By Taara Mehta
On Thursday night in New York City, I was leaving my childhood friend Aashi’s 21st birthday dinner in the East Village. Full of pasta and wine while carrying bags overflowing with books after my late-night class, I decided to call an Uber. I contemplated whether spending $20 on a two mile journey to the Financial District was worth it. But walking on the cobblestone sidewalks near my apartment on Water Street seemed impossible, especially in six-inch heels.
I hugged my girlfriends goodbye and opened the app on my phone. Trying to focus my tipsy brain, while simultaneously typing in my address, I pressed the little black “Request Driver” button and waited patiently on the side of the road. A few minutes passed. The laughter of ten other girls around me disappeared, and I was left standing alone. I pictured the heart attack my Indian mother would have if she knew I was drunk late at night standing by myself on an unfamiliar street in the big city.
I grew frantic and waited for the car to pull up in front of me. I tracked the driver, looking at his name: Davinderjit Singh. Watching the virtual car stop, I looked up from my phone but there was no car in sight. I phoned him.
“WHERE ARE YOU?” I yelled into the phone, annoyed.
“Miss, I’m at the location you gave,” responded a guy with a thick South Asian accent.
Still on the phone with what I imagined to be a short old stocky beige man, I ran up and down the street. I swore under my breath, wanting to escape the deserted street as quickly as possible.
“I’m here! I’m at the location you gave me,” he repeated.
Seconds before I was about to waste the $5.00 to cancel my trip, he spoke in the phone.
“Are you in a short white top?” he asked. I looked to see what I was wearing, a midriff-baring crop top, the top two buttons undone with skin tight jeans, and black strappy heels. If I left my house wearing this, my conservative parents would raise their eyebrows and try to stop me.
In a suburb outside Chicago, my Indian immigrant dad was a doctor and my mom stayed at home to take care of my younger sister and me. Growing up, they instilled traditional values that I deliberately rebelled against. I partied, wore short clothes, had a tattoo, and, most of all, I moved to Manhattan to study fashion.
“I see you,” I said.
I briskly walked towards a man standing on the corner waving me down, annoyed he was late. I was taken aback by the tower of muscles that stood in front of the car. Before me was the complete opposite of the old short guy I thought I was yelling to on the phone. Instead was a sharply-dressed handsome young man with caramel skin, like mine.
I made myself comfortable on the black leather seats of his Toyota Camry and watched his strong arms grip the steering wheel. He was unlike the fair-skinned, light-haired boys I usually liked, to my parents’ dismay. Maybe it was all the Chardonnay I’d had in between bites of pasta, but my eyes were transfixed on his gorgeous tan skin, sharp jawline, and spiky black hair.
Speaking above Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” remix playing on the radio, I asked where he was from. His accent was different from what I recalled on the phone. It was similar to the voices of the Bollywood actors I watched in movies when I was younger. It was deep and sexy, but boyish and playful at the same time. He told me was from India and had been living in the U.S for a few years.
Looking at me through the rear view mirror, our eyes meeting for the first time, he asked me where I was from.
“Chicago,” I replied, “but my family is from Ja-India.”
“Jalandhar?” He asked, naming the small town in rural Punjab where my grandparents still lived. “That’s where I’m from too!” he told me.
As the ride went on, he asked me if I spoke Hindi or Punjabi, the native tongue of the state of Punjab, in which Jalandhar lies. I blushed when I told him I was too nervous; he laughed when I told him that my whole family spoke English.
“How often do you go back to India?” he asked me in Hindi.
“At least once a year!” I replied without hesitation, my Midwestern accent butchering each word.
“Wow! Then you must start speaking Hindi more!” he said switching back to English.
I looked out the window and smiled, “I really should.”
We went on to talk about the best Indian food in the city. “No no no,” he said in disagreement with same click of his tongue I did. “If you want authentic Indian food you have to try the places in Queens.”
He told me he was studying business while doing Uber on the side to help get him through school and support his parents, giving me the impression he was kind and good-hearted. He was amazed that my folks let me move to the city to study fashion.
My mother and father had an arranged marriage almost twenty-five years ago and moved to the United States just days after the ceremony. My mother was only 22, around my age. I thought of how happy and in love they were, more than any other couple I knew. Thinking of the happy life my parents lived while sitting in the backseat of the handsome Uber driver’s car, I wondered what I’d been trying so hard to run away from.
After memorizing Monsoon Wedding, I was prepared for this moment. The boy and the girl meet by chance, fall in love, dance, cry, and then live happily ever after. For someone who veered away from my culture’s traditional values, the idea of a “perfect” Indian family suddenly seemed oddly appealing.
Still tipsy, during the twelve-minute car ride, I was already planning my wedding with this stranger in the driver’s seat. I would wear a traditional lengha and he would ride in on a white horse. All we needed were people to jump out of their cars and break into synchronized dance to the tune of “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire.
I imagined how we would eat chicken tikka masala and naan together, and he wouldn’t complain about the spiciness. We could travel to India each year and visit our families. Maybe our first child would end up being a doctor.
Then all of a sudden the car stopped. “Taara, we’re here,” he said.
I said “Thank you” and got out of the car. With the slam of the door, the glimpse at my traditional life vanished. Leaning against the walls of the elevator going up to my apartment, I went on my phone and texted my friends, telling them about the Uber ride I just had.
Contact him! they typed back.
I texted the number I had called earlier that night while searching for the Uber and texted: Hey! It’s the girl from Jalandhar!
I got excited when my phone immediately buzzed. The number you have dialed cannot be contacted and is only used for Uber service.
Later, still trying my luck, I typed his name in Facebook. With India having a billion people within the country and thousands of more living across the globe, scrolling through the lists of Davinderjit Singhs seemed endless.
In the end I gave him five stars, hoping one day our stars would align again.
Taara Mehta is currently studying to complete a degree in Fashion Marketing and Journalism at the Parsons School of Design. She enjoys understanding and writing about her strong Indian culture and hopes to be a voice for South Asian women worldwide. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @taaramehta.
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