Friday, October 26, 2007

Identity crisis

Earlier this month, before I contracted, suffered from and eventually beat malaria, Aliyah and I spent a few days in Mumbai. I was on business -- a delegate for my employer at a national magazine conference at a fancy hotel by the sea there.

The conference was fascinating and fun, and the trip, overall, was wonderful and, perhaps best of all, essentially free. However, during the run-up to the trip, I encountered a frustrating obstacle as a result of subtle and benign racism.

The day before the conference, I still hadn't been given plane tickets and was starting to get anxious. Finally, about 20 hours before my plane was to leave, a woman who I'd never seen before, but had apparently handled the bookings, approached my desk. Speaking frantic Hindi to a couple of my colleagues, the woman meekly handed me two plane tickets. I began examining them. The dates and times were right. Everything appeared to be in order. But then a problem jumped out.

"Brian Escochar," I said, reading the name on the tickets.

"This might be a problem for you," one of my colleagues said.

"Yes," I nodded. "I imagine it will be."

I approached a senior colleague to ask about the mix up. He assured me that the company would fix everything. And for the record, it did. The name on my Delhi-Mumbai ticket was quickly changed to my own, and when the airline adamantly refused to change the name on the Mumbai-Delhi leg, the company bought me a replacement ticket.

But how, I wondered, had the mix up occurred in the first place?

"Well," a coworker told me, "the order to buy a ticket for Ben Frumin somehow got misinterpreted, and instead they bought a ticket for Brian Escochar."

"Who is Brian Escochar?" I asked.

"He works downstairs."

"But he's not a gora, right?"

"No," my colleague said, "he's Indian. But he does have a Christian name."

This confused me even more. "But I'm not Christian."

What had happened, of course, is that to the well-meaning Indian employee who'd booked my tickets, the foreign-sounding names Ben Frumin and Brian Escochar are very similar. I made a lot of hay about the subtle racism in this confusion ("It would be like if I confused the names Jose Garcia and Juan Gonzalez!"), but really, the mistake was harmless. And not one that I'm above making. After all, wouldn't it be conceivable for me to confuse two Indian names like Suvrokamal Charkravorty and Sukumar Choudhury? Of course. So, no harm, no foul.

This is Brian Escochar, signing off.

2 comments:

Barry.Petchesky said...

Add that to all the (non-Nazi-related) Swastikas around there, and I smell anti-semitism!

Leslie said...

I could swear that we christened you Ben-ya-myn Yits-chak!

Female parental unit.