(Part IV of The Crazy Travelogue)
My sister, our French correspondent and I were sitting on a bench outside a bookshop, when two young men walked past. After a few moments, they turned around and walked back. Ignoring our French companion, they turned to the two of us brown-skinned people.
“Excuse me,” asked one in French, “could we ask you two questions? Just two questions?”
My sister and I exchanged glances. “Erm … Okay …”
“Are you Indian?”
“From the north of India?”
“No, from the south.” (Technically, our two questions ended there, but they did not seem to realise.)
We shrugged. Madras, unfortunately, is usually very loosely defined.
“Do you speak Tamil?” (Question number four, please note.)
That sealed it. Switching to Tamil with a stronger accent than I can ever hope to even imitate, they grinned and said in Tamil, “Then why on earth are we speaking in ‘this French’; we can speak Tamil! We are also from Madras, you see …”
Our French correspondent’s eyes darted from one to the other. The two young men were oblivious. They had to tell us everything about themselves – they lived in Lyons; they had just visited Madras …
They told us where we could eat dosas near Gare du Nord.
Um … Thank you very much.
They told us where we could buy saris and churidars in Paris.
Finally, we said our goodbyes. They went away – and then came back. “Do you need anything? Can we help you with something?” they asked.
“Um, no. No thank you.”
“We could get a telephone card for you to call India.”
“No! Thank you.”
I’m sure it was sweet. I got used to Indians coming up to us, eventually.
People came up to us all the time. I think ‘Tamil’ was/is written on our faces.
What I found incredible was the number of people who wanted me to eat dosas and buy saris in Paris.