Culture shock

Roshni liked her coffee with milk and sugar, although she had not been much of a coffee drinker when she first came to Australia but she could not develop a taste for tea made out of tea bags. She loved strong CTC, steeped with the first flush of Darjeeling tea, just the aroma of that brew was enough to wake her up in the mornings whilst at home. However, thousands of miles away in Sydney, that brew was a luxury she could not afford so she had switched to coffee, strong milk coffee that she held in her hand, as she looked out of the window that cold July morning.

 

July was the mid of winter in Australia, she longed for December when the sun would burn you down and people would flock to the beaches in hundreds to wallow, surf and swim in the salty waters that stung your eyes red, but summer she loved despite its harshness. It had a merriness about it that was contagious in the whole continent.

 

Roshni swerved her car out of the driveway and zoomed right toward the Woolong crescent exit, weekdays were always the same for her. A senior executive at an Event Management firm, she had come to Australia ten years ago now she was an Australian by heart if not by birth, she loved everything about the country, she was a permanent resident here and was awaiting her citizenship.

“Hey there beautiful! How about dinner tonight?” Terry flirted with her as usual.

“Next time Terry” she smiled at him.

“Letters?” she asked her assistant Ronald on the go and entered her cabin before he could answer.

“On your desk” he hollered back without looking up from his computer screen.

Her morning was a usual flurry of activity she had grown to like and respect, the coming week was going to be a big one as The Flintstones were performing in Sydney and her firm was organizing the event, the whole office had been putting in extra hours of work and Roshni on her part had cancelled all her appointments with her dentist, chiropractor and even a party with Jake and his friends for the whole week including the weekend. The whole office was going to work with no offs, when out of the ordinary she received the phone call from India.

Her parents so far had managed to time their calls to evenings or late afternoons for her convenience, which was way odd an hour for them, but parents were the kind of breed that sacrificed a hell lot for their children without even realizing it.

“Hello baba!” his warm voice brought about a smile to her face amidst this frenzy of work, however, the smile froze the very next second when like a bolt from the blue he delivered his happy news.

“Your mother and I have acquired a visa for Australia, our flight is for day after tomorrow” his happiness was palpable over the phone itself.

“What?” Roshni staggered and took support of the table to recompose.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were planning a visit?”

“We wanted to surprise our little girl”, her father happily cooed from thousands of miles away.

“I cannot tell you how surprised I am”, she added after a long pause.

Roshni and Jake had been living together for past two year. Jake was a research scholar at the University.

Their relationship had been more of friends with benefits, it worked well for both of them, but lately things were changing and feelings alien to this arrangements had started creeping in, making them both a little insecure about the other.

Roshni had definitely toyed with the idea of permanence in some moment of vulnerability; the appeal of that stage had not escaped Jake either but those were still just ideas, formative and not fully ascertained in their minds. However, the budding romantic inclinations came to an abrupt halt triggered by the phone call from home that Roshni had received that morning.

You will have to leave the apartment ” she pleaded with Jake that night

“What? Why” Jake was bewildered.

“My parents are coming this weekend” Roshni primed him while working away on her computer.

“Well, Ok, good” Jake was happy for her.

“Good? Is that all you have to say?” Roshni was visibly distraught.

“Yes, why are you so upset, you must be happy, you haven’t met them for how many years?” Jake genuinely sounded surprised.

“Three years, but that’s not the point! they do not know about you” she did not have enough time to explain him everything because she had brought her work home.

“So?” Jake sounded hurt.

“Does that make any difference? You can tell them now”

“ No, you don’t get it, they can’t know about you…..like this” she threw up her hands in exasperation.

“Why, what do you mean like this? Like what”

“Oh! I don’t have time to explain, please pack your stuffs and leave, please”
“But darling where will I go?” he mocked at her hurt by her reasoning.

“Jake!, love!, you will have to go! Even if you have to sleep by the sidewalk”

“Because they do not know about you and they cannot know about you, like this” she tried to convince him.

“Please try to understand, my parents are going to have a heart attack, literally.”

“No girl, I cannot, I have no place to go” Jake calmly reasoned with her while playing his video game.

“Oh but you will have to, please don’t be so stubborn, I’m packing your things tomorrow” she made known her final decision. “Wait, I’m booked to the brim with work till Tuesday, please pack yourself baby” she was desperate.

The weekend arrived in a blink of an eye she had pushed Jake with the mulishness of a British bulldog sent him packing with his toothbrush and underwear and everything her eyes could see. She had asked Preeti, her friend from India to take him in for a few days to which her friend had readily agreed as her roommate from Malaysia had been unfortunately deported the past week and was now looking for a lodger to share the rent. Jake grudgingly gave in.

“I will not stay there for more than a weekend”, he announced as she shut the door and started cleaning, mostly to erase any trace of him from the apartment.

Roshni reached the airport like the dutiful daughter; she was genuinely delighted to see her parents after three years.

