Reading Comprehension

by Kasturi Pananjady

published October 20, 2017

Inspired by Arundhati Roy

content warning: sexual harassment


A Note to a Safety Presentation by a Commissariat de Police de Paris

If you are being stalked or harassed by anyone who looks like they could be from the same racial community as you, Parisians will likely assume you are together and will go out of their way not to intervene, even if you are visibly uncomfortable and trying to catch the eye of anyone else in the carriage. If this happens to you, it turns out that the recommended course of action is to approach a French person, state loudly and clearly that you are uncomfortable with stalking and harassment, and ask to be escorted to the nearest conductor or gendarme. 


Free response: Is Kasturi Pananjady telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? (150 words) 


Did Kasturi Pananjady wear something revealing? 

a) Yes.

b) No.


One star: Americans, don’t buy oeuf-fromage crepes from Sherlock Holmes (even if they are cheap).  

He kept asking my friend questions (“Hey you, yes, you—are you Indian? Tamil?”) and didn’t pay enough attention to a) the structural integrity of the crepe or b) whether he had found the optimal oeuf-fromage ratio. I don’t know where his mind was (“Allow me to use this information to correctly deduce your caste, subcaste, socioeconomic class and religious sub-denomination”). But I know his heart certainly wasn’t into making those crepes. 


Did Kasturi Pananjady wear something revealing? 

a) Yes.

b) No.


A Barebones Re-Enactment of the Pananjady Family WhatsApp Group, Featuring the Worst Stage Directions in the World

MOTHER shares a photo of Dussherra celebrations.

FATHER-OF-MINE launches into a slightly unprovoked and tangential feminist rant about the way Indian women are portrayed in Hindu mythology, which sounds like something his daughter would say, and in fact, probably did say once.

MOTHER: (wry bemusement, mild annoyance).


Using the information above, answer the following question for the benefit of Parisian well-wishers: Is a young woman being followed on a train by men normal in Indian culture?  

a) Yes.

b) No.


A Screenshot of a To-Do List

-Do laundry


• From Gare du Nord: dal, turmeric, coriander, mustard seeds

• Instead, from Carrefour: penne, tomatoes, basil, broccoli


Does Kasturi Pananjady hate Indian people?

a) Don’t all non-resident Indians?

b) Don’t all resident Indians? 


‘The Way Things Were,’ Aatish Taseer 

“This attitude—his aloofness—made him for all the wrong reasons attractive to people of a certain class in India. They confused his distance... with their own deracination... The members of this class, who were already set apart from the rest of the country by the loss of language, by privilege, of course, and by what had come to seem almost like racial differences, had no desire to shed their distinctiveness. They clung to it, in fact, wanting nothing so much as to remain inviolable and distinct, foreigners in their own country.

“And yet—strange as it must seem—they had a corresponding desire to make a great show of their Indianness... To throw in the odd precious word of Hindustani, to upstage their social rivals with a little bit of exotica so obscure that no one could be expected to know it. India was their supreme affectation!” 


Is Aatish Taseer talking about himself?

a) Who is Aatish Taseer? He has a column in the New York Times, but that might not actually answer your question.

b) Yes. Or a version of himself that he once was.

c) No, he’s talking about the class of person he grew up with. Which at once implicates him and does not. It’s complicated.

d) He isn’t talking at all.  


Could Aatish Taseer also just possibly be talking about Kasturi Pananjady, who is decidedly not from the class of person he grew up with?

a) He isn’t talking at all.


The Time a Mildly Curious Kamila Shamsie Let Another Desi Woman in Paris with an Odd Accent Keep Her Story to Herself

H O M E   F I R E

Shakespeare and Company

Kilometre Zero


For Swathi,

All the best.

Kamila Shamsie

• Thank you. Goodnight.

• Thank you for coming.


Why is it important to walk away feeling like one hasn’t bared one’s soul?

a) Because no one wants to deal with that.

b) It allows one to entertain the possibility that one is more interesting than one really is, which makes it so easy to be alone and not lonely.

c) What soul?


How to Order in an Indian Restaurant as a Strasbourgeois 

Could I have chai, and a lesson from the young lady seated next to me on what constitutes moksha (salvation is such a poor translation) according to the Bhagavad Gita—the lady who appears to be Indian, and might have read an illustrated comic book version of the Gita when twelve, and perhaps took an 800 level course in the Classics department at Brown and read maybe 55 percent of the commentaries and understood far fewer—who, more importantly is Indian? You don’t even care to venture an opinion? How about if I put my hand on your shoulder again? How disappointing.


Why would Kasturi Pananjady go to Strasbourg and eat Indian food in the first place?

a) Look, the heart wants what it wants.

b) She forgot to pack MTR Ready-to-Eat Bisibelebath Mix.

c) There’s nothing in the Gita that says you can’t. Take my word for it.

 A French history student at a party lets loose a bark as he tries to explain the expression ‘C’est comme le chinois pour moi’ (It’s like Chinese to me), but it turns out that he also knows a surprising amount about the 1962 Indo-China war.

An Indian comparative literature student on an American exchange program in Paris tells him about the Doklam standoff from two months ago and the interview she transcribed for a newspaper about how it all went down, and for the first time since she came to Paris, she doesn’t feel like she’s pimping herself—or her country—out when asked to talk about India. 


How many great stories start that way?

a) Whoa there, kid.

b) Probably none.

c) That isn’t even really a title. 


Kailash Éditions: Open Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays 

For a French Sanskritist to talk about the pain of feeling alienated from one’s mother tongue and everything that comes with that when one studies (in) another language for a living—what living, pfffff! can you eat paper?—and what he would give to be taking French literature classes at the Sorbonne too—it’s important to go back, when you can 

So come again come again come again 


How will Kasturi Pananjady feel every time she doesn’t stop to look up a word this semester? 

a) Very guilty

b) Somewhat guilty

c) Completely indifferent

d) Somewhat fine

e) Very fine


Glossary of terms 

shaayar (Urdu): poet; not necessarily a profession so much as a sensibility.

beta (Hindi): son, child, little one.

Ways to sign off in French:

    À toute de suite!: See you very, very soon.

    À tout à l’heure!: See you very soon.

    À bientôt!: See you soon.

    Au revoir: Until we see each other again, whenever that is.


About the shaayar 

He stands by the metro Saint-Germain-des-Prés and exhibits his work on the park grill. In three different languages, he sketches out a life, perhaps not in the right chronological order—rubbing shoulders with Kaifi Azmi in some fancy Mumbai literati joint, marrying a Tamilian woman from Pondicherry, poring over doodles and verses that hang in homes that “Picasso will likely never enter,” receiving a signed letter from Anne Hidalgo urging artists like him to keep the morale of the city up after the 2015 terrorist attacks on Paris. He writes in French riddled with errors when he writes his own verse (occasionally other people correct them, beta). He shrugs when asked why he doesn’t stick to Urdu, the language of the Mohammed Rafi songs he hums to himself. (You tell him you can only write in English. So write in English, he says. You’re not satisfied, but he doesn’t pick up on your stiff body language when he punctuates his sentences by curling his fingers around your elbow every now and then, so you leave. Goodbye.) 


Extra credit rhetorical question 

But didn’t she actually mean au revoir?