Both Sides Now

Working for Indian people is not like working for anyone else, I think.

Take for example last week, when I had an 11 day stretch of day work and night gigs and rehearsals, so my back half way through Tuesday afternoon last week just simply stopped functioning properly.  and shooting pains brought me to my knees, which made me think:

“Well hey – maybe I should take a break”. I have been accused of ignoring my own needs in the past.

Unable to even get to clients coming into the store, I was reduced to admitting that “I think I need help”.

I texted Aman, the store owner who responded within seconds that she would be there in fifteen minutes.

I sat down on the chair and hoped no one would come into the store as I didn’t know if I would be able to actually walk to the racks to show them anything. It was pretty bad. A few came in and there i was waving like the Queen of Sheba not moving from behind the cash upon my perch, my back inordinately straight.

Thirteen minutes after my text, and after a few more people had begun to come in and mill about, Aman and Romy came stampeding into the store, with their eldest daughter in tow. It was like an efficient  military swat team operation.

Aman looked at me, with her grouchy concerned face, marched immediately  to the back of the store, grabbed a Nepalese blanket, tossed it down on the floor between the middle of the store and a changing room, and quite literally threw me down to the ground on my stomach.

“You stay”. she said all business, and began issuing confident sounding  orders in Hindi to Arpita, who also snapped into action as her mother’s habitual other right hand.

” Hindi hindi Coconut oil…hindi hindi hindi …terrible dry skin!! ….hindi hindi” is what i heard allot of.

I often wear the things in the store that we are wanting to show people the most, so that day i was uncharacteristically wearing a short “business like” dress, maybe mid thigh length. Beige.

But as I lay there my dwindling consciousness told me there we people in the store. Lots of people.

Romy and Arpita held them at bay showing them things to stay interested in at the front of the store,

Suddenly my dress was half way up my body and my underwear were half way down.

On the floor

In the store.

yeah.

I felt a little uncomfortable but the pain won and I tried muttering supplications.

Can I give you some advice?

Never ever supplicate an Indian.

I tried speaking to her – thank her. I don’t know.

What the hell do you say to someone when they have laid you down on the floor and are covering your body in coconut oil to ease the aches of decades of physical self abuse?

If you’re me – you minimize.

“Oh Aman I’ll be fine…don’t worry! ill just go home and have a ba…”

I’m sure Aman heard sometime like

“Blah blah … blah blah blah…”

She snapped…

“You don’t speak now! ok? Understand? Shh”.

I could hear the concern in her voice and let myself sink back into painless bliss.

Suddenly her hands were on my lower back and the pain was absolutely gone. Poof. Eliminated. She hadn’t actually done anything yet, just the fact that she knew EXACTLY where the pain and went straight to it, I think it began to dissolve.  Over the next half hour, with my new dress now covered in coconut oil, as was the entire rest of my body,  Aman managed to perform some miracle on me, relieving pain and bringing my dry and sad skin back to life. I left he store relaxed and disheveled,  my hair now a massive mane of shiny greasy mess piled on top of my head and went home.

I cancelled a gig to rest, because I’ll tell you it got worse before it got better. I spent four days basically immobilized in some weird fog, sleeping or awake sketching was all I could muster.

I did an afternoon gig where the music started to revive me, and then I was back at work, feeling better than I have in years.

I am sharing this story because not only does it illustrate to me all of the things I am learning about the Indian people, how they take care of each other, and there is a genuine concern for every person’s well being.

I have grown up in a culture where we talk about how nice that idea is on Sundays and act like assholes the rest of the week.

These people are completely different.

To have an opportunity to see a loving example of how people truly incorporate compassion and community into their lives is probably the greatest thing I have ever experienced.

It is frustrating to me when I see people come into the store treating Aman like something less, thrusting things at her to hold, not saying please or thank you, never making eye contact or talking to her as though she is an idiot. It is hard for me to bear.

But I am fortunate to see both sides, and it is obvious that there are a many preconception that interfere with our ability to get to know each other as people.

One is who we think we are and the second is who we think each other is.

Very often I see the Montreal dwelling unlingual french canadians that treat Aman  with the greatest disdain. I hear them hammering her to speak better french and being angry and obnoxious when they confuse her (fifth) language.

I had one person ask me in french if “the English here were friendly”?

Hunh?

I had another ask me if “bosses pray four times a day”

Seriously. No.

I love that they support me in everything. Even what others have called “my bad temper” has come to good use.  Like with the lady in a failed attempt to negotiate (which I disdain)  who said she wouldn’t even pay two dollars for this “Indian crap” – to the hand beaded dress in her sweaty little palms.  It was my pleasure to show her to the door.  Aman is too polite for this but we have a rule: No amount of sales equals our dignity.

I’ll tell you honestly, when I was a kid, I was frequently horrified by my fathers treatment of people who worked in boutiques and restaurants. It was his way of “commanding respect”. Old school and often ugly.

More than once I remember wanting to crawl under a dinner table in a fancy restaurant as my father carried on in his indignant manner, obviously horrifying the poor waiter or waitress who had the misfortune of crossing his path on a “need to feed the ego” day.

The irony that now, at least five times a day I get to be on the receiving end of people just like him, who make me change their shoes while they talk on their cell phones (that never goes well) and who speak to me as though I am their personal attendant and no need for common courtesies are required. We don’t put up with that either.,

Maybe our store is special in another way – that we will provide free instruction on kindness if you seem to require it.   The place is steeped in it.

You just have to come in and breathe.

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