The Indian Outsider

An Indian Jew struggles as an outsider in Israel.

Born in a dusty hospital amidst roaring Bombay traffic, I would never have imagined my life would turn into a version of Russian Roulette. While in the original deadly game, one loads a bullet into a revolver and leaves the remaining five chambers empty, in its Israeli adaptation you have six bullets, no empty chambers and one imaginary gun. Like in a game of musical chairs, this weapon moves round and round. All you can hope is that when the disc jockey stops the music the muzzle isn’t pointing at you.
On the July 12, the music stopped and its muzzle pointed to the Sharon Mall, only a short distance from my house in Natanya. Window shutters banged hard against their hinges and shattered glass flew across newly planted geraniums and tulips. The sound of cars and buses moving across adjacent streets drowned out groans of pain while cameras clicked furiously to relay the images in time for the eight o’clock news.

 The author is checked by a friendly security guard at a shopping mall in Natanya

A week later, I made my way to the mall to buy a book for class. The moment he noticed me, the security guard palmed the butt of his loaded M-16 and stared at me with open hatred. When I was close enough, he ordered me to open my bag and after rummaging through it, demanded I show him my identity card. As I pulled it out, he came closer and puffed hot air into my face.

“Are you sure you are not armed?” he threatened while ordering people to take a few steps back. I shook my head and handed over my identity card. He tried to insert a nail in between the picture and its plastic covering. “Are you sure that this is yours?”

I nodded, and he continued, “Where are you going?” Inside of course, I wanted to yell out. “What is your name? Where do you live? Where are you coming from? What is your business here?”

When he ran out of questions, he reluctantly allowed me to walk through. People parted in front. They seemed to be in tacit agreement with the guard who thought that even though he didn’t find a bomb, it didn’t mean that I didn’t have one. Trying to avoid the constant stares, I hurried into the nearest bookstore, but the supervisor at the counter immediately looked up and then whispered, “Check out that dark man! What is he doing in the English section?”
Within seconds, a salesperson appeared by my side to inquire if I needed assistance. I demurred, but hearing my thick Indian accent she continued. “Are you looking for a present? Do you mind if I recommend a new bestseller?”

Yes, I wanted to say; I do mind. However, I allowed her to show me the new Sidney Sheldon: Are You Afraid of the Dark? with a voluptuous blond on its cover. I smiled, but declined politely. Though she continued eyeing me suspiciously, I rummaged through the neatly arranged bookshelf and as soon as I found the book for class, I made my way briskly towards the counter. The supervisor looked at it, then at me, and inquired, “Would you like me to wrap it up as a present?”

Exasperated, I agreed; it wouldn’t be the first present I had bought myself. Taking the note I handed her, she squinted at me and held it up to the light. Calling out loudly to the salesperson at the other end of the bookstore, she asked for help in identifying a counterfeit note. As all eyes in the bookstore turned, I shifted my weight uncomfortably from one leg to the other and looked down in embarrassment. Contemplating why they were mistreating me, I suddenly remembered the first time I realized how others saw me.

Sitting nervously on the creamy leather sofa in my Israeli girlfriend’s house, I had heard her mother whisper, “…but he’s so dark!”

Then during dinner a few weeks later, the woman, who up to that point had ignored me, turned towards me and asked how Jews had reached India. Something in her smile and cynical tone made me hit back. Whispering, I replied that it was a well-kept secret and I had just discovered the truth. my girlfriend’s Polish family stopped eating and listened attentively.

“The Germans were not as efficient as we all think and sometimes their ovens shut down unexpectedly while they were cooking. The officers present were ashamed and sent emergency requests to the high command requesting a definite and permanent solution.”

Her 10 year old brother cut in, “But why didn’t they just fix the ovens and resume cooking?”
Her 12-year-old sister replied, “Because, dimwit, you can’t cook something twice, it gets spoilt.” As she gleamed with pride, but my girlfriend and her mother were glaring at me angrily. Her father was dumbstruck.

“After lengthy deliberations,” I continued, “they decided to smuggle all the half-cooked Jews to a place where other dark people lived. The high command was delighted: the trains wouldn’t leave the camps empty and no one would ever find out. But an old Indian fakir made accurate notes, and these were found last week in a pass near Katmandu.”

Smiling to myself at the recollection, I tucked the novel under my arm and walked out of the Sharon Mall. As I approached a bus stop, a security guard in a black pullover stared. Opening my jacket, I hoped he’d realize that I had nothing suspicious strapped underneath, but he began walking towards me. I needed to prove I am Israeli and I needed to do it fast. A blond girl, who looked somewhat like my girlfriend, was standing a few feet in front of me and so I began to stare at her jeans. Trying to appear as conspicuous as I could, I obnoxiously let out loud puffs of air and as soon as the guard was close enough, I muttered loudly, “Wow! Look at that nice piece of ass.”

The guard stopped. Glancing at the blond, he nodded, smiled and strolled off. But she heard my remark and in a strong Russian accent cursed me repeatedly. It was loud enough to have made people move away from me in disgust, but none did, for no one was standing close anyway. A 22 number bus halted a few feet ahead and nearly each passenger who alighted, rushed passed in apprehension.

I am angry. But more than that I am truly sad, because I left India to make my home in Israel. But because Israelis fear me, I have remained an outsider. After class, or after work, when I am in a hurry I cannot rush home. If I button up my coat, people will stand as far away as possible and if I run the guard will shout and order me to stop.

Initially, like in my girlfriend’s house, I joked and shrugged away my despair. But now, as bombs go off around me and as the people with whom my blood might intermingle look at me with rising suspicion and fear, I want to scream that I too am participating in this deadly game. But they aren’t listening. Desperately searching for the disc jockey, they are hoping to catch sight of the muzzle a second before the music stops. 

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