Ai! Well, I finally updated that last entry, so now I get to move on the 2nd part of our trip. Not nearly as relaxing, but way more stories. Where was I? Right, we’re leaving Northeast India, on a flight to Delhi, the world’s sketchiest capital. That’s probably not true and I’m sure there must be nice places in Delhi, but honestly, I’ve only had my most creepy experiences there – once, in a market, a man came up to me and, while walking towards me, mind you, straight up grabbed my chest – so casually and unexpectedly that as he walked quickly away, I was just standing there, stunned that he had the audacity to do that in an absurdly crowded, well-lit, family-friendly area. None of the passersby noticed either, just my friends and I, who were all just pretty shocked too. I don’t know what reaction we could have given, maybe yelled at him? Maybe chased him? Contacting the police would have been laughable, so what do you do? Nothing, sadly, is the answer for most crimes, especially harassment and sexual assault, here.
What makes it far stranger and more disturbing is how quickly it has become normalized for me – that incident was last semester and now I don’t even know what I was so threatened by, it’s frankly quite commonplace. Writing about it and thinking about who will be reading this in the West makes it even stranger to talk about. Men grope or inappropriately touch us pretty frequently on public transportation, in public places – it doesn’t really matter where we are. It’s something that I’ve been chalking it up to culture, because what alternative do I have? I can’t necessarily stop it, I can’t even report it without being laughed at, and what if I did report it? That cop would make some extra money because they would demand a bribe from the perpatrator? Right, so there’s that.
This isn’t even counting the countless number of phrases and slurs and whistles that have been thrown at us, used so casually that they’ve lost meaning – slut, whore, bitch – all words that have made it to India so quickly thanks to the delights of the World Wide Web and Western media. This doesn’t even count how often we see groups of men staring us down, stopping conversations, overtly moving to get better looks at us, watching us come and go from 100 meters on each direction, taking pictures of us to show their friends later, invading every bit of personal space we may have. It is so much worse if we go to the beach – someone always needs to be on the lookout in our group to make sure there aren’t any creepy men lurking, taking pictures, waiting for us to walk out of the ocean, shaking water out of our eyes, in order to get pictures of the “slutty American women” in their swimsuits.
Dear God, if there is one thing that I will be thrilled to do when I go home, it will be to go back to criticizing the objectification of women without feeling like I’m crossing an unseen boundary where I can’t tell the difference between what is cultural and what is simply sexist and unfair. To them, we are celebrities – the internet is their tabloid, where they post photos and share them with their friends as we end up in vacation photos as if we’re new animals at the zoo. There’s an underlying sense of undermined safety too – if I make a comment to that guy who just whistled and “Eve-teased” (the Indian word for catcalling, derived from the Bibical Eve) me, will he be mad? Will he get his friends? Or would he feel ashamed for being called out by someone who comes from a supposed “higher status”? I have no idea, nor am I willing to seek out the answer, sadly. But what an experience it is.
This trip to Delhi was better than the last, though not by much – we were dropped from the airport to the bus stand – there was no waiting area, not even a tiny shelter, and there were dozens of…unsavory…looking men around, so we figured a public place would be best and walked into a nearby restaurant. The restaurant, as it turned out, did serve food, but its primary use was as a “drinking facility” – I think in Delhi, they must have some kind of open container law (kind of rare for India), so people would buy their alcohol next door at the liquor store and settle in at the restaurant to drink it. There were no women there, nor anyone that wasn’t a middle-aged, slightly drunk, definitively creepy looking Indian men. I feel bad for generalizing a whole population so often, but it must be said that I do have male Indian friends, and none of them ever look that creepy – it’s not the actual look of them so much as the looks received from them that are disturbing.
Anyway, we sat there for a long 2 hours, keenly aware of all of the news coming out of Delhi for the past 3 months and getting more and more paranoid about our presense there as 4 Western single women traveling alone, until our bus finally arrived and we delightfully found that the sleeper bus had not only curtains, as most have, but doors – while it makes you feel like you’re sleeping in a long, flat cabinet, it does provide a sense of security. Curtains can be opened (usually there aren’t enough of them to cover the opening anyway) and people can reach in – an unfortunate occurance that has happened on more than one occasion to many of the people in my program both semesters.
When we made it to Jaipur, it was only 4am so we decided it would be best to get out of the creepy alleyway and rent a hotel room to rest in until at least daybreak. We “splurged” (all of $10 USD each) and got a really nice room with a giant bed that we all four promptly crashed on. Our day, once we finally awoke, was spent in the City Palace, wandering around, shopping a little bit and riding elephants up to the Amber (pronounced “Amer”) Fort. It was just as lovely (though far hotter) as I remembered it and far less crowded since it’s off-season all over India now.
As lovely as our day was, our evening took a turn for the worse (or the better, depending on how I look at it now). We got a call at 9:30pm from our bus, which told us, through very broken English, that our bus was not departing at 10:30, like our ticket said, but at 10:00. It’s India though, and there’s not usually a reason for most of the things that happen to us so we pleaded with them to wait for us and hopped in a rickshaw. However, between 3 rickshaws that didn’t know where our stop was, and an apparently very impatient bus (they’ve always waited for us – even for 2 hours one time – if we were late), we arrived just 3 minutes after our bus had left, with no way to catch another bus or train to Agra that night. We were in another sketchy place, this time a construction zone where they’re building the new metro but is right now filled with sheet metal suppliers and huge spits of meat roasting over repurposed garbage cans – not exactly Grand Central.
However, one of the few new buildings around that WAS finished was a gigantic beautiful hotel right behind us (India is full of these bizarre paradoxes – slums next to 5 star hotels, construction zones next to renowned colleges, cow sanctuaries next to our apartment buildings…). We went in, pretty gross looking, with our backpacking gear on, wandering in aimlessly to this beauitful building, but B worked her incredible magic and used her feminine wiles not only to secure a 4am taxi (to get us to Agra for two hours and then all the way to the Delhi airport – about 9 hours of driving total) for half the price but also convinced the hotel management to let us sleep on their lobby couches and floor until then. Certainly impressive by anyone’s standards. I’ll finish writing about the rest of this trip when I’m not so exhausted, but the best story is yet to come!