“Mom, can we do a drive-through takeout at MacDonald’s? I am super hungry!” urged my thirteen-year-old son, Ishaan, when I was driving him to his Taekwondo class last Thursday evening.
I mutter to myself that kids these days are not content on just being chauffeured; they also want to be served meals on wheels!
Instant panic invaded me; my fingers froze on the steering for a fraction of a second. I took a deep breath and replied, “But I have never done that, not sure I can do it!”
“What, you have never done it in your 13 years in the USA? It’s really not a big deal- just drive up the microphone and I will place the order”, he said in the final tone of an adult having resolved a conflict. My boy, with a line of hair on his upper lip, lost in texts and games on his cell phone, never noticed that dad has always been his butler at drive-through restaurants.
“What do you mean? I can talk in English. It’s not about speaking”, I retorted with a smidge of the budding indignation inside me.How dare he!
So, Ishaan thinks I have trouble communicating in English? Maybe, somewhere in his mind is etched the indelible image of the hapless immigrant mom from India in the Indian Bollywood movie titled ‘English Vinglish’. This woman, the protagonist, flies to the USA from India to attend a relative’s wedding and dares to explore New York on her own, unescorted. Although she knows some English, she cannot understand and emulate the American English accent. She struggles to order a coffee at Starbucks and ends up being scorned at and insulted by the Starbucks staff. Being spurned once, she takes up the challenge, enrolls herself in takes a spoken English course and is able to speak fluently by the end of the 2.5-hour long movie. I have never heard Starbucks baristas speak in a condescending tenor, so I doubt the plot, but then it’s just a movie! A majority of movies won’t see the insides of dark theaters if the veracity of their premises were to be duly confirmed.
I was born, raised and educated in India, so my spoken English is influenced by the British since India had been a British colony for two centuries. My son corrects my words, pronunciations, and spellings at times. I say dustbin, he says trashcan; I say canteen, he says café; I write colour, he writes color. No matter how many times he has tried, I can’t train my tongue to stress the right syllables in Kentucky and Indianapolis. I seek his help comprehending some slang and colloquial expressions like ‘Get the ball rolling’, but that does that justify his finding congruence between the movie mom and me. After all, I work outside the house in a full-time job and like to believe that I am a valued employee.
My hesitation for the proposed drive-through takeout did not stem for my language deficiency but from my diminutive physical dimensions. When you are the size of a hobbit (barely 5ft) dwelling in a land of regulars, you have to think about a lot of things! I have a sprawling heart but my arms fail to measure up to it. My mind was fraught with doubts --what if my arms don’t meet the hands of the generous person doling out the lucrative food packages and the sugar-high drinks; what if I drive into the wondrous wall and the windows that quickly quell hunger? Then I would have to fish out my insurance card from the bundle of ancient, redundant ones and report the damage and have to get the car fixed after swallowing the magnanimous lecture by the husband.
Suddenly, woken up from my reverie, I decide to tread the path of sermon-sulk, which my son and I practice adeptly many times a day. It rarely works but I believe in trying and then failing. So, I eulogize the benefits of healthy snacks like fruits and demonize the empty-calorie comestibles sold by the golden arches. I sermon; he sulks. Eventually, after a few curve balls from my pubescent son, I conceded to his right to be spoiled as a single child. Somewhere in an obscure alley in my brain lives the gnawing thought that I have deprived him of a sibling, so I need to make up for that!
With all my courage, I decided to take on the formidable golden arches of the citadel that caves and bends for none. I approached the microphone and rattled off the order of Filet Fish burger and fries with incredible surety and aplomb. Ishaan’s awestruck eyes met this first little success of mine, with approval. I gave myself a ten on ten for this feat. Then I slowly drove to the payment window, steering carefully to maintain the distance between my wheels and the fortress walls. Lo and behold! Mr. MacD’s hands met mine and I presented my credit card without having to lift my bottom from my seat! Second success and I was on cloud nine! Small people are eligible for drive-through food! At that moment, I left the confines of my body and floated as a feather to the next window under a spell of exhilaration, where my oblivious partner handed me the steaming package; his arm and mine traversed the distance like they were sized appropriately for this moment in life. And it was done!!The battle was conquered.
I handled the steaming hot package to Ishaan, who was beaming with palpable pride. I had successfully checked off one item from the voluminous litany of “Things everyone else can do”. And I was handed one fry as a reward by my new admirer and I can say that the fried tuber of my labor was crispier than ever!