Not sure if anybody truly cares to know about such small experience of life, but extrovert and emotional as I am, I decide to share it with you.
This little incident this morning, on this very auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami, when Goddess Durga finally vanquished Asura the demon, it is something that resonates with me. It also makes me realize how I have changed from the inside, over the years.
On my way to work, I was filling the gas tank on my car at our neighborhood Shell station in Brooklyn. This was one of the rare days when I had to drive in to work; I normally take the New York subway and then an MTA bus. So, I’m wearing a new, blue sweater my wifey bought me on the occasion of Durga Puja. And I’m wearing a pair of dark blue pants. And I’m happily pumping gas on my car.
A white gentleman in his suit and tie pulls in, gets out of his car, and without any hesitation, asks me: “Hey, can I use your bathroom?” No, he was not being disrespectful, and his whiteness was purely coincidental. Obviously, he mistook me for a gas station attendant, with my blue, uniform-like attire. I was a little startled, and didn’t know what to say. Just within a few seconds, he realized I was not an attendant, and he said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” And that was the end of the conversation.
Why was it important? Because of the many possible layers of this brief encounter. One, I knew for the fact that this morning, I was not angry or irked or nervous, hearing his question. There was a time in my earlier years in America, when I would be definitely angry or irked or nervous: I’d consider his innocent question to be raising from subtle superiority, disrespect, or even racism. I would think: “How dare he speaks to me this way…doesn’t he know I have a Ph.D. and I teach in a college and I speak three languages and I do this and I do that … doesn’t he know I’m not someone he thinks I am?” I would think: “Just because I have a brown skin and I don’t drive a Lexus and I am not six feet tall…does that give him the right to treat me disrespectfully?”
But I have grown up. And now I realize that even though I cannot change my body color or looks or height or name or religion or economic situation, I can change myself and my philosophy of life from within. I can train myself how to be tolerant, and how not to be thin-skinned and judgmental. Bengali Indian men, and perhaps men in general, have a much thinner skin than women, who are in my opinion, much more patient, tolerant, and pragmatic about life.
And some more wisdom this morning. Through this one, little incident, I realized that I feel completely at ease with anyone considering me a part of the working-class people here in America, and for that matter, all over the world. In fact, that he thought I was a gas-pumping attendant made me happy and proud. Even gleeful.
Happy Vijaya Dashami. May Goddess Durga bless us all with strength — to conquer our inner demon.
(Now, I demand some Bengali sweets on this special day)