Excerpt from Week 3 – Ashley drops a bombshell

Sunday, 28 April, 1991

Marcus: The Stud

Jaggu, Naina and I were chanting ‘ice ice’ again, when Ashley walked up. And with him was this boy.

When I think of that moment I feel odd even now, like someone’s trying to tickle me from the inside!

The boy was Ashley’s American friend—Marcus. His big surprise. His best friend from when he was studying in the US, who had decided to visit him in the summer break. It turned out that I was the only one who didn’t know about him because I kept rebuffing Ashley’s attempts to tell me and he made the others swear they wouldn’t.

Marcus was six foot tall, golden haired, blue-eyed and well built—he looked more like a college guy than a schoolboy. And now he was striding towards us, a wide smile across his face revealing sparkling white teeth.

Naina stopped singing and smiled. Jaggu said something like ‘Yo, man! So you got here after all!’ and went up to shake hands with him.

I just stopped mid-ice and stood and gaped with my mouth wide open!

Ashley introduced Marcus. He had a proper American accent like you hear on TV, not like Ashley’s now Indian, now Yankee one. He shook hands vigorously with Jaggu, saying, ‘Howyadoing, man? Nice to meet y’all!’

Then sooner than I was ready, he turned to greet me. I put my hand out weakly and felt his strong hand grip mine as he said, ‘Vi-neeeet-aah! Lovely name! I’m so delighted to make your acquaintance!’

All too soon, he was clutching Naina’s hand and repeating similar words, while my hand suddenly felt cold where he had touched it.


There was an awkward silence. Of course, we all talked mostly in English with one another, but—at least I—suddenly felt self-conscious and wanted to keep shut, for fear of sounding unpolished.

The silence was broken by Vinay, driving up on his Luna. He clapped Marcus on the back and said, ‘Hey, mate! You must be Marcus! Isn’t that what you Americans call one another—“mate”?’

Marcus grinned as Ashley quickly piped in, ‘No, actually, that’s what the Australians say!’ Anyway, the ice was broken and soon Marcus was chatting with everyone comfortably. After we realized that we could understand everything he said (Thank god for MTV, CNN, Oprah and The Bold and the Beautiful), and he seemed to understand us, things got easy. Of course, when I say easy, I mean it for the rest of them. I kept quiet all the while and listened to his honey-smooth voice as he talked of always wanting to come to India to meet the pretty Indian girls!

I thought—what if he’s talking about Naina when he talks about pretty Indian girls? I had to find a subtle way of letting him know that she was interested in someone else—my moronic brother! The admiration might even be mutual—I had noticed that even Vinay wasn’t calling her ‘Dumbness’ as he used to…

But all that later! I have to come clean now about the embarrassing communication class. We had to leave Marcus all too soon and go to Maggie’s class, and for once, I wasn’t keen to go. Marcus headed to Ashley’s home to get over his jet lag and we went to class.

Ironically, we were discussing American writing and its impact on English fiction. Then Maggie asked the class—‘Can you think of any prominent American writers?’ and without giving anyone a chance, I shot my hand up and replied, ‘Marcus Twain.’

Jaggu hooted. Naina made big eyes at me while Ashley looked startled. Maggie gently corrected me, ‘I think you mean Mark Twain, Vinita!’

My cheeks were blazing. How could I be such an utter ass? I was sure that Jaggu would go and tell this story to Marcus. I would have to bribe him bigtime to get him to leave this alone!

At least my assignment for the week wasn’t a total washout; I got a ‘good job’. In keeping with the ‘American’ focus, this one was supposed to be our perspective on the American influences on Indian television.

Vinita’s Perspective on American Influences on Indian Television

This is an easy assignment. I have a one-word perspective—Fantastic! It’s hard to imagine how life was before cable TV brought us the world of Western television. My friends and I were starving for music television, living off dated music videotapes sent to us by grudging and snobbish relatives; my mom and aunts were tired of preachy serials where the wife is always the silent, suffering one; and my dad and uncles were becoming myopic from having to peer at the tiny newsprint to find international news in our local newspapers. Enter MTV, Star Plus and CNN, and we’re in a different world.


I will admit there were some shocks and surprises initially—I discovered that Michael Jackson was now white, my parents found out that people kiss openly on TV, which is something that we Indians don’t do even in the movies, and all of us had to tune our ears to understand the accents foreign news presenters have.

However, the important thing is this—what we’re all left with, even more than the shock and the surprise, is a sense of comfort. There are a lot of things that are indeed different in our culture and Western, especially American culture. But increasingly, I am struck by the similarities.

Boys and girls in music videos may bump and grind in a way that will send an Indian teen to eternal detention in their rooms, but in the end, they just want to fall in love and have a special friend. American women in talk shows may wear mammoth shoulder pads, bigger hairdos and talk in a direct manner that not even men talk in here, but they talk about problems that are really universal and it may be a good thing if we talked about them too. And the foreign news channels may talk about every part of the world while mentioning India in passing, but we know what’s happening in India from our own papers, and besides, Dad and my uncles say that it won’t be long before we’re on everyone’s radar screen.

So in the final analysis, cable is great, and the extent to which the Western media influences us, probably depends on—us.


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