He’s from somewhere small, obscure and violent in the wilds of Uttar Pradesh. So nasty that he had to flee to Dehli as a child. This is the first time he’s ever left India. You wouldn’t know that if you talked to him. Far removed from the “loud Indian” I’ve seen many Sri Lankans roll their eyes about after a return from across the straits. Too polite and soft-spoken for someone who has become very good at what they do at a young age.
The conversations dance over the predicable places. The food (coconut milk vs ghee) is one of the more tedious word trails. The Sri Lankans inevitably recite their Indian travel stories. We try to visualise where he’s from based on our fuzzy recollections of Delhi’s location on the map.
The most interesting undercurrent is the contrasting sense of scale between the Sri Lankans and the Indian. Our respective perceptions of distance in particular says a lot. Go 500km from anywhere in Sri Lanka and you are no longer in Sri Lanka. In India its more likely to be just a different language or accent. Population and the sense of what is “crowded” is another source of endless comparisons with which I won’t bore you. There’s enough contrasts between our little island and the continent (I refuse to call it a “sub” continent) to keep the conversation going for years.
Then its time to go. As we head to the door, the dinner guest bends and touches the feet of the two elders in the room. It is a quick and instinctive gesture. Yet I can feel that the Sri Lankans are impressed. Our culture values displays of reverence towards one’s elders. To see such beliefs in the mannerisms of a “foreigner” automatically elevates him in our esteem. That gesture and the ripple of positiveness it sent among those present is the strongest memory I have of that dinner — and its guest.
Perhaps its nice to meet a stranger who defies multiple stereotypes. Maybe this is a good harmless story to milk into a blog post. I’ll let you decide in the comment box below. While you are at it let me know if you have met someone similarly impressive from “overseas”.