Alright, so some of my southern ghetto speak may have snuck into this post, whatcha lookin’ at? (BTW: Shiva says when I say, whatcha, I actually get a properly Nepali “cha” past my lips) I digress, I found myself earning some benefits to my South Asian connection this weekend. A couple months ago I went to get my eyebrows threaded and was eavesdropping on the girls in the salon. It was hard to follow, but I picked out a few words that sounded a lot like Timi and Chup laga. ‘Tapaii Nepali bhaana? I ventured, fearful that I’d made a mistake in phrasing. The two girls stopped and looked at me quizically…”What?” the girl holding floss asked me. “Oh, I’m just learning, I stuttered, I thought I heard some Nepali words and…I’m sorry.”
“We speak Urdu,” said the girl behind the counter. She was short and I couldn’t tell if she was simply correcting me or offended. “I’m sorry.” I offered, “I’m really trying to learn Nepali. I do know one Urdu song though.”
“What Urdu song?” asks the threader in a threatening tone of disbelief.
“Lodi. Its in one of my favorite Bollywood movies…Veer Zara.” I still feel like I’m being interrogated and am required to submit extra proof of my transgressions.
“Why are you learning Nepali?” She asks.
“Well, my boyfriend…I’ve been learning for about two years…”
“Your daughter? Do you teach her?” The lady behind the counter asks.
“Yes, well, I try. Her Nepali is probably better than mine.” I say.
“Well, we are pretty close in language,” says the threader, “you can practice with us.”
The rest of the time went on with listening to them talk and me trying to guess words. At the end of the threading when I went to pay, the girl behind the counter said, “I’ll make you a deal.” and she spells out a deal that I prepay and basically cut about $6 off each of the next visits for 6 months. I agree, pay her, and find myself filling my name into a composition notebook and being told that next time I come, I’ll be covered. I leave and feel pretty thrilled about the discount, although I didn’t really know at the time that it was because of my South Asian link…
Skip to this weekend when I went back. When I arrive, I follow the directions I was given previously to mention at the start that I am in the notebook. The girl at the counter stares and me and says, “there is no, notebook.”
I feel myself turning red. I’m wondering if last time was a joke I didn’t get, or if I’m being lied to now, or if I’m just really confused. “Well, the girl, last time, I paid her up front and she said I was covered for six months.”
“We don’t do that.” the counter girl informed me.
“But, I protest, I even paid with a credit card, I mean, there is a record.” I am feeling a little panicked, what did I pay for…?
I keep protesting with the girl and trying to explain when all of a sudden the girl who took my payment comes running from behind the wall shouting at the counter girl. She pauses and looks at me deeply. “She says, you are the white girl that is learning Nepali.” As if there is only one, at all, ever, in the whole world. If possible, my face is now redder. I sort of scratchily squeek, “Yes.”
“I don’t believe it.” she explains, “say something.”
Something? Something? I know a lot of somethings, which something? And suddenly, my mind is empty…”Tapaiin lai kushee lagyo” what I said to Shiva’s parents when meeting them enters my thoughts…no, not that. Keep thinking. The girl puts her hand on her hip and is obviously annoyed with me. I look at the other one who nods her head as if to say, “Go on.” Why can’t I think? Where did all those days and nights of Nepali practice go?
“Ma Nepali seekdaichhu.” I blurt out. For a moment, I’m not even sure if what I said is Nepali, let alone a sentence. I find myself wondering if seekdaichhu really does mean learning…did I remember something accurately? And the girls start cracking up.
I smile, apparently, it wasn’t that bad. I’m feeling more secure that I didn’t make a mistake. And they can hardly hold themselves. They are speaking to each other in Urdu again and laughing so hard that the rest of the salon that wasn’t already staring is now really focused on us.
Why isn’t this over yet? My face is burning with embarrassment and these girls are laughing at me, and the salon is staring…oh, why, why did I sign up for the notebook plan? Finally, the girl who came to my rescue says, “I told her so, have a seat.” They finish my eyebrows and pull out the composition book at the end, find my name and say its all sorted out. The skeptical girl says, “Next time, just tell us you are the one learning Nepali.”
I leave, pretty sure that I’m now known as “the white girl learning Nepali” to the set of Urdu speaking girls the the threading salon. And so, this is how I earned my first set of South Asian creds.