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It was the very last day in Moscow. I don’t think any of us were ready to say goodbye, but it was time. We’d be leaving the next day. That last night we were gathered at yet another Indian restaurant in Moscow. While waiting for our turn at the buffet table, I heard my sister-in-law thanking the man standing ahead of us in the queue. I looked at him with interest. Ahh, is this the kind man who had come to our rescue by lending us the Universal Power Travel Adapter Plug for the duration of the tour? I flashed him a smile of gratitude.

The travel sites I checked prior to our visit had stated with authority that in Russia they had the same kind of plugs as in India. Too late, we realized on arrival that we were caught badly with no way to charge our mobiles that first evening. Stepping out of our roo, the sister in law had explained our problem to some fellow travelers and this man had apparently loaned a spare one he had for the duration of the tour.

There was nothing much to do while waiting for people in front of us to serve themselves. He asked us where we were from. Mumbai, my sister in law said. Kerala, I answered. And then she added, but I am a Malayalee (someone who speaks the language of Malayalam and is from the state of Kerala) too. To her query where he was from, he replied, Bangalore.

There are lot of Malayalees in Bangalore, he said. We smiled and nodded. It is no secret, there are Malayalees all over the world. In fact there is a joke that goes when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon he was aghast to see a tea-shop run by a Malayalee. All was well till then when he went and spoiled it all. ‘The Malayalees are like cockroaches, infesting the city everywhere’ He said. The smile froze on our faces. What did he mean? Surely he hadn’t said what he just said? ‘I tell them all the time they should just go back where they have come from‘ he went on, ‘but they don’t listen!

The next moment it was his turn and he moved ahead to serve himself. The awkward moment was thus cut short. My sister in law and I served ourselves and went to join the others. The man’s words had cut her to the quick. She related the conversation to the other Malayalees in the group. Not surprised at all, they commiserated. We have also had similar experiences from ‘outsiders‘, they rued. There is nothing we can do. These people are not going to change by anything we say. The general opinion hence was to just forget it.

The next morning as we were waiting for the coach to take us to the airport, the sister-in-law accosted Mr Cockroach (The minute he referred to Malayalees as cockroaches he had opened himself up to his new nickname as far as I was concerned). She first thanked him again for helping us out. But, she said, she had something else to tell him. What he had said the previous night at the dinner was just not acceptable. Bangalore was not his private property just as Mumbai was not hers. We, are all Indians, citizens of the same country, and are allowed by the constitution to live freely in any part of it we choose.

Mr Cockroach was taken aback, you could see – I bet no one had confronted him thus up till then – at the short speech from the sister-in-law and stood silent throughout while his wife next to him looked on open-mouthed. Finally he managed to stutter that that was not what he had meant and quietly slunk away. The sister-in-law felt a lot lighter for having set things straight. My modus operandi in such situations has always been to return home and write a blog post (which I am doing now), so I was much impressed by how she handled it.

Ahh here it ends. The tale of Mr. Take It Easy and Mr Cockroach. I wonder if they will ever come across my blog, recognize themselves in these posts and come after me with a hunting crop for telling it as it happened. Oh well, I better go out buy a wig and huge sunglasses. 😉

© Shail Mohan 2020