After returning from India in early November it took me a few weeks to comprehend the trip. I didn’t want to rush into writing something I would regret, which looking back I probably would’ve. My experience in India was shocking and upon my return I had not one positive thing to say about the country. However, I think these emotions need to be explored.
From the blind faith in religion to the point of plain stupidity, to the disgusting glares of men staring at you like a piece of meat – the two extremes, from the same country and from the same people just made this country a joke to me. However, as with any experience you only appreciate it in hindsight.
It took me a few weeks to come to terms with the fact that I was merely an observer in this now foreign country to me. I couldn’t hold judgement without knowing the history, people’s thought processes and without living that life. The quote, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes” rang true. How could I possibly discount someone’s faith when they may be at a point where that is all they have left to believe in? When you only have one hope wouldn’t you grab it with two hands and never let go? Do you really know of a different world when all that you have ever experienced is that one thing?
I was having photos taken of me by random men when I visited certain places. How could I justify anyone doing that to an Indian? I had men that would ogle me and wouldn’t stop even when I looked them straight in the eyes for a good 10 seconds. I don’t think I can provide a logical explanation to this prevalent issue in India but all I can say is perhaps when sexuality is suppressed, you will get oppression. This is not a justification for what happens, especially not all the rapes and murders that have been bought to light lately.
During my time in India we experienced all sorts of ‘class’. We took long crowded bus rides, jam packed third class trains but we mainly took AC taxis, first class train travel, planes and stayed in mediocre hotels. No matter which end of the class spectrum I sat, I always had guilt following me around. Who am I to have this life of privilege over the lady that’s my age and works 12 hours a day in the burning sun and makes barely enough money to feed the family? It could easily be her in my place, there is nothing that makes me above her as a person, but in reality I had been handed a more comfortable life. Why?
This is a feeling that would never subside during every journey in India. Whether I am having a drink at The Taj or The Leela or I am walking around eating food from the eateries in the slums – I would never feel comfortable. No other place will make you feel more grateful for the problems that you face in your life then this country; this is why people [or you] must visit it.
In a country of over one billion people you will bump into some good people and some not so good. The scariest moment for me was when two grown men refused us entry into a tourist attraction in Mumbai. They told us to pay an entry fee that they were part of a society that looks to better the place we were about to enter. We dismissed them and tried to enter because we knew this was a free tourist attraction. However, they stood in front of us and refused us entry without payment. At this point, I was genuinely scared for my life because we weren’t in the safest part of town and there weren’t many people in that alley. We gave them the money (which had halved by this point) and rushed through the tour. After this, I disconnected with engagement with mostly everyone.
I only had one memorable interaction with an absolute stranger in India. It was with two young sisters who were intrigued by me. They kept giggling and following me around, and their innocence made me smile. We had a chat with their uncle and the girls really wanted a photo with my mum and I, so we took photos and said our goodbyes. Later, we crossed paths waiting for the ferry to arrive and I waved hello to them. One of the girls touched my arm and started squealing in excitement. This made my heart melt and to the day I regret not taking a photo on my own camera of the two.
I like to think of myself as a very perceptive person that I can read people well. We had the same driver for our road travels in South India. The moment I met this person I had an inkling that something was off but through our time together I discounted my theory and saw him as someone who really did want to show me all the great parts of India. On my birthday, he was so excited to make my day special and wished me a warm Happy Birthday.
After his greeting I went to have breakfast at my homestay’s where I was shocked to hear what he had to say. The owner told me that he had to make me aware of my driver’s behaviour last night. That he came to this man’s house drunk, yelled at everybody and was being a nuisance until the wee hours of the nights. Another driver confirmed this fact, at which point I just wanted to break down. This man, who made us pay Rs 200 everyday to get fresh flowers for the Ganesh statue in his car, who wears a tikka (religious bindi) on his forehead everyday and who has never gotten mad at my face is a completely different person than I had thought. My father, a well educated, well travelled man handled this situation so perfectly. He was honest with the driver about this complaint and even though the driver refused to admit it. He made sure the driver kept hearing about this issue in a joking manner to make him understand in a nice way that we were not idiots. This is why I admire this man.
Above all I am grateful for the experience India provided for me. You don’t visit India to feel comfortable, but you sure come back feeling grateful.
I accept who I am as a person. I accept that I can no longer call myself an Indian at heart. While I acknowledge the struggles of others in India, I don’t need to travel in a bus with 100 other people to prove that I understand this struggle. This was a big learning curve for me. I accept who I am and how my upbringing in New Zealand has shaped me.