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"Excuse me, do you speak English? ", a random South Asian stranger asked me while I was waiting on the corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets in Melbourne. I couldn't tell if he was Indian or Pakistani, but he definitely was a Muslim.

Now, whenever I hear those words, my metal GPS springs into action. There's nothing more embarrassing than not being able to tell someone the general direction of a street or station. It's a prestige issue for me. I like to think I am a stud at directions. (W will tell you otherwise. Don't listen to him.)

Anyhow, in that split second I knew that this wasn't going to be a conversation about directions. The thing is, I had ten minutes to kill. I was a little early for an appointment, and I was ambling about anyway. So he asks me, "Why don't people live with their families here in Melbourne"? Somehow the conversation suddenly morphed into one in Hindi.

I was quick to judge him. I thought he was going to tell me that the Aussies don't care about their parents, and everyone here believes in deserting their parents. I was steeling myself for that bit. Except he said, "There are so many people from all over the world here, I suppose they cannot always bring their entire families with them". And he just looked so sad.

So I told him well, it makes more sense, given how small some apartments are, or how people really prefer to be in their own space. He nodded. He said "My brother got married recently, and he wants me to move in with him. My life maybe easier, but I don't want to disturb them. He doesn't understand that. But it will be easier, I can't even make tea."

Now that annoyed me. I tell him that making tea is a relatively simple process that can be mastered in about five minutes. He says he works for twelve hours, so he doesn't have the time. I tell him half the world works for twelve hours, they manage to make their tea and their dinner. He asks me what I should do. He also tells me about the rest of his family. But my ten minutes of free-time were almost up. I tell him, "Talk to your brother. "He tells me I am right. Says his Salaam, wishes me and my family well, thanks me for talking to him like his sister, and walks away.

Later on the phone with R, I ask her why random strangers tend to feel so free to come and talk to me. She gives me a very unflattering explanation.

Alright people this was just a quick random blog from me – hopefully with a few more to follow.

Posted: 19/08/2008 10:17:11 AM by Nayyar | with 0 comments

Last Wednesday I woke up late and happy. I decided to avoid the sardine train service and took the bus to work. So ipod in ears, taking in the views of peak hour Melbourne, I am enjoying the bus ride snaking its way to the City. All is well with the world as I know it.

Quarter way into the journey, amidst a gaggle of eager beaver office goers, a well dressed man with a black rucksack gets on the bus. He stands in the area reserved for wheelchairs and pushchairs as needed. He takes a sign out of his bag and hangs it around his neck. It’s bold lettering clashes against the small check of his shirt and proclaims: REPENT YOUR SINS! REDEEM YOURSELF IN THE EYES OF THE LORD!

And then he starts on a sermon about how we must all become Christian, go to church, repent our sins, find peace. About how we could all die this very minute, or by the time this bus reaches the next stop, or maybe tomorrow and would go straight to hell if we hadn’t found our path by then. I have to say I could only make out snatches of what he said over the music from my ipod but it was engaging to watch most of the passengers pay attention and listen with interest. Bus folk are so unlike train folk. For train folk acknowledging that anyone else exists is taboo. I suspect the winter air has gone to the heads of the Bus folk.

Then I pressed pause on the ipod to scroll through the playlist looking for some inspiration and I heard this:

Preacher man extolling the virtues of repenting our sins: This morning how do you think you woke up? You only woke up because God himself made you wake up. Did you hear me? It’s God that made you wake up.

Very white collar worker with mid-row view: No way MY-TE (that’s mate to you and me), it was my alarm clock!

Round of laughter and applause. Almost everyone got off at Melbourne Central.


I love blogging. This is my first of many more blog posts to come

Posted: 19/08/2008 10:13:13 AM by Suraiya | with 0 comments