We are back in Delhi, where it all began and we will be leaving the country tomorrow for Thailand, where access to the real country we are interested in – Myanmar – is a lot easier and cheaper.
I have arrived in Delhi, this taxing city, exactly 3 months ago, pretty much to this day. Eva has arrived here 4 months ago and given the places in India we have seen since, we can now say that we have at least scratched a tiny bit of the surface of a great, great country. A country that is so very different everywhere you go. It really is like a thousand countries in one.
That we stayed a lot longer here than we had planned to, says a lot already. But despite its beauty and hospitality, let’s not gloss over some annoying things that also make India. These are not many, but the ones that are there are intrinsic and persistent and worse maybe, there is little hope that they will stop or change anytime soon. India can in no way be reduced to below, but it’s a side of India that also exists and that somehow needs to be part of the conversation when we talk about India to get a more complete picture.
Privacy and Personal Space have yet to be invented
Some small and confusing things exist, that quickly turn amusing once you get used to them and just highlights how German, or at least European I or we really are. For once the complete lack of privacy and personal space in this country. Especially since we have both worked in England for years before coming here, this is something that has had a real impact. But again, this is nothing bad, it is just something to get used to and come up with countermeasures.
The total disrespect how a queue works for example. This is just crazy. Especially when you have lived or come from England, where a queue is an art form. This concept simply doesn’t exist here. A queue works pretty much the same way as the general traffic in India. If people see an opening, they will squeeze in from all sides and no rules apply.
You are at a counter to buy a train ticket and while talking to the ticket guy, you will find a pair of hands from the left and from the right squeezing past you with rupee notes through the little glass hole at the counter, followed by shouting wherever people need to go.
To counter this, I found myself adopting a bulky posture and put out my elbows, just to make it more difficult for people to squeeze past me.
While people from India suck at Rugby, they are great at doing scrums
Getting in and out of a train is straight up war. It’s like a game of rugby and reminded me of an intense scrum. There is no waiting for people to get off the train, before people on the platform enter. Everyone tries to exit and enter the train at the same time and you have to fight and push and punch with everything you’ve got to make it out. If you are not good enough, ruthless enough, to push your way out, you will not be able to exit the train at your stop. It’s that simple.
Mind double checking my PIN, mate?…
At the cash machine, I got used to at least two random other people looking with me at my account balance and how much cash I take out. At the beginning, I asked people to keep a little distance, for which I got bewildered looks in return. Once I learned this is happening to everyone, I let go and even had small conversations with people while they watched me punching in my PIN and taking cash out.
… and my text messages?
No privacy also when taking out my phone. People look at the messages I type, or whatever else I’m doing with my phone. However, this is not so much because people are interested to see the content of my messages, but more that they want to see what phone I use and how it works. I believe the status in India is at least partially determined by what brands your gadgets have. Pretty similar to our western world now that I think about it. Sometimes I was asked how much my phone would cost, or my camera. Really, it’s quite an experience.
One guy on a train managed to squeeze his head in-between me and my phone, looking at what I was doing with it, blocking my line of sight. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I gave him a running commentary about exactly what I was doing. “Now I’m opening “Maps” to determine where we currently are on our journey and get an idea of how much longer we are on this train and how much longer I will have to share my phone with you”. “Now I’m zooming into the map to get an even better picture”. He didn’t understand the hint.
The X-Ray People
This is all joy and fun but what is really annoying is Eva being constantly starred at and this is generally true with women from the west. And while in Delhi it was worst, it is true that it was in every single place we went to in India. Less so in Mumbai for example, but it was nowhere that it wasn’t happening. Out in the street it’s bad but temporary. They stare, but you walk past and it’s gone until you approach the next guy.
It’s more annoying on trains, where you are somehow trapped in a cabin.
Just to make sure we know what we are talking here. By starring I don’t mean they look at women like we would do in the west and if we are caught looking, we quickly and embarrassingly look somewhere else, like down to our wrist watch that in this moment we forgot we had dumped when we first bought a mobile phone back in 1995.
No, they stare and if you look back they keep starring. If you are a woman, they stare at every move you make, everything you do and they don’t look anywhere else. Imagine a guy sitting literally 2 meters away from you in a train cabin, starring at you non-stop and all this in the context of reports that female western, as well as Indian women have been groped or worse. It creeps the shit out of you. And while India introduced new “anti rape laws” in 2013, it does little in that moment to comfort anyone.
To be clear, it is not that you travel in fear. This starring just makes you really uncomfortable if you are a woman. Sometimes I was wondering if they had X-ray eyes, penetrating the cloth round Eva’s shoulders, the top she was wearing, the bra.
People need to watch more porn
Eva often said she felt completely naked when being starred at in such a way. It made her uncomfortable and it made me angry. Mainly because I couldn’t grasp the concept.
Have you never seen a woman? Is there no sense of shame, or at least a sense that it is inappropriate? Why don’t you just watch more porn? Why is there a feeling that you guys are suffering from a suppressed sexuality?
And it’s not like Eva was running around in G-strings. Well, at least not in public.
She was always decently dressed, often covering her head when she went into specific areas. At a minimum she always covered her shoulders, décolleté and legs. By any means, there was not much to see. Still, when talking to people they would often converse with her, but looking at her décolleté rather than her eyes. Eva always made a point of reminding them that they should be looking into her eyes. They would then briefly look up, just to look back at her décolleté the next second.
People should read The Guardian more often
One encounter on a train journey to Delhi was particularly striking. Eva was sitting by the window, I was sitting next to Eva and next to me a guy who kept looking past me, starring at Eva non-stop. At some point Eva said she couldn’t take it anymore.
I opened The Guardian app and casually selected a photograph of a bare-chested woman in the Guardian’s Art section that I’ve seen earlier. I left the pic open on my phone, while pretending to speak to Eva. But instead I was watching the guy’s reaction from the corner of my eyes. Like transfixed he switched his attention from Eva to my phone, with his stares, until I could almost feel my phone melt in my hands. This gave Eva a break but
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?
I’m asking because something definitely is wrong with you.
And I know it is not everyone, but it is safe to say it’s a lot of people.
And it doesn’t matter if a boyfriend or a male friend is there or not. There is no shame. And as a friend there is nothing you can do anyway because where to start? You would spend your whole day asking people to just not be so creepy please.
India Conclusion 2
Amongst the billions of great things this country has to offer and that I have described in my other posts, this was the most annoying side of India and something I really don’t see changing anytime soon. Especially because this behaviour is so common. I would be interested to know why this is. After all, with a population of 1.3 billion, it is safe to assume that sex is happening big time in this country. It’s not that everyone is living under some kind of enforced celibacy and with unrestricted Internet, porn is always available.
If you are Indian and you happen to come across this blog and you can enlighten us, please use the email button below. Both Eva and I would be curious to know and it would potentially soften the confusion and at times helplessness we felt.
We know India is so much better than this. We know because we have seen it and experienced it. Yet this makes India so much less tempting as a travel destination as a woman or even for couples.
Now that we are in Thailand, the first thing Eva did was put on her shorts. She now fully enjoys the freedom of presenting her legs and shoulders.
And no one gives a shit. Just like it’s supposed to be.