Civic Duty #6

“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

27 Responses to “Civic Duty #6”

  1. Bill says:

    That was a nice enrollment, how can I register!!

  2. Zelie says:

    Nandi, you’re hilarious. Finding balance with family and your dream is tough. I totally understand. Much love and continued blessings… Z



  4. Dureyshevar says:

    This is always my struggle when I am in India, but just like you, I decide to look for the trash can, say thank you to the help and wait in line. But I also make it point to tell people off when they treat the city as a garbage can in front of me, when they jump a line and are mean to servants. It can be exhausting being a vigilante, but I cannot turn the clock back to become what I was. I think these are some of the gifts my adoptive country has instilled in me. Really looking forward to hooking up with you when you get back. Love

    • nand2688 says:

      Thank you for writing, reading and sharing. I am a bit of an Island here. (I don’t go out so much these days, the weather is intense.) will look so forward to visiting and eating with you when I return, I am already missing the food.

  5. Anita says:

    Dear Nandi, I would like to share some thoughts…
    In Indian culture it’s common to say “Thank You” with gestures and eyes instead of words… For example u may have seen, after u gave a bagger a coin of rupies, he often will point this rupie to his forehead, which means “Thank you and God bless you”
    Also I met many helpful people in Mumbai…
    I know it’s ur funny a bit ironical way of writing, which I always like, as u know.. but I don’t know if it’s right to create a general picture of “well-behaving Americans” and “bad-behaving Indians” like this…
    Personally I also often hate the hierachy in Indian society, the way rich Indians give orders to the waiters in a very unfriendly way, and the servants always follow and hold their head down.
    But how did they learn this behavior? I think in 600 years, beeing ruled by the British, they learned very well about hierarchy, and how rich men should treat their servants, they learned a lot about that.
    Still, I appreciate your articles, looking forward to the next, and wish u and ur family strength for the challenging daily life in Mumbai..

    • nand2688 says:

      Thank you much for sharing. Please note that I state that Americans are often the way we are because of fear, not because we are better. While a bunch of negative aspects of the culture can be blamed on the British, it is time for Indians to take responsibility for the litter and the corruption and the flogging of servants etc. I would like think that I write about India as a foreigner but one who has love and respect for so much of the culture here. Thanks for keeping me honest.

      • Anita says:

        Thanks for your explanation, I like it… I also hope, India achieves soon to get these things better…
        Greetings Anita

  6. Ariane says:

    Nandi! i loved this post so much, and am enjoying following your adventures in India from the comfort of my Northern California farmlet. You really made me laugh this morning, and I so needed that. Thank you so much, with all my heart.
    your (old) Class of 80 classmate

    • nand2688 says:

      So thrilled to make you laugh. As you can see, I choose laughter over shame every time. Please keep reading and laughing. Nandi

  7. Sandi P says:

    Thought-provoking. I like the phrase “civil duty” relating to doing the right thing to live respectfully and peacefully. Frankly, there has been a bit of decline in awareness of civil duty in LA and perhaps the U.S. even since you’ve left. Much love.

  8. Natalie says:

    Now back in Sydney looking back at this other universe I lived in ( below you ), it’s unbelievable how we coped and kept our sanity. Laughter is always the best medicine. So keep writing, well done

    • nand2688 says:

      We leave in a couple of months and I have constantly clung to the humor to keep the sanity in check. So good to hear about life after India. Thank you much for reading. ODC 2 is pretty much the same. N

  9. Karin Luster says:

    LOVE your writing! Can’t wait for the next installment! Someday I’ll have to tell you my Brad Pitt story of how we were supposed to be together forever and Kenji got in my way.

  10. Roderick Spencer says:

    That is hilarious. My wife once said that she might have to give it up for… was it Giancarlo Gianninni? I can’t remember, but it was some foreign movie star. And because I’m part caveman it made me think, “Cool. Turnabout is fair play.” But the first candidates I thought of, none of them were famous. They were just hot, unattainable women from my past. Like, friends of my mom when I was a kid, or my older sister’s friends. That conversation would not have gone well! It’s one thing to fantasize, even if the fantasy is about a living famous person. But sharing one’s fantasy about childhood crushes is a lot more dangerous. Actually, the whole conversation is dangerous. I’m glad that y’all got through it without any crockery getting broken. I just saw the ‘Excellent something Hotel’ movie with all the great old British actors in it. Every shot in it was gorgeous, but the cliche way it portrayed India, as basically a great place for out of sorts white people to go to find out what really matters, was… annoying. I made a promise to myself that I would go to India before I die, because I grew up hearing my (extremely well-traveled) father ruing the fact that he never got to India. He might have been longing for the cliche too. I’m sorry I didn’t get there while y’all were there. xox, rms

    • nand2688 says:

      thanks so much for reading and commenting. We’ll have lots of tips for you when you travel here. Love from us, NB

  11. Tommy Burns says:

    Hi Nandi! I worked with you on Daughters. I told my wife, who was then my girlfriend the same thing about Shelia E! I hope you are well.


  12. Jeht Matous says:

    Beautiful, Queen. Love it!

  13. Staci Boggeri says:

    I love your writing!

  14. Max Dunn says:

    Ah, I always wondered what “Civic Duty” meant. Now I know!

  15. nandi bowe says:

    thank you for reading, please subscribe!

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