Sunday, February 20, 2011


Tabassum and I have a funny friendship.

I don’t recall ever being in the position before as the “corrupting” friend. Yet, with my friend Tabassum of Calcutta, she is one of the most sheltered, naïve 28-year-olds that I have ever known—so I am the liberal, radical, rule-bending one. Well, come to think of it, my Mormon friends probably view me that way as well Smile She is Muslim, a religion more conservative than my own, which is rare.

She makes me laugh.

For example, she asked me, “Do you cover your head when you greet your brother-in-law in the morning?”

I broke into laughter as I imagined wrapping myself in a shawl to be properly attired for Luke. I explained that  women don’t cover their heads in America—not even some of the Muslim women there.

We walked around the park one day, holding hands. In most cultures around the world, it’s very common for people of the same sex to hold hands. She was oblivious that this might be awkward for me. She kept elbowing me and pointing at couples and giggling. It took me a while to figure out that she was scandalized by the physical displays of affection going on on the benches, which didn’t consist of much more than hand holding and sitting close.

I felt obligated to explain to her that in America, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you do those things in public—even unmarried. I told her Jacob and I actually kissed before we got married. She couldn’t believe it. She didn’t know I was capable of such a thing. Somehow she accepted it but it really stunned her. In her mind no one with morals would do such a thing. I tried to tell her that women don’t hold hands in public; men and women do. And it’s all not a reflection of being a bad person. I’m not sure she really understood. And how could she? Her marriage was arranged.

She insists on paying for everything when I am there because I am “her guest.” She probably lives on 1/100 of my salary.

She laughs for a full minute when I describe what poverty in America looks like (because she asked if we had slums similar to India). “We are the American poor!” she keeps repeating (because she has a house and a refrigerator). But not really—she doesn’t have a toilet or a.c. which I imagine most American poor do.

She takes me out to eat at a little hole in the wall, not realizing how unappetizing the fly-infested dishes look to me, and I take her out to eat at the nicest restaurant in Calcutta, not realizing how unimpressed she would be with how slowly the food was brought out.

Precariously tied together bleachers at the circus


Tabassum (in blue) with sisters and mom



The gifts Tabassum’s daughter Humaira, who calls me “Auntie Kalli” so generously presented to me.

Tabassum and I have a funny friendship. But it’s one, I have a feeling, that will span our whole lives.

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