It was Sunday and I was brunching with a few foreigner friends. And with us were an Indian couple who loved talking about their exotic trips to various parts of the world.
Everything was fine. Sushi is deceptive, I learnt. They packed my unsuspecting mouth with so much of rice and flavour that three rolls stuffed me. Though it could’ve been because I had also eaten some risotto, bread and brie, and noodles, washing it all down with a tall glass of Mocktail.
By the time the storytellers began their cruise somewhere in central Europe, I had almost dozed off. But it was a party, and I had to play my part. I smiled and nodded as if it was the most interesting thing I had ever heard. It was, too, to an extent. I even felt a tinge of jealousy that they could lounge in a jacuzzi for thirty minutes while on a ship that in itself was a large jacuzzi.
And then the man of the couple began narrating the incredible story of his iPhone meeting water. Since they were in the middle of the sea, mobile network was out of the picture. Great. But he had taken his phone over to a water tub — a jacuzzi if you prefer the fancy term — to take pictures. Pictures of what, he didn’t say, and I didn’t know him well enough to ask. Anyway, he had become engrossed in the water to remember the phone in his pocket.
To summarise, he had spent a fortune on the cruise and had gone into the jacuzzi with his phone still in his pants. Awesome. Thirty minutes he relaxed before kicking himself for losing his iPhone to the perilous chemicals of h2o.
Social convention seemed to dictate we laugh at this point. So we did.
He went on. His heart had broken and his phone’s soul had shattered, but he had given it a royal goodbye. At this point, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or put on a sad face. I decided to plaster a smile, showing I was politely interested. Not too much, not too little I thought to myself.
While I had been busy thinking, he had been talking. When I turned my attention to him again, he began telling us tough it was to replace the phone he had just finished mourning. It’s hard, I heard, to get an iPhone replaced. They ask a lot of questions. And a lot of money. Not too surprising, since we were talking Apple and a drenched iPhone that they never claimed was water-proof. “It cost me a bloody 20,000 bucks!”
Hold it right there, buddy.
I was wide awake now. “20,000 bucks”?
A lot of Indians used “Rupee” and “buck” to mean the same thing, but our North American friends — from the looks on the faces — didn’t. The storyteller seemed too invested in his story to notice, but for a moment, there was silence. And “buck” was the culprit.
Plenty of my close colleagues say “buck” when they mean “Rupee” and it always left me with a knot in my stomach. I’d ache to give them a stern look over my glasses and correct their distinct sense of senselessness. They are two different things; a buck in America is 65 rupees in India, which is the approximate cost of a cup of coffee in a semi-fancy restaurant.
Twenty thousand Indian rupees is about $300. And I could imagine our company’s horror when they heard a figure that meant $20,000 to them. Sure, they were all too nice to blurt it out to my Indian friend, but he did sound silly.
We might spend weekends watching Hollywood movies or pretend to read modern American literature, or even chat on Tinder with people from the other side of the world. But some things don’t change. The “Rupee” couldn’t ever become the “buck.” And I wish my iPhone-losing friend hadn’t interwoven our economies like that, given how unstable they are. (But that’s for another time.)