The Attaché’s Wife | Karan Mahajan | Granta

The Attaché’s Wife

Karan Mahajan

Everywhere J traveled in the country with the government press attaché, people would turn to the attaché and say, ‘But you should explain the background to him, after all he’s not from here.’

One day, exasperated, J said to the attaché, ‘Will you tell me why people keep acting this way with me? Do they sense something about how I walk? My clothes? My accent hasn’t changed at all since I left.’

The attaché smiled. ‘But they know you live abroad.’

J, an internationally syndicated columnist, had been invited by the government to write a report about the country’s progress.

‘But does that mean,’ J said, ‘does that mean I’ve lost my connection to the country, that I’m not capable of understanding it? After all, I’m from here. I grew up here. In fact, that’s why the government invited me back for this work.’

The attaché said, ‘That’s a good point,’ though he clearly didn’t believe that.

J couldn’t let it go. ‘Millions of our people live abroad. Is this how you want them to feel?’

‘But there are certain things, sir, only a local –’ The attaché held his tongue.

‘But that’s what I’m saying. What is this magical thing I don’t understand? OK, fine: I’m not aware of the name of the latest cricketer or whatever sidey politician is in charge of this district. But why is that even important? This obsession with proper nouns – that’s not wisdom. As far as I can tell, the basics of the place – the corruption, the pettiness – have not changed.’

‘It seems like you have decided on the content of your report, sir,’ the attaché mused.

‘This habit of putting people in categories. Inside, outside; upstairs, downstairs. And as far as you’re concerned, I’m outside. How could I – some foreigner with zero connection to this place – possibly understand anything about this great country? Why even invite me to make a report?’

‘No, sir, it’s so you can understand,’ the attaché said.

J was beginning to comprehend the attaché’s humor. ‘You think this, all this that I’m saying, it’s proof of being a foreigner,’ J said, ‘getting bent out of shape like this –’

‘Not in the slightest, sir,’ the attaché said, but J could swear he saw his eyes twinkling.

‘OK, let’s continue on our tour,’ J said.

But as they drove around the city, J got angrier. He remembered now why he’d left in the first place: the people of this poor hot country were smug when they had nothing to be smug about. They were petty and possessive.

I’ll write the damn report, he thought. And it’ll be damn negative.

Karan Mahajan

Karan Mahajan is the author of Family Planning and The Association of Small Bombs. In 2017, he was selected as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. He has recently completed his third novel, The Complex.

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