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March 23rd, 2005

14 th March 2005


I meet Patrice today. All along, our conversations have been on email. Now we meet in person. “I could die in my apartment and no one in the building would even know that,” I tell him after a while. “Hmmm,” he nods, “that’s true. It is the North European-North American way of living life – individualistic.” I tell him how I am attempting to make sense (or non-sense) of the other inhabitants in the building through my imaginations!


Patrice and me walk around the city a bit and then we go to his friend’s house. As I walk up the building where his friend lives, I watch for signs on doors to understand the people living in this building. On one of the doors is a silver elephant and I wonder whether this is the house of a Surinamese Hindoostani. But I could be wrong – for all I know, the inhabitants of this may be interested in collecting kitsch and artifacts.


Caroline, Patrice’s friend, house is on the top floor. Guess what! the doors of her house are open and I exclaim this to her. “Oh yeah,” she says, “there is nothing to steal from my house!” Caroline lives in an ethnic Jewish neighbourhood which was a hotbed during World   War II. Patrice informs me that he too lives in an ethnic neighbourhood and he greets everyone in his building.


I think about doors. Closed doors lead me to imagine about people living behind them. Do closed doors enable the processes of otherization? What would happen if doors were open? Would I tread them, enter ‘em?


Patrice invites me to his house!

This evening, I have a dinner invitation to Patrice’s house. He provides me directions and tells me to take Tram number 17 and get off at Peter Jan Hierstraat station. “If you tell the conductor, he/she would tell you when to get off. In any case, the name will appear on the electronic screen inside the tram.” Confidently, I take off in the evening. I tell the conductor to let me know when the stop arrives – very Mumbai habit! “But the name of the stop will appear on the screen any which way. You watch out,” she says to me. “Okay,” I respond and precariously watch the screen.


Suddenly, at some stop, the conductor shouts, “Peter Jan Hierstraat, Peter Jan Hierstraat, Peter Jan Hierstraat” and she is looking at me excitedly. I am trifle surprised because the name has not appeared on the electronic screen. I walk up to the conductor and she beams, “I remembered, I remembered, Peter Jan Hierstraat, I remembered.” “Are you sure,” I query. “Yes, you get off here,” she says and I offload myself.


Now, as is characteristic of me, I never attempt to read maps. In the morning, Patrice had told me that if I have to ask directions with people, I have to approach them carefully so that they don’t think that I after them, or their money or that I am not asking something from them. I carelessly go to the first two old men who come across my way and ask them. They look around here and there and then look at the map. “Sorry,” they tell me. I go ahead. Next, I ask a fat woman in a car. She shows me the way. Then I go that way but I am not certain whether this is the right way. As I am walking past a building, I notice someone coming out of it. It is a black guy who somehow realizes that I have lost my way. He tells me to cross the bridge and take the first left. I tell him that he may be mistaken. “Oh no, that’s the way to Peter Jan Hierstraat. I am telling you.” I try trusting him and go that way. It turns out to be the place. But now I need to find the right street.

Again I start to look here and there. I notice a man who looks somewhat Indian and ask him. “ Aap kahan se ho? (Where are you from?),” he asks. I tell him I am from Bombay. He starts to show me the way. I am curious whether he is also from Bombay. “Where are you from?” I ask him. “Karachi,” he responds to me. “I have been living here since twenty years. I drive a taxi here.” We reach the street. I tell him that I will find the house from here because I have the house number. “That’s okay, I will drop you,” he tells me. I think that South Asians will always be South Asians. “I want to go back, back to Karachi. I remember my mulk a lot. Tired of living here now. Friends have no time. They have kids and are busy with their domestic lives. At least you have time to socialize back home. Here you work all day and in the evening, you back home. At home, you have the TV for respite. That’s what my family does all day. Watch TV, TV and more TV.” I listen to him carefully. “Why are you here?” he asks me. I tell him the purpose of my visit is to attend a conference. “You have come all alone?” he asks a bit surprised. “Yes,” I tell him. “You must be having family or friends here?” he asks again. “No one,” I tell him, “except for work people.”

We arrive at the door of Patrice’s building. The Pakistani tells me, “Okay, here you go. I’ll give you mobile number, in case you need anything.” I ask him what his name is. “Aymen,” he responds, “What’s yours?” I tell him mine. “Oh, Muslim!” he exclaims.


Hmmm … apnawalas in a foreign land!


This was my first meeting with Aymen, first in the few more days to come. Hmmm … South Asians will always be South Asians!!!


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