“You all should have told me before coming, I’d have managed my schedule now you’ll have to do without me for a week!” she informed her jetlagged parents one of whom was already falling asleep at the backseat as she drove them to her apartment.

“Ok dad listen to me very carefully, when we reach the apartment I’m going to teach you and mum how to operate certain gadgets and appliances and then I’ll have to run back to work. I am really caught this week so please manage around the house ok” she pleaded with her dad while driving her car at a break-neck speed.

“Ok” her dad sounded hurt, this wasn’t what he had expected maybe but she did not have the time to manage it any other ways.

“Good thing Jake agreed to move, I don’t how I could have handled that explaining at this hour” she thanked God inwardly and swerved into her driveway.

She hurriedly ushered them in showing which buttons to press to go into the flat. Once inside she ran them through the locks, the intercom, the ovens, washing machines, dishwashers and everything of importance.

“Did you forget we use washing machines and ovens back home?” her mum sounded cross.

“No mum, I remember, its just that their working systems are a tad different here, see this one is electric oven, we use gas oven at home, isn’t it?” she genuinely asked for she had not been home for three years.

“Ok mum, dad, please do not wait up for me, I’ll be late so I will see myself in”.

She was sure her parents could survive the digital environment of the apartment without her. She could not worry anymore so she decided to focus on her work.

……….

Roshni’s parents were simple folks they had never been outside India and were definitely fascinated by everything in this new country.

 

Her father, Mr. Dinesh Rai, who was an accountant by profession was visibly enthralled by the window blinds which could be drawn either up or down with a switch in the light panel so he kept on switching it on and off to his wife’s annoyance.

“Why are you acting like a school kid?” his wife rebuked him when he wouldn’t stop.

“I am hungry, what about you?” she asked her husband.

Mrs. Malati Rai was a woman of cheerful disposition, until now, a housewife in every form of address and vocation. She had a group of friends, a social circle with its set of obligations, she would visit the salon once a month so she could look the younger version of her actual self in the best interest of the society at the delicate age of fifty five.

“Hmmm!” her husband replied, now the box of detergent, which had tiny balls inside, instead of powder, had caught his attention.

Exploring in the apartment kept the husband and wife busy when suddenly the phone hanging near the door started ringing.

“That means there is someone outside isn’t it aama?” he asked his wife, he was used to calling her aama which meant mother because of the kids.

“Yes, that’s what she had said, I think you will have to answer the phone and ask who it is before opening the door.” His wife reminded him of the protocols to be followed in this foreign land.

“Hello?” he suspiciously answered.

“Hi” a man’s voice came from the other end “Can I come in?” he added.

“No,…..!Why”, Mr. Rai was indecisive about letting a stranger in.

“Oh! I need to”, insisted the man.

“Are you plumber?” Mr. Rai remembered her daughter telling him how service providers are the only ones that visit them unannounced if any, otherwise they also came by appointment only.

“No”, the man answered.

“Cable?”

“No, Mr. Rai, I am Jake, Roshni’s friend”

“Roshni is not home yet” Mr. Rai was not convinced enough to open.

“I know, she’ll be here only at seven usually but this week I’m not sure, she might come in later than usual” so he knew her, her dad was almost convinced but still not fully.

“Then why do you need to come?”

“Because”. A long pause ensued while he stood there indecisive of his next sentence. “I live here” he finally blurted it out.

Mr. Dinesh Rai opened the door more out of curiosity than the shock of the sentence that had just hit him from the other side, which had not yet registered fully in his mind. He looked at the man standing at the door, a tall well-built fellow with a rather disheveled look smiled at him.

“Hello, I am Jake, Jake Cole, no relation with the supermarket whatsoever” Jake loved to add the suffix whenever introductions ensued, it gave him a kind of literary pleasure to do it. He could not think of anything else to say so he squeezed himself between the door and the dumbfounded father of his lover to usher himself in.

 

“Who is it?” asked his wife from the kitchen who was still trying to figure out the working of a dishwasher and the tiny tablet that went in it.

“Is Roshni home?” She happily walked into the living room.

“Hi” Jake smiled at her.

 

“Who is this,” she somewhat recoiled back at seeing a stranger and demanded the answer from her husband not bothering to reply Jake.

“ I don’t know”, announced her ill-informed husband

“Huh?” both the parties seemed at loss for words.

“What do you want” Mr. Rai finally collected his wits about him.

“Well Sir! Ma’am! I live here” Jake informed them formally.

“With your daughter”, he added as an afterthought

Mrs. Rai could not bear to stand anymore at this juncture and sat down with the help of the sofa’s armrest. Was she about to faint, one could not tell for sure, for the very next minute she charged him with the ferocity of a tigress.

“What do you mean you live here with my daughter? Do you want us to call the police?”

The sentence lacked coherence in any context to Jake for he could not make out how the police fitted in it in any way.

“Sorry?” Jake genuinely could not fathom the relevance of the law here.

