The journey to India starts with a flight from my small local airport to a large international airport. I am usually the only person of Indian descent on the plane. My town is small enough that I usually see someone I know every time I go the airport. I am an American. I talk like one, dress like one, and I don’t emanate unpleasant odors. All passengers board the plane in an orderly fashion, and we depart.

At the big airport, we exit the plane like ordinary people. If I have time, I stop at a bar for a drink. Otherwise, I proceed directly to my gate. Naturally, I encounter many more brown Indians. They behave themselves. Indian Browns are still very much in the minority at the gate. Still, I can feel the angst – the excitement of visiting the homeland. We board the plane in an orderly fashion, and we depart for Europe. I usually go through Frankfurt.

In Europe, we exit the plane like ordinary people. All the Indians gather at the gate for the plane destined for India. Everyone is well behaved, as one would expect. After all, Indian immigrants are doctors, engineers, professors, entrepreneurs, or students in an advanced field. The parents speak with Indian accents, the children speak with the accents of the regions in which they are raised. When the brown children get loud, the parents quickly quieten them. Now is not the time to be obnoxious. “Shshsh!” The parents seem to say. “The Germans are watching.”

And yes, the Germans are watching. They stand like etiquette sentries: tall, blond hair, blue eyes, crisp clean uniforms… They are so white! Indians behave in the presence of such whiteness. That is why white people think Indians are so polite, so professional – a model minority. We Indians know the truth: our good behavior is just an act.

We board the plane in a fairly orderly fashion. We know the whites are watching, but some people still want to board out of order. The rest of us are embarrassed by the behavior of the few. This is not the time to do things out of order.

The aroma on the plane is a bit more pungent. Perhaps some deodorant has worn off, perhaps the French Indians smell, perhaps some Indians just chose to ignore hygiene on the way to the homeland. In any case, the flight proceeds normally. Four hundred Indians comport themselves with a reasonable amount of dignity on the nine hour flight. After all, the German flight attendants are still on board. The in-flight literature is written in a few European languages. Whiteness stills pervades the flight, and we are still in international airspace. We must behave.

On the final descent, we are reminded to stow the tray tables, raise to the upright position, and fasten seatbelts. Then we are reminded again. The flight attendants walk the aisles to make sure we complied. Then they remind us again. The urge to be brown is intense, but we comply. The plane lands, and proceeds to the gate. “Please remain seated with the seatbelt securely fastened, blah blah blah…”

The time has come. We are in India, we are in brown territory! Go ahead whitey, say it again: “Blah blah blah.” We are not listening. We don’t need the white rules here! Indians stand while the plane is still moving, everyone wanting to be the first to retrieve carry-ons from the overhead bins. We push, we shove. Like magic, odors emanate from our brown bodies. We speak loudly again. When the plane reaches the gate and door is opened, we all attempt to exit at once. Four hundred brown bodies fuse into one as we eject ourselves from the airplane cabin. We fight our way to the immigration/passport counter. We have reverted to our true nature as Third-Worlders.

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