Today was an important day in the Hindu Religion. It was the birthday of Ram Dasrath Suryavanshi - for those that don't know, he has a starring role in the Hindu Epic, Ramayan. The celebration, which is called Ram Navmi, is usually a big, crowded event. I don't like crowds and I'm not exactly an inveterate temple haunter either, but this time my aunts were visiting and I went along for the sheer joy of their company.
The Ram temple here goes back to over 200 years and is constructed in black stone. It is beautiful and with a strangely soothing atmosphere. We went early to avoid the crowds and I began taking photographs. I was wearing a red batik sarong, gray t-shirt, blue hat, and that ensemble together with the digital camera really attracted attention. It was kind of flattering to be noticed, but not startling until two kids came and planted themselves in front of me.
"Excuse me, from which country are you?"
I recovered fast.
"Bangladesh," I said, without so much as batting an eyelid.
"You shouldn't have said that!" said my mother, as we moved on a bit. We are, after all, having quite a bit of trouble with illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in recent times. "You want to be hauled off to the Police Station?"
"What should I have said? Nepal?"
"What's wrong with Nepal?"
"The King wants to be the King."
The kids had followed us.
"Excuse me," they said to Ma, sure that either I hadn't understood the question or they had heard wrong. "From which foreign country is she?"
"A faraway one, I assure you," said Ma.
"Yes, but which one? America, Germany, England, France...." The young chap rattled off his Geographical knowledge.
"England," said Ma, choosing her favorite country.
"Oh, great!" said the boys, enthusiastically.
"Tell her to give us some coins," the Geographer said then. "I collect coins!"
"She collects them herself," said my mother. "Principally from me."
We escaped the lads, but the stares followed me all around, together with whispers of 'Foreigner! Foreigner!'
"Indian! Indian!" I hissed back after a point.
That didn't improve the situation. It only got me a larger fan following.
"This is utterly ridiculous," said one of the aunts. "It's not your birthday."
"And besides you're not a foreigner," said another aunt. "You don't look like one from any angle. And supposing you were one, what's there to look at?"
"It's because you wear such odd clothes," said the other aunt. "Nobody would look twice otherwise."
No one can deflate my balloon of hot air like my near and dear ones.
"I don't wear odd clothes!" I said defensively. "On foreign soil, let me tell you, you lot would be the odd ones."
"Not any more," said my mother. "The Empire struck back with a vengeance, remember? Saris are actually nothing unusual in England. Everyone wears them. Except, I suppose, Camila Parker-Bowles-Windsor. And that's because she doesn't want to look like Cherie Blair."
"Parker Bowles Windsor!" I said, mood improving dramatically with this utterly delightful turn of phrase - it sounds like, well, like what actually happened! "That's smashing, Ma!"
"I read it in the news," said Ma, in case anyone thought she had been gossiping with the new royalty.
The aunts, however, weren't interested in Camilla Parker-Bowles-Windsor - just in raking up my abominable dress sense.
"Do you remember the time when she used to wear eighteen necklaces all at once?"
Ah, those were the days when people didn't go "Foreigner! Foreigner!" behind my back - but "Osho! Osho!" to my face.
Funny thing is I had no idea who Osho was then, and I'm sure he in his turn never got enlightened about my presence on the planet.
It was really the can't-decide-which-to-wear-so-let's-wear-them-all period.
"And when she had that hideous tent-like skirt? Didn't you actually have canvas underneath?"
That was the Hollywood Musical cum French Revolution period. Kind of difficult to explain, so let's just say this is what happens when you admire overmuch period dresses and have no notion whatsoever about their technical aspects. The aunt hit the nail with the hideous part. It truly was.
"All that's in the past," I said. "I'm a different person now."
"Yes," said my mother. "A foreigner."
"If you really came here to be religious," I said coldly, "I suggest you get on with it."
They got on with it and then we left the Temple grounds, but there was still one gauntlet remaining in the wings.
This came in the shape of a seated Sadhu, who perked right up at the sight of my passing person and waved his arms like a Dutch Wind-mill and shouted excitedly, "Hallo! Hallo! Chinese! Chinese!"