I was walking to the nearest khokha convenience store a few blocks from my place while my mind was absorbed by my novel Saheban that I was in the process of sending to the publisher the next day. On a side street, there was an older woman with a cane walking toward me from the other end of the footpath. I got the feeling, she stopped when she saw me, and she had. For the rest of my walk on that street of young trees and new houses, I felt being observed at every step. It made me lose my focus on the novel, and I felt that funny feeling I get when meeting strangers, of being pushed into the booth of the Accused in Hollywood’s Victorian courtroom where cases were decided on the basis of various laws that I had, in my own experiential courtroom, pronounced unacceptable in the previous century.
The best way to not lose my focus was to not get effected by the uneasiness of it to the point of generating a series of reactions that I know actually cause the courtroom feeling in me. I quickened my step as if in a hurry, and reached the woman fast. I had seen her before, and we had exchanged wishing-well gestures. So, I did that again, a smile, joining of palms, bobbing of head. She did her part by accepting my greetings with a sweet smile and a wave of her hand. We came across each other, I passed her by. Success!
But No. She was speaking to me, saying something like ‘you live on that side?’ I turned back, said ‘Yes!’ and kept walking.
‘We used to live there too,’ she followed me matching my speed, came alongside, held my arm, stopped me, and said: ‘In the house next to yours. Do you live in the upper portion?’
‘No,’ I had no choice but to stop and to let her put me in her courtroom so that she could go through her checklists. ‘Main floor’, I said, surrendering to an examination that I knew I wouldn’t pass.
‘Oh, main floor basement.’ She said, checking off the first item. ‘I live in a basement too, in that house. We were living with our son but he moved to Amrika with his wife and kids, we stayed here because my husband works here. How many children?’
‘Two girls and a boy.’
‘They live with you?’
‘Girls must be married?’
‘Oh. You live with your husband?’
‘Who do you live with?’
‘You live alone? So sorry…’
‘Nothing to be sorry about, it’s very relaxing to live on one’s own,’ I said, encouraging her to think on those lines.
‘I’ll go sit with my husband now,’ she said, giving me the verdict and moving along.
The verdict: under 23%, and this is how:
33% on Children question as in 66% for two boys and 99% for three;
0% on Married-Woman question since women not living with their husbands have either been ‘divorced by them’ or they are widows who are not good enough to find other husbands;
35% on Respectable-Woman question because of body-covering clothes and familiar ‘south asian’ mannerism;
0% on Motherhood question if neither my son nor daughters are willing to ‘take my burden’;
15% on Class question since I don’t own the property I live in, have no car or car-keys, clothing covers the body but does not establish any acknowledged power status;
50% on Ethnicity for being Punjabi but not Sikh or White.
Score: 133 out of 600, a mere 22.16% of the total. I had been ‘Aunteed’.
It’s interesting that my Uncled score is always higher- sometimes as high as 50% because most uncles usually give me some mark on living by myself as it seems to intrigue them all. But if you think that my Aunteed score is low, wait till you see what I get when Begumed.
A South Asian Begum may choose to give me 2.5% for simply standing on North American soil instead of sitting on it, and that’ll be the end of my scorecard because nothing in me would be of use to her. On the other hand, a White Begum won’t be able to locate me sitting or standing, and if she is made to pay attention to me, her radar would go fuzzy making me appear and disappear from her vision like an incarnation of some character in a hollywood box office hit on poverty-in-another-continent that she may have watched at some point in her life. I’ll get 0% when lucky.
Unlike the difference in score when Aunteed and Uncled, my score remains consistent when Begumed and Sahibed by South Asians and when Begumed and Sahibed by White, Black, Red or Yellow people: the same 2.5 and 0%.
If you ask me, I prefer being Brownbagged more than being Aunteed, Uncled, Begumed or Sahibed because at least it’s more of a general wrap and it hides me like it hides my lunch, and for sure, it’s better than being Blackburned or Nativebrowned.
This is not a complete index of Checklists I encounter, but I need to veer off of it because it’ll be unfair to not tell you about my own system of locating others in my mind.
I seem to have Signs instead of Checklists; here are a few examples. When I see a man in a non-thriftstore suit and tie or a woman wearing designer angelina-jolie clothes there emerges in my mind a STAY AWAY sign, and in most cases I do. The RUN sign appears for people using the latest academic/literary/ideological jargon or putting up a show for the camera; STOP sign appears at people singing or smiling, dancing or laughing- at a protest rally or away from it- but this is not to be confused with the red traffic stop signs that said ‘STOP Harper’ and are now saying ‘STOP Enbridge’ because those i FOLLOW; and, a STAY sign shows up if someone invites me to have a joint.