer is ready,’ he said.

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