17 December 2023

Israel is not sure I am an Indian by birth

“Yes. Israel?”
“Yes, sir!”

And that is how we started our Uber trip in the morning from the hotel to San Francisco airport.

“Where is that accent from, Israel?”
“Are you from Lagos? Abuja? Or the rural parts?”
“Lagos. How do you know about Nigeria?”
“Well, believe it or not, I have a school friend who works in Lagos and another in Abuja.”
“Are you from India?”
“That I am”
“Have you been to Nigeria?”
“No. Actually I have never been to anywhere in Africa.”
“Oh! You do not know what you are missing.”
“I know. The irony is my elder daughter was in your neighboring country Ghana for half a year. And my younger daughter is going to be in Uganda for some time next year. But I have not.”

That started an interesting conversation with Israel. Once I found out about his family – both in Nigeria and in the USA – we moved on to discussions of Nigeria. The politics there – the vast difference in the economies of the north and the south, the religious lines, the recent change in Presidency and so on. We, of course talked a lot about soccer. I told him how we grew up watching stars like Roger Milla from his neighboring country – Cameroon.

What startled me about Israel was his knowledge about India. He seemed to be quite abreast of the economic developments and politics in India. In fact, he was outright in praise of India and what it has achieved in the last couple of decades.

“I love Modi,” he declared.
“You do? Why do you like Modi?”
“He has kept India non aligned. He is not willing to be afraid of anybody – not China, not USA, not Russia. This is important for a country to grow up.”

“What do you think of Modi?” he asked me.
Instead of directly answering the question, I talked about all the positives and negatives I hear from my friends and read in the news.

From there Israel went into the different states of India. He demonstrated great interest in the different languages in India.

“Is it true that all your languages are different?”
“Yes. I have lived in four states. And my mother tongue cannot get me a glass of water in any of the other three states if I tried.”

“Where is Punjab?”
“It is in the north. Bordering on Pakistan.”
“What language to they speak there?”

He delved into Punjab for some time. Now, I was getting a little wary. There has been some deep political controversy recently that involves India, Canada, USA and some Punjabi citizens in USA and Canada that India considers as terrorists. Given the depth of knowledge Israel had on economics and politics, I was sure that this is where his curiosity was coming from.

“I know a name from Punjab.”
“You do?”

I could not understand the name he gave. I was not sure whether it was his accent or he was pronouncing it wrong. So, I asked him
“What was that name again?”

“Yes, Yes,” he was clearly excited.

I started laughing out loud. He was talking about the famous Bollywood actor Dharmendra from the 1960s-80s. Bollywood movies were, and still are, a staple export from India to Africa. Interestingly enough, Nigeria has grown a very large movie production industry too. Bollywood today produces the largest number of movies in the world! As luck would have it, Nollywood (from Nigeria) is the second largest!

Anyways, I was laughing my head off, as I mentioned. Partly relieved that we had moved from politics and partly that he remembered Dharmendra.

Israel was still on a high. In a raised voice, he kept saying…

“I know Durminda. I know Sholay.”
“Well, you know more about them than me. I have not seen Sholay myself.”
“What?” Clearly, his enthusiasm was punctured.
“You are no Indian man, you are no Indian”, he kept saying, shaking his head!

And I just kept laughing to myself.

Finally, as we pulled into the airport and he came out to take my suitcase out, I asked him if we could take a picture together.

“Of course. But you have to promise to see Sholay when you go back home. Total action, man!”
“Ok. I will!!”

That was a fun start for the day.

If any of you take an Uber in San Francisco and the driver is an Israel from Lagos, ask him “Have you seen Shree Char So Bees? Asking for a friend!”

Posted December 17, 2023 by Rajib Roy in category "Intersection Points

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