Beautiful People, the Whites
My wife’s name is Neelu. I could not be more thankful to have her in my life.
Neelu is Indian. She was born and raised in South India. Most of her family resides in Hyderabad today. She speaks English with an American accent. Why that is is her business.
Often, when people in the United States meet Neelu, they compliment her beautiful name. Often, they take the additional step of asking her what her name means. Usually, this occurs preliminary to their making even the most basic conversation. Usually, it does not seem to occur to them that their names might also mean something, or that her name could mean as little as they apparently believe their names do.
All people in the United States? No. Which people? Certain people.
Often, when Neelu meets certain people in America, they immediately volunteer how beautiful they think Indian people are. Often, they go a step further and volunteer that they know a particular beautiful Indian person. Coincidentally or not, these beautiful Indian people being referred to in absentia are usually women. Strangely, Neelu has never turned out to know any of these Indian women, but it is good that certain people in the United States always check.
Sometimes, certain people in the United States even go so far as showing Neelu pictures of beautiful Indian women they know. Or of beautiful African women they know if they do not have any pictures of beautiful Indian women on hand. This is rare though, and almost always follows questions regarding where Neelu is really from and why she does not have an accent.
Usually a question about elephants or tigers follows the picture time. Indian weddings are so big! Indian food is so delicious! I saw a leopard in a school in India on CNN once. Scene.
Why? And Where? Very frequently, these questions are asked. Not just asked though. Asked by people. Certain people. Certain people who seem to feel compelled to ask these questions.
Less frequently do certain people in the United States seem to feel compelled to ask another question: How?
How? Though perhaps people in the United States should start asking Neelu this question when they meet her. By aeroplane would be the answer, but in the very act of asking this question, perhaps these people would reach a deeper realization about what they had been wanting to ask all along. How… you? How… are… you?
Yes! How are you?
Simply put, certain people often seem so flabbergasted by the to-them-unimaginable details of Neelu’s unique subjectivity and life experience, that they forget to adhere to the most basic tenets of courteous conversation.
How am I? Well! Or not so. But no matter the answer, we’ve made progress.
Almost never do people volunteer that they know almost nothing about India. I suspect that Neelu might find such an approach refreshing, but that is not for me to say.
Andhra Pradesh is a state, like New York or California or Texas, only in India, and more populous than New York, California, or Texas. Telangana is also a state in India. It is only more populous than New York or Texas. Mostly, people have never heard of either of these Indian states and do not understand why the two of them would be mentioned in the same breath. Before I met Neelu, I did not know about these states either, but, in spite of my ignorance, I did my best not to ask her any stupid questions immediately upon meeting her. Neelu and I were not married then, and she can tell you better how all that went.
Hyderabad is the fourth largest city in India. It is a global tech hub. Mostly, people in the United States have not heard of Hyderabad either. Truth be told, I had not heard of Hyderabad when I met Neelu, but she did not seem to hold it against me. Maybe because I was trying so hard not to ask her any stupid questions.
Though actually, I should revise. It did not occur to me to ask Neelu any stupid questions when we met because I was immediately overwhelmed by her beauty, charm, wit, intelligence, and charisma. No effort was necessary on my part not to ask her stupid questions because I was totally lost in her presence. In fact, I was so utterly taken with her as a person that I was perfectly comfortable letting our relationship unfold organically — through conversation and interaction — and so tried my best to do her the courtesy of holding presumptions in abeyance as I hoped she was trying to do for me.
Why write all this? It’s about time we did better. We all. One need not know everything, but it helps when we admit openly what we do not know and approach each other with open minds and open hearts. Ignorance may not generally be a virtue, but ignorance cloaked in trite commonplaces is always a vice.