Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A "husband-and-husband act" at the Kannur, Kerala, Railroad Station snack bar, and the expressionless look on the "audience's" faces.

By Steve Parelli

Written with pen and paper, Tuesday evening, July 26, 2011, at the Kannur, Kerala, Railroad Station while waiting for our train to Kottayam to arrive. Transposed to my laptop, making minor changes in the script, Saturday morning, August 5, 2011, Royal Goan Beach Club, Baga, Goa.

“Twenty rubies only,” said the vendor loud enough for all to hear as he set the two cans of diet coke on the counter before me. “Twenty rubies only,” he repeated loudly, again stressing the word “only” and pitching his bargain price to as wide an audience as possible. It put a smile on my face. He reminded me of myself, an enthusiast about his business. He was also putting smiles on the faces of other customers who, for whatever reasons, were drawn in to this every-day business transaction that was occurring between the Indian vender and the white, male American tourist.

The small snack store, situated on a busy corner at the entrance to the platform area of the Kannur, Kerala, railroad station, consisted of two open counter spaces adjoining each other at a 90 degree angle. Customers at one counter could look across diagonally to customers at the second counter while the vender – with a particular flare for entertaining – easily serviced both counters. The size of the store was not much bigger than the smaller newsstands found in the New York City subway.

By now, all eyes were on me the foreigner who was purchasing two cans of soft drink. The vender was enjoying the notoriety as much as I had become use to onlookers in Kerala.

“Where are you from?” asked the vender, like a ring master under the big top, again loud enough to attract additional onlookers, which he did.

“The USA,” I said as I reached in my wallet for a 50 bill.

“Is this your friend?” he asked, pointing to Jose who was standing a bit behind me, the audience still attentive to every word.

Now it was my turn to step into the lead role. I would, in good humor, upstage the ring master. Up until now, I had been his support. Now, little did he know it, his role would be to support me and my lines.

“He’s my husband,” I said. Everyone understood and everyone laughed – not a polite laugh, but a real gusto laugh, the routine response we get in India when introducing ourselves as “husband and husband.”

It is hard to get a laugh when traveling abroad. What is funny in one culture, does not always translate as funny in another culture. Perhaps because the English words are clearly understood, or that the “joke” is uncomplicated, or that the foreigner is attempting to be humorous – for whatever reason, our introduction of one another as “husband and husband” always generates hardy laughter.

So, naturally, I was quick to affirm my statement. “Yes, husband and husband,” I said.

Jose smiled and chimed in. The lines we’ve repeated throughout Kerala spilled from our lips as if in chorus, Jose and me speaking alternately:

“Yes, married in 2008 in California,” said Jose.

“We have six states in America that have legalized same-sex marriages,” said I.

“We’ve been together for thirteen years,” said Jose without missing a beat.

“You know about marrying a man and a man, or a woman and woman?” I asked the vender directly.

“Yes,” he replied, “I hear the news. I know.”

As Jose and I were speaking, I looked towards the vender when I spoke, and then towards Jose, who stood behind me, when he spoke, giving me the opportunity to actually look about at the people and the expressions on their faces. Our audience was fixated on every word we spoke as well as on the image of our persons – interracial, American, two married men. (Out of the corner of my eye I caught Jose pitching to the crowd as much as to the vender.)

The onlookers were all men in their 30s and 40s – middle age. How would I describe their uniform expression? It was a look of disbelief; or a stunned look; not a look of surprise; I suppose their look was a cross between stunned and awe – almost an expressionless expression as if they went pale with disbelief; an expressionless look that said they were still taking in the data provided and processing it; as if their ears had betrayed them and the mind was catching up; a does-not-compute-yet-did-in-fact-compute look.

Almost like school children looking steadfastly at their teacher to explain patiently the predicament the teacher had posed; as if a new math equation had been presented on the blackboard, one which seemed to invalidate all previous math equations learned.

In this sea of expressionless expressions, we were, as we spoke our declarative sentences, assuring them with kind smiles and clear wide eyes that the equation – “husband and husband” – was in fact the case and does, in this new interactive, Internet word, exist – right here and now before their very eyes.

With that, Jose and I smiled at each other, looked out at our disbelieving bystanders, and walked off (the
stage) into the milieu of people on the railroad station platform – with our two cans of diet coke for “twenty
rubies only.”

No comments: