Want It Done? Don’t Ask the White Lady


“Why are all your roads at 90 degree angles?” My friend Tushar once observed.

“Everything in America is at 90 degree angles, the roads, the food, the religion.” I replied.

Whenever I go to the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, I want to visit on Saturday (as well as other days) because ostensibly, their gift shop, which is full of books is open.

The problem is, even on Saturday, the one day of the week when the gift shop is open… it’s rarely open.

I approached the old white woman who, presumably, cleans the temple, if she could find someone to open the gift shop, telling her I had come a long way and would like to buy some books.

“No.” And that was all I got, a 90 degree answer.

I sat for a minute and thought… I know what happened here… I just asked the wrong person. I need to ask an Indian to open the gift shop, then as I began to seek out an Indian associated with the Temple, the entire scene that was to ensue played out in my head. This person would have no idea the gift shop wasn’t open, would have no idea how to get it open, and no idea where the key was. He, or she, would then confer with at least 3 to 6 Indians, none of them knowing why the gift shop wasn’t open, who was supposed to be in there, nor who had the key, then they would scatter in all directions, it would take 10 to 20 minutes, but they would find the keyholder and open the shop. Yes, all the chaos played out in my mind like some telepathic prediction, but the end result would be a “yes,” and the gift shop would be open… there was only one part of this scenario I hadn’t seen coming.

“People from dharmic cultures tend to be more accepting of difference, unpredictability and uncertainty than westerners. The dharmic view is that so-called ‘chaos’ is natural and normal; it needs, of course, to be balanced by order, but there is no compelling need to control or eliminate it entirely nor to force cohesion from outside. The West, conversely, sees chaos as a profound threat that needs to be eradicated either by destruction or by complete assimilation.”

Rajiv Malhotra, “Being Different”

I found an Indian, who was very respectful, and agreed, that, of course, there was no reason I should not be allowed into the gift shop (as predicted), then I sat back and watched my every other prediction become a reality right before my eyes. I sat on the steps leading up into the gift shop and watched, from a distance, as if this were a silent movie, 4 Indians all conversing about why the gift shop wasn’t open, who was supposed to open it, and who had the key. Then, as predicted, they scattered in all directions in search of all these unknowns. And as predicted, 15 minutes later, up came a pair of Indians with looks on their faces that made it obvious they had found the key, even though none of the roads they took to find it were at 90 degree angles… and who had the key?

You may have guessed it, the withered old white woman who had given me a 90 degree “no,” but now she had a rather angular scowl on her face as she saw me sitting on those steps. But, I suppressed my inner raksha and did not grin at her… well, not outside, but inside I was grinning ear to ear… I suppose that grants me 50% good karma.

I learned if you want a 90 degree no, ask the white person, if you want a chaotic and active yes… ask an Indian. Personally, I prefer the way Indians do things.

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