Friday, 3 September 2010

Acceptance means telling a joke

When do you know that you have been accepted by the people around you?
Is it when you are invited to a family occasion? Not in my opinion. In India it can be that you are being shown off as the "foreigner" friend. Just how prestigious can having a foreigner friend be?  Answer is it can, big time. Take Gauri, a local 9 year old, who when she saw me at a local festivity and called out to me to let me now she was there. I could see her friends looks and questions as she inadvertently became the envy of them all. But with adults one does sometime get the feeling that you are  intentionally "on show", although at other times there has been a genuine desire to expose me to their culture eg when I was invited to my work colleague's nephew's Sacred Thread Ceremony.
Is it when you are invited round to their house for a meal? Well it just doesn't happen here. No one goes out to eat or invites people over to eat as a social occasion. Eating is for calorific intake alone. Orissa  is a state where people still die of hunger. I've been to eat with project teams when they are in town. Being invited to join them is thoughtful and full of common sense when the meeting finishes at 9PM. But in the dhaba, there's little social chit chat, and it is not because I can't speak enough of the language, it is just not seen as a social occasion, and certainly only takes as long as it takes to eat your meal - no good conversations over dinner lasting well into the night here.
On occasion I called round at a neighbour's house with my landlady. We are given tea, one is often given tea, given the only chair to sit on. You just get used to it and you initial embarrassment disappears. But again I would hardly go as far as to say that I felt truly accepted.
But a couple of days ago just before the Janmashtami holiday I really felt I was. We were talking about the holiday and my colleague told me a joke. Before I reproduce this joke I will tell you that she is Hindu.
Three mountaineers were in a death fall of a mountain. The Christian prayed to God to save him and he was saved. The Muslim mountaineer prayed to Allah to be saved from falling to his death and he was saved. The Hindu mountaineer could not decide which God to pray to and was killed.
Now we all know how precarious humour is at crossing  linguistic and cultural boundaries, so when someone feels confident enough in your company that they are willing to tell you a joke, and moreover a joke about religion, surely this is the landmark of acceptance.

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