For my last day in Mumbai I thought it would be cool to take the ferry over to Elephanta Island to see Hindu statues that dated back to the 7th century AD. I got on the ferry and sat down to enjoy the ride. A few minutes later I noticed a group of Indian guys causing trouble in the back of the boat.
A couple of Indian families came up to me and asked me if I would take a picture with them. The guys saw this and motioned me over to meet them. These guys turned out to be some of the most nuts, fun-loving dudes I’ve ever met. They were all cousins or related somehow, and out of the 14 or so of them only one of them spoke a moderate amount of English. Nevertheless, we didn’t need to share a common language to pick on the monkeys of the island or holler at the white girls walking by. It goes to show that language is a barrier that can easily be overcome.
One thing I’ve noticed about guys from around the world is that, no matter how bad their English is, they always find it funny to pick one of their friends and tell the outsider in broken English that their friend is gay. It’s usually the quiet, shy one that doesn’t fight back that is the brunt of the joke. For this group it was the unfortunate cousin Arjun that earned the title. The cousins approached me one after the other, “Hey see him. See Arjun. He gay!”
This was followed by roars of laughter from the others. The laughter grew stronger each time it was announced that Arjun was gay. By the 6th or 7th time the poor guy was declared gay, the group was worked up into such a state of hilarity that I thought one of them was going to fall over the railing and into the ocean. Arjun just sat there quietly. He seemed accustomed to being the entertainment for the group.
They gave me the Indian nickname of “Lakshman” and then broke out into laughter when I beat my chest like King Kong and yelled “Lakshman” in a savage jungle roar. I was continually prodded into unleashing my “Lakshman” furry until we got back on the ferry. At that point I got brief break and watched them throw potato chips to the seagulls that were flying behind the boat. When they included me and gave me some chips I pretended that I didn’t understand I was supposed to throw them and instead ate the chips. The rowdy group erupted into laughter again and took turns giving me chips as I playfully illustrated that Americans didn’t understand the game they were playing.
I could have hired a tour guide for almost nothing and learned a lot about the island. Very few places that I toured in India dated back to the 7th century, and it would have been a rare experience to learn about the Hindu philosophies of this time period. There were things I would have learned on the island that I never would have learned anywhere else.
Instead, I tagged along with a crew of newfound Indian friends and had a great day filled with troublemaking and merriment. The mood of group was similar to the mood I would have been in had I done the trip with my American friends from home. We barely spoke anything of meaning the whole day, but that wasn’t really important. We didn’t need to speak the same language for this trip.
We finished the trip off with an American sports team style huddle. Following my lead, the guys all put their hands in middle. We did a three count and yelled, “Lakshman!” and then I parted ways with them.
I doubt I’ll ever see them again, but I know that’s not really what’s important. It’s important to enjoy little moments like this when they arise. According to Hinduism, our spirits are all connected in a beginningless and endless universe. My spirit has met up with the spirits of those guys at some point in many other lifetimes. In a prior life one of them was my brother. In another life one of them was my father. In another life one of them was my dog. In another life one of them was a stranger that helped me when my wagon broke down on side of the road. We’ve met countless times before in past lives, and we’ll meet countless times again in the future. The fact that we had a pleasant experience this time around and did not do anything dishonest to one another ensures that we’ll have a positive relationship in future lifetimes.
That’s the way I’d like to think about it. For this lifetime “Lakshman” will remain my Indian name and be a good memory of a fun-filled day in Mumbai.