Are you going to work?

The temperature was 95 degrees Fahrenheit. My feet were almost melting in socks further enclosed by a pair of leather shoes. Walking on 8th street, I noticed the feet of a woman in a sky blue foot wear that was letting every pore on her feet to breathe. I wondered how comfortable this woman must be feeling. I was quite happy for her because she could chose to wear what is comfortable for her. I was proud of her as well for making a choice for herself. As we got into the building and walked into elevator, she pulled out from her purse another pair of footwear, which was fancier and apparently more office-like.  All the stock points she gained in my head in last 120 seconds, she lost in no time now. Rate at which stock price of the woman-with-sky-blue-footwear fell, was exponential. I could not ask her why.

Another hot morning to work. Just when I was about to get off the Q train, I saw a gentleman in a nice grey suit. What caught my attention though were his feet, which were interestingly not covered in shoes or any other close footwear. He was casually and comfortably walking out of the subway station. But this time I asked him, “Are you going to work?”
“Yes, why?”
“I am quite amused by what you are wearing on your feet, which is in stark contrast with the rest of the paraphernalia that is covering your body. I wish I could wear slippers like that. But I have logistic dilemma – is that appropriate to wear to work?”
“No, not really. I change into formal dress shoes when I reach work.”
“Where do you change?”
“In my office, I have a big office room.”
“Oh, alright, great. Have a great day!”
I started wondering about my options. I don’t carry a purse to place an extra pair of shoes. I don’t have a big office room either. Should I continue to burn my feet? But more importantly, why the woman and gentleman above had to change their footwear? Would the seriousness of their actions at work   be doubted if they continue to wear something they are comfortable with and something that is not conventionally counted in formal office wear? Are human feet so ugly they need to be covered all the time to do any kind of business?

Few days later, I decided to wear flip flops. I really did. I had to attend a workshop that day. A woman asked me, “What is it that you are wearing there?” I looked at her feet, and I noted that bottom of her feet were covered by a flat black sole and top of her feet were covered by a pair of black slings. Essentially, the only difference between hers and my foot wear were that mine were made of rubber and hers were made of leather, and mine were white and hers were black. So I was quick to reply as I pointed to her feet, “What, you can, and I can’t?” 

What would it take a Zimmerman to see a Martin as one of him?

A famous Bollywood movie called Fashion featured the downfall of a fashion model played by an even more famous actress Priyanka Chopra. The nadir of her career and life is shown when she meets a Black man in a club and discovers later in the morning that she slept with him.She walks out of the room filled with extreme guilt. The scene of the film became viral. UTV Motion Pictures (owned by Disney) itself posted the video on YouTube in its channel. It still exists with the name “Priyanka Chopra Sleeps With a Black Man – Fashion”.
Coming to America from New Delhi only two years ago, I had almost zero understanding or experience of America high school education system and diversity matters until I came to Teach For America, a month ago. When Matt Kramer mentioned the word ‘other’ in the first reflection, it made me question every experience I had in India with Africans and African Americans. When I watched that film five years ago, I was flowing with emotions sitting in the theater like all other audience. The absurdness of the scene did not at all occur to me. But now I ask why could they not use any Indian person for that character? A black man was sufficiently different from ‘us’ so that he could be used as an ‘other’.
My parents would probably never allow me to marry a Muslim woman. Because Muslims are ‘others’ for them.
When I worked in Himalayas, and co-interned with a colleague of Uganda, kids in the village will giggle every time this colleague would pass by. He was an ‘other’ for them.
What would it take a Zimmerman to see a Martin as one of him?
I grew up with some Muslim classmates in kindergarten and grade school. As a child, I shared lunch box with them. I would trade my rice-lentils with their biryani.  Many years later, when I went to college, two of my closest friends happened to by Muslims. This was only possible because I was able to bridge the distance to the ‘other’ when I was too young to have any meaning of the ‘other’.

This was how I made the ‘other’ as one of me. How would you do?
PS: My mother just returned from her pilgrimage to an Islamic Shrine Pushkar where she prayed for a nice Hindu girl to enter my life soon.