Dear RoseChasm: India, the Untold Story
Dear RoseChasm (or is it Michaela Cross?),
I read your India story. I empathized. I understood. I even shared it with influential people in the travel business asking them to pass it on to officials in the Ministry of Tourism – in the hope that they would awaken from their slumber.
Then I read your story again.
And I have questions. Not about the facts or about the trauma you went through, not even about some of the choices you seem to have made. But I do have questions about your sense of judgement, of self-preservation, of right and wrong as a guest in an alien country.
In my short two-year stay in the USA, I traveled across several cities, lived in little motels, took cab rides where I could afford them and explored the city by foot where I couldn’t. Being an international student with limited funds, I often traveled your vast land on the Greyhound. One of the cities I often visited was Gary, Indiana. I’m guessing I don’t have to say much beyond this – like quoting the crime statistics, or telling you how unsafe the place was or how I was warned not to get out of the bus station until my car ride arrived. Getting out alone, on foot, would be equivalent to…well let’s say, you and your friends dancing at the Ganesh Chathurthi festival on the streets of Pune. What in the world were you thinking? Oh, hang on, you weren’t thinking.
I visited your city Chicago, and lived in a more questionable part of town – again for the lack of funds. The motel was a dark, dingy place and the receptionist sat behind a large sheet of glass. A friend helpfully let slip – it was a bullet proof glass pane that protected the motel personnel from unwanted guns being shoved up their noses. I’m not quite sure which “lovely hotel in Goa” you stayed in. Did anyone recommend it to you on Trip Advisor or perhaps your friends on Facebook? Did you actually go through the comments on either or did you click on reservation, letting price and availability be your only guide? You see, we wouldn’t do that In India, not anywhere in the world. And if we did (like I did in Chicago), then we’d do it fully aware of the consequences. I didn’t sit crouching against the door with a pair of scissors, I slid the dressing table against the door, dialed 911 on the bed-side phone (so all I needed to do was press redial in an emergency) and kept the room lights on. And I slept, secure in the knowledge that I had done the best I could to keep myself safe.
Yes, men in India stare. Yes, it’s unnerving and often annoying. I don’t have “red hair, fair skin and blue eyes” and yet they stare. Almost every Indian woman will relate to the mental stripping you describe so eloquently. There’s no point telling you how often I have gone up to those offending eyes and punched them. The point is, it’s a problem that exists, we’re prepared for it (as I’m sure your University would have done) and we try our best to keep our equilibrium when faced with it.
Honestly though, I didn’t expect this behavior in Europe. I didn’t expect to be hauled into the corner of a lonely but well-lit street and hit with a barrage of unwanted lewd talk in a language I didn’t understand. I certainly didn’t expect men to come daringly close to me, pat my butt and take off before I could even react. I didn’t expect that my university in Michigan would have the dubious distinction of having the maximum number of rapes on campus, and that I’d have to carry a pair of knuckle-busters and a pepper spray when I walked back from class after dark. No one warned me about the masturbators in the Washington park, on the bus to Detroit, and the one near a public toilet in New York. No one prepared me for any of that. And yet, I coped. And with each travel experience, I came back home with memories that delight, enchant and enthrall me even today.
India is a country of anomalies. Where you have the stare-ers, you also have the good Samaritans – like the strangers who took me home with them when my Bangalore-Mumbai train stopped in its tracks (literally) because of the unending rains; like the angels who hauled me out of my crashed up car when it met head-on with a speeding bus and rushed me to the hospital and stayed all night until my parents were informed; like the taxi driver who berated me for hailing him late at night after a long work day, and insisted on waiting until I switched on the lights to my apartment and waived the “all’s well” signal from my balcony. Like the guy in Kashmir who offered to hold my two-year old while I struggled to get on the ski lift with her, my skis et al. It’s a country where the gropers and flashers live alongside helpful citizens who wouldn’t think twice about stopping and helping a foreigner who’s getting conned by the local rickshawallah.
I’m sorry you never got to meet any of these good people. I’m sorry you’ve gone back with such awful memories. Every country, like every person, has a dark side. You can either choose to dwell on the murkiness, or seek and reach out for those magical moments that actually made you go there in the first place. It’s sad that you chose to do the former. Come back please. Come back so I can show you my India, for I would hate it if you lived the rest of your life without changing your mind.