Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Punjabi and the Apostate

About a mile from my small apartment near downtown Flint is a fairly typical party store that I stop in regularly, most often for cigarettes and, depending on the time of day, beer or this weird creamy greenish lime beverage that my room mate has impressed upon me a certain fondness. Almost every time I enter the store, a 20-something man of what I’d always thought was Indian descent is working behind the counter. I do not know his name, but he’s friendly and knows my brand - so I rather like him.

On occasion, he has a laptop open to a movie or some website. As it sits behind the counter, I can never quite make out what he’s watching. Today, it was a song, and I decided to ask him what it was; “Punjabi,” he said. “A sad song. I like sad songs.” I asked if it was anything like the Ballywood musicals that my girlfriend likes, and he said it was. I asked him if he or his family was from India.

“Yes,” he said, his face lighting up - it seemed like he didn’t get asked personal questions very often in his position.

“So what are you doing in Flint? It’s a pretty shitty city,” and this is true. We have, I have come to understand, more liquor stores per capita than churches, and we’re one of the few American cities with this designation.

“We came first to New York, and it was nice there - but it slowly got worse.” He didn’t really allude to why he was in Flint, or even elaborate on what happened in New York. I asked him if he was going to school here. “No,” he said, somewhat sadly and almost determinedly. “I don’t have the time for school - I have to work.”

I could hear the sad, Punjabi song playing on the tinny speakers over the hum of the other conversations swirling around the store, and felt it appropriate. We talked a little bit longer and I, in my awkward never-knowing-quite-what-to-say fashion, said that if he found time, he should try and attend the university nearby that I attend. I kind of regret saying this; I feel like I made quite clear my insensitivity to the plight of an immigrant, and, in my ignorance and lack of understanding, probably didn’t help things any.

He smiled and, the conversation petering out, and I collected my cigarettes and creamy greenish lime beverage, left the store, and got into my car.

The new[er] Rotting Christ album was playing. They are an aggressive death metal band with an almost black metal anti-Christian lyrical slant; angry music that I enjoy.

I couldn’t help but mournfully sigh as I realized the weird juxtaposition of these two musical forms next to each other, and wonder: what do I have to be so angry about that I’d spend all of my time listening to death metal? My life is pretty good. I don’t have much money to spend on nice things, indeed having just enough to survive and attend university. I don’t even have to work, yet still: there is the death metal.

I also realized that, instead of feeling genuine compassion for the man, I had planned on using the encounter as something to write about - all while the Rotting Christ album was playing in my home.

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