Carded with a South Asian Name

We dropped P’s parents off at the airport last night. It was kind of funny sending them off to the other side of the world saying, “See you next week!”

On the way home from the airport I said to P that a burrito and a cold beer would really hit the spot, a mini break from Nepali food and tea.

We picked up burritos on the drive back, and I dropped P off with the food before heading to a small liquor store nearby to find chilled local blueberry beer. The two men behind the counter looked South Asian, and one man had a red tikka on his forehead.

As I handed him my driver’s license I wondered if he would notice my new last name.

After marriage I hyphenated my last name. So now instead of “C C” I’m “C C-P”—where my original last name “C” is quite Irish sounding, and my new hyphen “P” isn’t overtly South Asian sounding to a non-South Asian, but very South Asian sounding to another South Asian, if that makes any sense.

So I handed over my ID to the man with the red tikka. His eyes grew wide and he said, “P? Your last name is P?”

ME: “Yes, my husband is Nepali.”

“Really? And you?”

ME: “I’m not Nepali, just my husband.”

The non-tikka-ed other behind-the-counter guy chimed in, “Have you been to Nepal?”

ME: “Yes, twice, and Friday I am going for a third time.”

The men looked at each other as if to say, “ohhhhhhh.”

The non-tikka-ed man said, “Have you been to India?”

ME: “Actually, yes…”

TIKKA MAN: “Where? Delhi? Agra?”

ME: “Rajasthan.”

NON-TIKKA MAN: “Did you go to Jaisalmer?”

ME: “Yep, on the train.”

TIKKA MAN: “And Ajmer?”

ME: “Yep, and Udaipur, and Jodhpur—the blue city, and Jaipur—the pink city.” This cracked them up—as if to say, “hey this girl’s for real!”

NON TIKKA MAN: “Have you been to Kerala?”

ME: “No, although I hear it’s beautiful.”

NON TIKKA MAN: “It is, you must go the next time you travel.”

The Tikka Man pointed to the small red and yellow beaded necklace nearly hidden under my sweater and asked, “Is that your mangal sutra?”

I pulled my necklace out to show it was just beads—missing the small gold pendent of a mangal sutra, “No, it’s a pote necklace. They have pote in place of mangal sutra in parts of Nepal.”

I paid for the beer, and they handed me back my license, the non-tikka-ed man wishing me, “a nice journey!” By this time several undergraduate looking customers had lined up behind me, probably wondering if (ironically) my chattiness was a tactic to distract the store employees from a fake ID. I departed the store, ready for my burrito.

The encounter made me feel like a member of the “secret South Asian club”.

I wonder what the immigration officer will say when he checks my passport and visa application next Sunday afternoon at Tribhuvan International Airport.

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3 responses to “Carded with a South Asian Name

  1. yay!!!!! the secret desi club….lol!
    my husband will never be a part of this though- his very Germanic name and his very freckly Germanic-Irish looks means he is going to have to get used to some staring when we go and visit my cousins…..i told him to learn “kya dekhara hai?” (like the blog!) in preparation….:o)
    i’m sure it’s a nice feeling to feel like you are ‘legit’ nepali by association!

  2. I’m still trying to figure out whether or hyphenate my last name or not. Getting to be part of the “secret south asian club” is definitely a reason to though :) and I think it will be easier as long as we’re in Nepal. Also, chilled local blueberry beer sounds absolutely delicious!

  3. I too, look forward to seeing Kerala. It is the place in India I want to visit most.

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