New York City on a Friday night…
… party people drunkenly looking for pizza.
… lovers making out under the lamps in Washington Square Park.
… a couple in their 30s, looking at each other like teenagers in the first blush of love.
… dudes returning from a concert, “I processed this data differently when I was a teenager, man.”
… a swimsuit-clad blonde being photographed on the platform; commuters annoyed, gawking, uncaring.
I push my way on to the train and find myself standing in front of a Sikh man, obviously returning home after a long day of some sort of hard labor – his jeans, work boots, and turban covered in paint and dust. as he hungrily eats Parle-G cookies, he seems too tired to notice the people peripherally staring at him. or he’s too accustomed to it to care. I notice his kaddha, its edges smoothed with years of wear. I wonder if he got it in Amritsar. I can feel his weariness – with the world, with the prejudice, with himself. he came here for a better life… is this it?
he closes his eyes thinking of his fields back in Punjab, the smell of hot parathas slathered with ghee that await his return.
he looks over at the well-dressed blonde woman sitting next to him, yet not next to him – the distance she keeps between them obvious and deliberate. he looks down as he tucks his hands into the crooks of his elbows, his eyes younger than his weathered face and white beard indicate.
his jeans and backpack seem alien on him. I crave to see him in his salwar-kameez as it flutters in the winds of Punjab.
this is not his place.
this is not his home.
these are not his people.
this is not his time.
this is not the “good life” America promised him in Baywatch and on MTV.
“sat sri akaal”, I mumble to him hurriedly and under my breath as I disembark, wondering if he’d heard me, embarrassed that I’d said it wrong, worried that I’d offended him, hoping that I brought some comfort, some feeling of “home”.
a heritage I do not know.
a culture I do not understand.
a people whose blood flows through me, yet a kinship I do not feel.
but in this moment, I wish I felt it. if only to bring him comfort.
or was the comfort for me?