What I know it isn’tIt is not coming from England.
And it isn’t Chotu looking at me in a sulk because I didn’t finish the egg curry he made for lunch.
It isn’t the air conditioning that sits next to my pillow and is as old as the partition.
It isn’t feeling guilty about the size of the car and the tint of the windows. It isn’t gazing up at men clinging to the top of a bus like I’ve seen in movies.
It isn’t the eating of dahl and puri with my hands from a trucker stop like the guide books tell you not to.
It isn’t the wall of steam that winds you as you get out of the car.
And it’s not the little kid running around in shorts with big brown eyes like we’ve all seen in the movies. It’s not when you have to decide whether you are the sort of man who really is going to pull a spoon out of his pocket at lunch.
It’s not before you turn the bucket and you brace yourself for the cold.
It’s not when he says “white man” and points.
It’s not when you try to keep your heels on the ground and your hands on your knees.
And it isn’t the stench of piss that winds you as you get out the car. Get off the bus. Get out the taxi. Get off the train. Get out the shack.
It isn’t rhyming sickness, or dead dogs in the street.
And it isn’t the smell of the handmade cigarettes as the solitary folded leaf burns down and catches your fingers.
And it isn’t the hot tea on your tongue or the fact that it’s never been this sweet before. It isn’t because you laugh at the realisation that musicians of all styles and all cultures take far too long to tune up.
And it isn’t the drum that makes a noise like the sonic boom but you’ve no idea how it does that, or how you’d spell that.
And it isn’t if you had to it would be “boiyyyyyin” And it isn’t learning the Bengali word for Thankyou.
And it isn’t forgetting the Bengali word for Thankyou. It isn’t eating your dinner with nothing but your right hand- your nails all rice and gravy.
It isn’t trying to keep your balance standing on a boat in the middle of the Ganges.
It isn’t smiling at her because she smiled at you first.
And it isn’t because she looks like we’ve all seen in the singing movies all white teeth and saturated colours. And it isn’t going to the toilet with nothing but your left hand-
It isn’t about the bites, or the swelling, or the cardamon flavoured dessert, or the mushroom curry that will never be better.
It isn’t the stench of perfume, sweat and cum or his little eyes looking back at you like you did it.
It isn’t the rain pounding your face as you look up at the most beautiful sky you’ve ever seen. It isn’t walking through the market, a hundred tired faces staring and none of them smiling back.
And it isn’t the raw chilli that somehow cools your eyes.
It isn’t the father under the bridge holding the baby in a way that we will never see in the singing movies.
And it isn’t the eyes and no words that explain the day, and the way home. But these are the signs that point the way to what it is.