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Ethnic Divide

The first time I drove to Goa, that beautiful beach-lined and sun-kissed province in India, two young and energetic men accompanied me. Along with us came a small child. Of the two youths, one was my husband, who was also the designated driver, and the other was my brother-in-law, who had just completed his final year at college, and sort of invited himself by offering to be the unofficial babysitter for our three-year-old daughter.

We examined our shoestring budget carefully and set off in our tiny car from Bombay and after an arduous eight-hour journey arrived in Goa in the wee hours of the morning. The minute the Arabian Sea was sighted, my brother-in-law deserted us and rushed into the blue waters, his head bobbing over the waves. All the earlier promises were immediately broken as that became his norm for the entire stay. He only surfaced at mealtimes, gobbled up the food quickly and went back, with renewed urgency, to swim in the sea.

There was no point in fighting with him because he was having the time of his life so it was left to my spouse and me to split the childcare duties. My brother-in-law found a small tear in the boundary fence of a private hotel beach, and made friends with the lifeguard there. Because it was low season and the pristine place was empty, he allowed us to use the premises during the daytime. Every morning our small group trooped in there, spread our towels in the sand and basically became beach urchins.

Our daughter made sand castles and I kept a lazy eye on her while my husband joined his brother in the water. There was a Parsi family too, who came occasionally and settled themselves in the nearby cabana. Parsi, also spelled Parsee, descended from the Persian Zoroastrians, who emigrated to India to avoid religious persecution. It was a community, which was perceived as affluent, influential, and industrious and consisted of some of the wealthiest people in my home country. One more distinguished feature that marked them from a mile was their prominent noses.

Now, despite their clannish nature, the group that appeared on the beach was very friendly towards me. Maybe they thought I was one of them because in India, we assume the ethnicity of a person by the colour of their skin or the length of their nose. So, the minute they found me alone with the baby, they offered me food, talking loudly in their alien language.

One day I decided to go for a swim but the minute I stepped into the sea I was shrieking in pain. A jellyfish had stung me! My spouse and his brother, in extreme anxiety, became hysterical, saying they could not take me anywhere and even in a vast sea it was only me who chose to get bitten by a jellyfish! The Parsi family, listening to all this, were furious on my behalf.

“Pour cold water on the wound,” the father suggested.

“Rub wet sand on it,” the mother said.

“Maybe cucumber slices will help,” the grandfather pushed my husband aside.

“Let me put some ice,” the son insisted as they all surrounded me.

“You poor little Parsi girl,” the grandma crooned to me.

“I am not Parsi,” I corrected her.

“What?” they chorused, staring at my nose.

“I am not Parsi,” I repeated faintly.

“Here, look after your wife,” the father commanded my husband while dumping me immediately.

Published on Jordan Times

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