How to Wear an Indian Village

Park the car next to a vendor selling tender coconuts. Ask how the crop has been while you weigh each coconut in your hand. Do not smile when you hear the water splashing inside like a secret waterfall. Wear sunglasses.

When they ask where you’re from, say you are from Chennai. Say it with a drawl, like it is an American word. Do not say you are from Madras. If you are a man, have two tender coconuts even though they will make you feel thirsty once you get back in the car. If you are a woman, drink half a coconut and give the rest to the man.

Waylay children with bicycles. Grab the handlebars and insist you will only take the cycle down the road and back. Ride with one village child attached to your back and one seated on the handlebars. Make sure someone takes pictures of you. Show your teeth when you smile.

Promise the children that you will send copies of every photograph that was taken. Write their addresses down in English. Make them promise to wait for your letter everyday. Make them say “Yes, we promise” in unison.

Do not stay more than twenty-two minutes. As the car pulls away, wave once and quickly roll up the window.

Two weeks later, you will find abandoned slips of addresses under the car mats. Stuff these into an old cigarette carton and toss it into one of the rabbit-shaped garbage cans in the nearest park.

Keep the pictures.

Kuzhali Manickavel

Kuzhali Manickavel's collections Things We Found During the Autopsy and Insects Are Just like You and Me except Some of Them Have Wings,  and her e-chapbook Eating Sugar, Telling Lies, are available from Blaft Publications, Chennai. Her work has also appeared in Granta, Agni, Subtropics, Michigan Quarterly Review, and DIAGRAM.

Note: This piece straddles the line between flash fiction and prose poem. The writer says: "I have seen what I describe in this piece happen a lot and I’ve always been struck by how it appears be done for very specific reasons, following very specific steps. As much as I would like to talk about how this often looks like an exploitative exercise, usually done for the purpose of posting pictures on social media platforms with captions like ‘my new best friends’ or ‘real village food #foodieheaven,’ I have exploited this as well, in my own way, to write this piece of fiction."