“Should we call the police” Mr. Rai took over, however, his question lacked conviction too.

“Why? Do you need any kind of assistance?” Jake offered in sincerest interest.

“You go!” Mrs. Rai could no longer form multi-syllable sentences.

“No, I cannot, I have no place to go” Jake informed them apologetically.

“I’ll share Roshni’s room, the two of you can have the other one”, Jake offered politely. It seemed like the best possible arrangement to Jake, he could still not understand why he needed to move out, as it was just two more people in the house who could easily be accommodated without his departure.

The husband and wife at once erupted into a flurry of sentences or accusations at Jake in a language he did not understand and all of a sudden Mrs. Rai began to sob uncontrollably.

Jake was alarmed to such an extent that he got up from the sofa and stood at the far corner of the room, his actions were so sudden that it shocked the husband and wife in turn to some degree and the crying subdued a little and so did their shouting or accusing whatever it was.

Both the parties were experiencing what is known as culture shock, first hand.

Jake was nervous in his own way but for the lack of another person to unbridle, he seemed the peaceful version, for now. He strived to make them understand in a calmer way.

“Mr Rai, Mrs. Rai!” he spoke very softly so that they wouldn’t be scared.

“ I am Roshni’s boyfriend and you need not feel alarmed” he informed them in the simplest of sentences the sound of which sent Mrs. Rai to hysterics.

She literally started wailing. His dulcet tones had not yielded the desired results.

“Ok I am sorry” he apologized for the umpteenth time since he had arrived but the actual reason for apology had not made itself relevant to him yet.

“Let me rephrase this, I live here with Roshni…” Mrs Rai did not let him finish the sentence and hurled curses after curses at him in a language he was happy he did not understand, again.

“Ok” he gave up.

“I need a drink”, he walked over to the fridge and poured himself a glass of wine, he poured another one and looked at Mr. Rai, who looked so lost that Jake decided he needed a drink and thrust the glass into his hands. Maybe some alcohol in the system would work in his favor.

“ I am hungry” Jake announced, steering clear from mentioning their daughter.

He went inside the kitchen followed by the parents of his lover, the dishwasher was drawn out and dishes strewn haphazardly, all the wash tablets in the tablet cabinet. He removed the washing tablets and fitted the dishes in order and started the dishwasher, which whizzed to life.

“Would you folks like some food?” he asked cautiously.

“I make good pasta”, he informed them casually as he started to fiddle around the kitchen. Mr and Mrs. Rai decided to leave him alone and went and sat down in the sofa talking feverishly, they were arguing and agreeing among themselves trying to adjust their mindsets to this upheaval in their lives.

Jake took out the meat, veggies and cheese from the fridge and started chopping and grating them earnestly, the pasta was put on to boil and in about half an hour the pasta was ready.

Jake pulled three plates and emptied the pasta into them and carried the plates into the dining table where they were seated talking in low tones now. The food looked amazing and smelled equally so, Jake had remembered to put salt in it as he was used to cooking for Roshni and pasta was her favorite when it came to his cooking. He had played safe here.

“Please eat” he requested her parents, who were actually very hungry and did not wait for any more offers, they dug their forks straightaway. It was delicious by all accounts.

“What do you do?” asked her mum first.

“I am a student of philosophy”, answered Jake between morsels.

“What? You are a student!” her dad exclaimed, he genuinely seemed surprised at this information.

“Yes, I have taken a sabbatical, I teach at the University of Queensland but now I am doing my research here”, answered Jake.

“Would you like to see Sydney? Roshni is caught up for the week, I can take you around if you would like”, he offered them matter-of-factly

“Hmmm?” her parents did not answer but just looked at each other.

There was a long pause and Mrs. Rai finally asked the most important question,

“How long have you been….”

“Its been two years since Roshni moved in with me” Jake told them

Mr. Rai weighed that information with a gulp of wine rather than a sip, it might have hit him then that they were at his apartment rather than their daughter’s but that realization had not yet dawned on his wife who went ahead to test him further.

“I have always wanted to see the opera”, she declared with some attempt at finality.

“Oh! That is no problem, we are quite near the Quay, I can look up what they are playing, do you want me to book the tickets?”

She looked at her husband who clearly had no idea what opera was.

She nodded in approval and Jake started fiddling with his phone for the bookings.

Late in the afternoon the three of them disembarked on the Sydney harbor and walked towards the opera house, Jake directed them to their seats and the opening of “La bohéme”, saw the heroine a pale looking and eventually dying Mimi, who was played by a Chinese girl, enamored by a Bohemian poet who was distinctly Scottish or Italian, Jake thought he was Scottish for his high-waist pants.

For the first time Mrs. Rai looked at Jake properly and the corners of her mouth started to crease in little wrinkles.

Jake looked at her with a new light of understanding that he was beginning to grasp a little, and he smiled back at her, a genuine warm smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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