What follows is a departure from the usual format of our posts on The Love Machine. It’s not a critical analysis, but more of a creative-nonfiction-in-progress. A bit of background: I’m working on becoming a post-colonial scholar, so I decided to go to the New York metro area’s India Day Parade this Sunday to get a little culture and an opportunity to observe a completely Indian social scene. Well, not every research trip gives you exactly the material you’re looking for.
I arrive at the 28th Street station at about 12:40. My alarm didn’t go off, and Sky didn’t wake me up until 11:00, so I’m anxious about missing the beginning of the parade even though I know it probably hasn’t even reached 34th Street yet. My original plan was to get off at 34th Street but I don’t want to miss a thing so I settle down in front of a cafe at 29th Street. The viewing stand is a block north of me. There, the Grand Marshal will acknowledge the organizers of the parade. She’s some sort of glamorous lady, but I’m not quite sure who. My block, the last stop on the parade, is hardly crowded. Those who are there are willing to wait for the parade to come to them. The cafe has a wrought iron railing with a ledge in front of it. I sit down on the ledge behind a family of four – mother, father, and two daughters – who are all leaning on the police barricade lining the street. It’s apparent that they’ve been standing there awhile; the girls are antsy. Their mother instructs them to sit on the ledge, and I move over to make room for them. She instructs them to thank me, and they do. I like them immediately. Big Sister appears to be kindergarten age, with shoulder-length hair and a patriotic red-white-and-blue star-patterned dress, an odd outfit for an India Day celebration full of greens and saffrons. Her counterpart, Little Sister, boasts a miniature backpack and the same pixie cut I’ve had my eye on for awhile but won’t get until I can afford to go to a salon. They both have the type of hairy arms that are okay until you hit middle school, when you suddenly feel like an ape. In short, they’re adorable.
They ask me my name, I ask them theirs, and we compliment each other on our accessories. They like my stained glass heart earrings; I’m taken with Little Sister’s backpack. They ask me if I have a brother, if I play with him, if he is mean to me. Their brother is mean to them, but he didn’t come because he’s at karate school today. Big Sister pushes Little Sister out of the way to get the spot next to me. It occurs to me that I could move down, allowing them to sit on either side of me, but, after the loneliness of my first month living in the city, being fawned over this much is sadly delightful. I always wish I had a sister, I tell them. I often imagined what it would be like to be the sister of various fictional characters – Roald Dahl’s Matilda or Harriet the Spy. Right now, Joan Holloway from Mad Men is my fictional big sister of choice, but I don’t tell them that. Both of their nails are painted, Big Sister’s in a heavily chipped Pepto-Bismol pink, Little Sister’s in an immaculate purple that reminds me of grape pop. My favorite color. I marvel at how tiny their fingernails are and at what a nice job their mother has done painting them. I show them my sloppily painted magenta nails, which I did hurriedly before dashing out the door with my Metrocard in hand, already out so I don’t chip the still-tacky polish by digging in my wallet. At the station I would discover it was expired, my foresight wasted. I wonder if they’re from the city, or maybe came in from New Jersey or Connecticut this morning. I decide not to ask. They might not know, or their parents might not want me to know. Similarly, I fight the urge to take a picture of them in their patriotic grapey earnestness.
Little Sister points to her bindi, then points to my forehead. “I have one. Why don’t you have one?” She points to a freckle on my arm. “What’s that?” It occurs to me that, in my haste, I forgot to apply sunscreen. Meanwhile, Big Sister has been pacing back and forth between her parents and me. Her mother yells at her to sit down and stay there. I decide to take my leave. At the viewing stand, the parade’s organizers have begun their speeches and chants, and I feel awkward commanding so much of the girls’ attention. I explain that I’m going to stand by the barricade, say goodbye, and choose a spot down the block. Little Sister waves distractedly, her mother and the growing crowd dividing her attention.
The NYPD trot towards us on their horses, carrying flags of the United States, New York State, India. Their marching band follows behind, playing a tune in a minor chord that I don’t recognize but feel like I should. Another small group of police follow behind on foot, bearing a sign that says “NYPD Desi Society.” Then the Grand Marshal’s float arrives. The people next to me grumble that they’ve picked the wrong side of the street, the Grand Marshal is on the left side of the float and they’re on the right, but they can see her there next to her lackey holding a black and white umbrella which shields her from the sun. Then I spot her, a Bollywood actress whose face I recognize but whose name I don’t know. The paradegoers fawn as she blows a kiss. I think I’ve underestimated her celebrity; a crowd follows her wherever she goes. She’s very beautiful. I look down the block to see if I can gauge the girls’ reactions, but they’re lost in the crowd. Only their father’s face is visible. I wonder if they’re giving the Grand Marshal the same attention they gave me. After the float passes by, she disembarks and circles around to the viewing stand again, greeting the press, causing a stir as people push to get closer to her. Everywhere she goes, you can see that umbrella, bobbing above the crowd, marking where she is at any given time. I wish I had someone to carry an umbrella for me; I can feel the back of my neck burning in the sun. I suppose she needs it more than I do, though. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to pick her out of the crowd.