“If he asked me, I’d have to sleep with Prince,” I explained plainly to my husband, Robin in our fifteenth month of marriage. I wasn’t looking for a reaction. I was just stating the obvious. I was new to marriage then and didn’t fully appreciate not saying everything I thought.
I had just turned down a job to work as a Second Assistant Director on Graffiti Bridge, a film that Prince was directing, and I was lost in the post mortem. I was a Directing Fellow at the American Film Institute and they had let me leave earlier in the school year to work as the First Assistant Director on Julie Dash’s film “Daughters of the Dust.” I was quite certain that they wouldn’t let me leave again. Reluctantly, I said No to Prince’s film.
It took me a while to notice that the tone in the room and the color in my husband’s face had changed. “What?” he yells. I don’t remember the rest but I am sure that it went something like, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, Marriage, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Commitment. Blah,blah, blah, What would you say if I said … blah, blah, blah. How could you think, blah blah, blah?”
And all I could think was, “Are you kidding? I just turned down an opportunity to work with Prince and now I’ve got to make you feel better? How selfish, blah, blah, blah. I can’t believe that I have to defend the fact that I would sleep with Prince, even though I’m not going to since I don’t actually know him and I am not going to meet him since I am not working with him on his film. Just let me sulk in peace why don’t you? Let me mourn the loss for myself and for humanity.”
A little while later, there was more. This could be a deal breaker. An example of the cultural rift between my English, boarding school husband and myself. How could I have a life partner who didn’t understand that some things, like my love of Prince Rogers Nelson, were bigger than marriage, bigger than logic, bigger than reason? If I had the chance, I would be obliged to act on it, not just for myself but for almost all of the women I knew and half the men. It would be my Civic Duty. I would be paying it forward, taking one for the team. I would be honoring God.
He didn’t get it, he didn’t get me. He probably wasn’t kissing posters or sleeping with his Jackson 5 lunch box when he was a teen either. Very un-American.
Americans, when we are at our best, have a strong sense of Civic Duty. We don’t litter, we clean up after our pets, and we don’t push and shove or knock people down to get somewhere (Black Friday and Christmas Eve are obvious exceptions.) We do this because we all feel collectively responsible for our neighborhood, our street, our neighbors, and we believe that it actually serves us to think of others (and to avoid severe fines.) We yield the right of way because we get through the intersection quicker, we don’t throw garbage outside of our houses because rats will come and eat it, and we don’t honk like maniacs because it’s stupid and we might get shot.
Here in Mumbai, not so much. No one yields, no one thinks of a stranger and garbage is constantly thrown everywhere and almost no one picks it up. It took our family a while to figure out who we were going to be in this place, how we were going to live. Are we mannerly, knowing that we will be treated like suckers? Do we let the door slam in another’s face because it has just been slammed in our own? Do we throw trash everywhere because there is trash everywhere? I decided No! We have to treat people the way we want to be treated. Carry our trash for hours while we wait to find a can. We have to have integrity where there is none and we have to do what we say. We show up on time, we wait in line, and we make commitments that we keep.
Living against the grain in this way is a strain. There is little agreement for our values. We don’t renegotiate. We say thank you to servants and helpers and please when we ask for things because in our culture, it is honorable to do so. We are considerate and we don’t honk like we’re maniacs even though we are surrounded by blaring horns. in this way, we have learned patience and humility.
At some point, Robin rediscovered Halle Berry, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez and admitted that if he had the opportunity, he might be obliged to “take one for the team”. I haven’t gotten to meet Prince yet but almost all of my girlfriends and half of my guy friends can rest assured that if I ever get the chance. I will honor my Civic Duty.
Copyright Nandi Bowe 2012 Special thanks to Robin Melhuish and Donna McNeely Burke