Kishore Asthana, Houston
This is about nothing and about everything
We are visiting Houston and, when everyone is in the office or school, we spend our time driving around Houston. Today, we are at the Woodlands Mall, some 28 miles away from our home in Piney Point.
Outside Macy’s at this mall there is a small rectangular area with comfortable chairs arranged around it. Sitting on a chair here, waiting for my wife, the mind goes back to where I started from. I find myself in the small government school in Jhalawar, a small town in Rajasthan. It did not have furniture and we used to sit on jute strips, called tat-patti. It has been a long journey from there to here and I count my blessings.
Back in the present, I pass time observing people passing by. There is this white haired senior citizen who walks with a slight limp. He reminds me of myself when I am tired. However, he looks much older than me. Then comes a mother with her son, walking purposefully towards the store. A mother pushing a baby in a cart passes close to my chair. The baby looks at me and I look back. He waves and his mother chuckles as I wave back.
Then come a rather big middle-aged couple. The man is wearing his pants very low and I wonder what keeps them up. I smile, remembering that I had said the same thing to my wife when, earlier, we had come across a rather large person with his pants half-way down his buttocks and she had remarked that I wore my pants around my neck and he is at the other extreme. No, I do not wear my pants around my neck, I had corrected her, I wear them around my waist where they are supposed to be worn.
The heavy woman is wearing black tights. I watch them pass by bemused at the fact that here everyone can buy clothes that fit, regardless of their shape and size.
A very thin, very white girl goes by holding a coat in a hanger. A lady who looks like her mother is walking besides her. The mother’s expression says, ‘one work done!’
I am startled by a sharp whistle from the chair opposite me. A Mexican man, perhaps in his forties is sitting across from me. He whistles again. In the distance, following his line of sight, I notice a woman who suddenly looks towards him and grins. Then she comes over and says something to him in Spanish. He gets up and they walk away smiling and talking.
A tall, well-dressed couple walk by. They do not look Mexican to me but they are speaking in Spanish. I remind myself that I am no expert on what all Mexicans look like. Then again, they could be visitors from Spain, couldn’t they?
I hear a very distinct Chinese voice behind me. A man replies in Chinese, ahead of me, from across the chairs. He walks across to my chair and then past it. He is wearing a tan colored shirt and a similar colored pant but they are looking OK on him. All through the two people keep conversing in Chinese, the volume gradually decreasing as they come closer to each other. They walk away.
Then come two women in black pants and white tops. They look as if they work in one of the shops and are wearing a uniform. Their purposeful stride confirms this in my mind.
I look around to see if my wife has emerged from the store. No sign of her, so I keep a casual eye on what is going on around me.
The shop ahead of me is Al’s Formal Wear. I can see formal suits with bow-ties and pocket handkerchiefs in the window. Inside, there is a rail with a row of dark suits on hangers on it. A distinguished looking person is in the shop. He is well-dressed in a dark suit and white shirt. His hair is well-combed. He could have just stepped out of a fashion magazine. I think there are no customers in the store but an elderly lady clad in a light blue dress emerges from somewhere in the shop and starts talking to the debonair gent. Perhaps she is picking up a suit for her husband, I speculate.
Three young girls in very tight black jeans pass between me and the suit shop. How on earth do they get the jeans up their legs, I wonder. I have such trouble with my churidar pajamas. Two of them are wearing boots, in which the jeans are tucked in. I am reminded that my wife had told me that women wear their jeans inside boots and men wear them outside. I have yet to discover why this is so.
I look around at the others sitting on various chairs. There are four people, with a few chairs empty. Based on the rather glazed look in their eyes, I feel tat two of these middle aged men are bored out of their skulls. One of them appears Mexican and the other is an African-American. I think of this term and smile inside myself. I can be politically correct, too.
The third person is younger and has a small child who keeps running away. He has a phone at which he is reading something but is distracted by his child. He scolds the child in Spanish and the child replies back. This is repeated often.
Some more passers by pass by. One has the yellow bag of Forever 21, a store from which we have just come, and one has a Macy’s bag. One lady is carrying three bags from different stores. Some are going into Macy’s, some coming out of it. No one is going to Al’s Formal Wear where the gentleman is the lone occupant now.
I wonder how I would feel if I had to move to the U.S. I do not like the thought. This is a prosperous society, no doubt. Everything appears to be plentiful, especially if one is well-to-do. However, all my friends are back in Gurgaon. I have a nice house and a retinue of help. I have some very good friends. People know me and I know them. I have so much to do there. Building a new life all over again here does not appear attractive to me. Some years back my son had asked if he should apply for a green card for us and we had said no. It is the preferred answer even now.
I shake my head and look up to see a woman carrying a very small child – Going by the legs sticking out, the child almost looks like a newborn – in a holster of sorts. Its head is covered and I wonder how it can breathe.
I look up at Macy’s and wonder at their brand positioning. I read recently that they are going to close over 70 stores. It seems their sales have declined as their positioning is rather vague – they are neither considered top rung like Neiman Marcus or economical end like Target or JC Penney. Hmmm…
And then the welcome sight of my wife, with her bag on her left shoulder, coming towards me, a-smile.
Kishore Asthana is based out of Gurgaon.