The Cost of Doing Business


If I’m walking down the street and I see a Hindu and the setting is right, I will hit him or her. We plan some of our most extreme attacks such as breaking windows, breaking car windows, and crashing family parties. We use the phone books and look up the name Patel. Have you seen how many of them there are?

– Letter from the hate group “Dot Busters,” Jersey Journal, July 1987

It was simply a matter of time, a matter of letting him do whatever he wanted until he lost interest and let go of the cart. Groceries could be replaced, she told herself. Her forehead throbbed.

– G. S. Sharat Chandra, short story “Dot Busters,” New Letters, 1995

And I need an answer. I need an answer from the government. I need an answer for everyone out there that what is there they’re gonna do to stop this hate crime.

– Sunayana Dumala, press conference in Olathe, KS, 2017

We sold you our spices and tea. We were closed for business but then you saw some other customers were already squatting, so you rammed down the door anyway. We obliged and served you the tea, and showed you how to cook with the spices (which you’re still figuring out), and in return we got a nice train set for our birthday. We got a raw deal.

We sold you yoga and self-introspection and the Beatles’s White Album. You tore open the package and lost the instructions but tried to figure it out anyway. When your parents let you down you came over and wandered around the house and we let you join the family. You played with the train set and enjoyed living off of pocket change. You grew the ponytails and invented comfy new sweatpants and we let you believe that magic still existed in the universe. We sold you yourself.

We did not sell you our dignity. That’s on the secret menu. If you ask, we smile and nod and head-wobble. Also on that secret menu: the real meaning of karma, foods that don’t end in -curry, and authentic bhangra music. You tried to make them at home but it didn’t turn out the same. Also on there: our petty in-jokes, employee discounts, and ethnocentrism. We thought we were still center of the universe.

So we franchised.

You learned a lot from us, so we decided to learn something back. We learned medicine and circuit boards and tax accounting, but we read the instructions and followed them to a T. We set up shop around the corner.

We didn’t do it for you—at first. We sold ourselves mango pickle and chili powder, because it helped the mashed potatoes and Big Macs go down easier. We shipped the film libraries in poor scratchy facsimile and erected dome-roofed temples so we could find ourselves after getting lost in your country. We sold ourselves our myths.

We did not sell our welcoming kindness. That we gave away for free.

But then, as myths do, our stories got rewritten. Valmiki made tryst with Homer and Lincoln, and suddenly we felt like part of the tribe. We beamed the rest through your satellites, because the space race was over and we built the damn things anyway. This wasn’t a problem. We mixed and remixed and danced the night away. You still couldn’t do bhangra right, but it was fun to see you try.

Our payment was in dollars and the agreement was that this time, when we closed up shop, you left us alone. For the most part, you did. Those sweatpants are pretty comfy.

But you found us anyway, with heinous words and deadly bullets—outside a bar, in our driveways, minutes after closing the store.

It was the wrong currency, but we had to accept it just the same.

We told ourselves this wasn’t a problem. It was a simple mistake. A market shift. The boat of capitalism rights itself eventually.

But you still walk in with the wrong currency. We consider stocking zattar and sumac and halal meat, but there are already stores for that. We consider a corporate merger, but there’s so much red tape, and we know how suspicious you get about monopolies.

Truth is, we don’t all talk to each other much, but truth seems to be in short supply these days. Maybe we should stock that next.

Maybe rebranding is the solution. We put our mascots on your televisions and in the White House and in a galaxy far, far away. We are appealing to the youth.

Our kids want to get lost in your country. They want to belong and live off of pocket change. They want to find themselves with Latino colleagues and Black friends and white spouses. But they’ve grown thick beards and you assume they’re homeless, jobless. Leeches on the public coffer.

You say you’ll report us to Health and Safety, and we hang our heads and weigh the cost-benefit: the setbacks of letting our brown-skinned friends take the blame versus accepting our laissez-faire leadership.

The spices are too hot for you now, and ashamedly we nod and wobble and wonder if the customer is always right.

This is the cost of prominence, of doing good business. We sought to escape grift and greasy palms, but keeping our heads above the fray led us to ignore when the books weren’t balanced, the profits not quite equal.

We thought we were in the black, but we’re dripping blood red.


Feature image and second image via Creative Commons.

Aditya Desai's stories, essays, and poems are published or forthcoming by The Millions, The Margins, District Lit, The Aerogram, CultureStrike Magazine, and others. He received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Maryland and teaches writing in the Baltimore area. More from this author →