Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Assault on the Senses: Days 5 - 7

Day 5

I’ve had a knot in my chest since the day I got here.
Perhaps it’s homesickness, or anxiety. Whatever it is, it doesn’t want to go away.

Today, I went to visit the human rights attorney I’ll be interning for during my stay. As I sat in his office waiting for him to arrive, my eyes immediately began scanning my surroundings. The walls were mainly covered with shelves upon shelves, on which rested volumes of legal books such as Judgments Today and Indian Law Reports, placed in chronological order.

A yellow-gold statue of lady justice stood near the attorney’s desk. I stared at it for a few minutes wondering what was wrong with it, and then I realized that she was not wearing a blindfold. As I looked into her golden open eyes, I wondered if justice was not blind here in India.

I remember hearing that the attorney did a lot of work on women’s rights issues, which explained the choice of décor. Images of Mata Gujri and Mai Bhago were framed on the walls next to the shelves of books.  

As I gazed upon the image of Mai Bhago, a dastaar on her head, fearlessly raising a sword, majestically riding her horse into battle, I remembered why I was there.

And in that moment, the knot in my chest melted away.

Day 6

My family has been taking me out to eat at all these interesting places with food that is oh-so-yummy-in-my-tummy. We had dinner at McDonalds the other day, which for the record is way better in India. Yesterday, we went to this fancy pizza joint, where I watched as people ate pizza with a fork and knife. But I’m a New Yorker, so of course I picked up that slice and folded it.

Today, we went to the theater to see the movie Talaash. Instead of paying the $10 a ticket to see a movie like you do back home, here in India, you pay like you would when going to see a Broadway show- by how good your seat is. And the theaters are awesome. They have seats that slide back and recline, and the sound system surrounding you makes for a very entertaining movie. Also, here, intermissions are actual intermissions, where the movie stops for about ten minutes and you get to stretch or get food.

The most interesting part of the experience was before the movie started. After the normal advertisements, a notice about how smoking is injurious to your health went up on the screen. They proceeded to show very graphic, revolting images and video about the harmful effects of smoking. It was basically like, hey, we're about to show you some characters with cigarettes lit up, and though they're going to die in dramatic and unpredictable ways during the course of this film, if you smoke, these are the terrible ways in which you will die.

I couldn't help but smile (after I looked away from the images of course) because it reminded me of a similar notice I saw on TV the day before, which was given prior to the airing of a popular American TV show. As I watched, I also noticed that they bleeped out words like "bitch" and "sex" and "ass." It was interesting to see how the censoring was linked to what was culturally acceptable.

Speaking of culture, there was something about the way customer service operates that struck me as intriguing. Whereas America is a very do-it-yourself kind of country, businesses in India are very focused on customer satisfaction. If you walk into a jewelry or clothing store, the staff will immediately bring you refreshments. If you walk into a small shop, people jump up to attend to you, and God forbid you touch something, they will not let you leave before you try it on. I'm not going to lie - it's kind of wonderful.

Day 7

It's funny how I had to travel halfway across the world to realize where home is.

Growing up in an all-white neighborhood in Staten Island, I always felt a bit out of place. It was home, but I stuck out from the others with my long braid and caramel skin. I always thought I would blend in when I was in India - that it would be a different kind of home. But here, eyes follow me, and well, my accented Hindi is always a dead give-away.
I'm an outsider.

I shadowed the attorney I'm interning for at the High Court in Chandigarh today for the first time. Dressed in the legal uniform- black dress pants, a black blazer, and a button-down white shirt, all I was missing was the black gown that the attorneys wore. Still, people would stare at me through my disguise. I proceeded to the waiting room, where the attorneys sat and read through case files, and waited for the time to present their cases.
And once those cases started, they kept going.

I followed the paralegal into the first courtroom. The judge sat at the front and center behind a large raised desk, on a deep maroon chair with a gold seal on the back. Beneath and in front of him, a woman and a man sat writing down whatever the judge mumbled to them. Towards the center of the room, the attorneys sat on either side behind a large desk facing the judge. Behind them, there were a few rows of black cushioned benches for attorneys and behind these benches, a few rows of chairs for the public. Along the walls were large oak cabinets with glass doors, behind which rested volumes of Punjab Law Reporter, arranged chronologically with their red and gold covers tarnished with time. Behind the judge was the only décor in the room: a large framed picture of Mahatma Gandhi.

Fortunately for me, the proceedings were all in English. But they weren’t what I expected. The lawyers would just make their arguments, answer questions asked by the judge, and the judge would issue a verdict, which for the most part was only audible to the two people who scribbled away in front of the judge. There was no calling of witnesses, no objections, no jury. Just simple question-answer sessions, and decisions. And instead of banging a gavel (there wasn't one), the judge would slam the case file on the desk in front of him. Then, we'd move to another courtroom. Another case. Rinse and repeat. This cycle continued for about seven cases as I observed. I encountered one female judge and witnessed one female attorney presenting arguments. Other than that, the men ran the show. In my head, I did a silent cheer for the women.

After court that day, I walked down the path towards the road, feeling the eyes that followed me, knowing that I did not fit in. I sat in the three-wheeler that would take me back to the house. As the wind blew my hair about and the seat shook along the bumpy road, I thought about home, where all of a sudden, I felt like I belonged.


  1. Bani, your writing is beautiful. Seriously, so many times I read your posts and get a knot in my stomach or that before-you-cry lump in my throat and sometimes I don't even know why. Keep writing forever. <3

    Also, enjoy your trip & best of luck with your internship there!


    1. Harmeet, thank you so much; that really means the world to me <3
      I'll continue to write as long as I'm inspired by talented people like you :)
      Hope you're doing well!

  2. Yet another amazing article. Your writing is indeed very touching and relatable to so many. Good luck with your internship and I do hope I have the pleasure of meeting you there when I visit later this month :)

    - Harkiran

    1. Harkiran, thank you so much for reading & for your feedback; I really appreciate it! :)