Quite often on this trip, we find that we are asked, “What do you think of India? That question usually pops up within the first few minutes of meeting someone. Depending on the circumstance we can delve into the answer more deeply or provide a more brief response, but we always, of course, verbally share our utter amazement with this place.
Today as I entered the metro station, someone walking to my right got my attention by pressing into my personal space and catching my glance.
“Where are you from?” (This is ALWAYS: the opening question.)
“Oh, really? …”
In the brief moments we have before crossing through the security check point and therefore being separated for the rest of eternity (men and women are separated at the checkpoint) we talk about how long I am here for, the fact that I am a student studying psychology, and finally, the interview comes to the expected question:
“What do you think of India?”
“It’s CRAZY. I love it though – ”
“Really?! You like it here?”
“I mean, yeah – sure it’s chaotic and overwhelming, but I am really enjoying my time here. The colors, the food; it’s quite an experience.”
“So you like living here?!”
“Yea! It’s amazing…”
We nod at each other as the realization of the checkpoint comes into view and we go our separate ways to be pat down by someone in a police uniform of our respective sex. Why was this person so genuinely surprised that I am enjoying my time here? Often people seem to probe us for any troubles that we are having in India. Is there anything that I don’t like about India, is there anything that I find difficult about living here, what is the most different thing compared to America… etc. Why does this happen? Shouldn’t it be assumed that I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have some desire to experience life in this country? Mashed in between a cumin seed and a mosquito?
This somehow became a strange preview of events to occur later on that night. As if someone heard my curiosity to why that man responded to my answer with such surprise – oh, but isn’t there any situations which have left a strong impression on you otherwise? Don’t you have any experiences here which have perhaps left a sour taste in your mouth?
Granted, every place has good and bad. Every single environment we find ourselves in will have people will have positive will have negative it’s all part of this human experience nothing ever remains one way for very long and the world definitely does not cater to you to me or to anyone else; It. Just. Is.
After buying a book, eating a sundae, a couple rickshaw rides, sipping on some sweetened coffee, and a few beers… Kelly and I found ourselves in a massive sea of pressed bodies ‘in line’ for the metro at one of the largest stations on the line. This station, which is a transfer point, not to mention connected to a large populated circular shopping area with markets and people and buses and hotels, is usually one of the more ‘crowded’ stations. Tonight, however, I have never seen anything quite as impressively overwhelming as this. This gave a whole new meaning to rush hour. It was more of a chaotic endeavor to mash your body into the body in front of you in order to maybe thrash onto an oncoming train. Like a mute punk show.
Three trains went by as we were ‘standing’ in the mass of shoving nudging stubborn bodies waiting for our ‘turn’ to shove ourselves through the doors of a train that never stopped in quite the same place. I am always wary of stray hands in crowded situations like this – people (men) seem to take high advantage of the fact that a crowd becomes an excuse for inconspicuous touching of body parts. At one point, someone’s leather bag brushed my thigh and I almost began to yell, but luckily I looked down and saw that it was just an inanimate object made of animal skin and I needn’t make a scene.
Okay, I thought, I’m crammed in between pushing shoving squeezing bodies, but I’m okay. We’re all just trying to force our way onto the next metro train. Not get caught as the doors are pushed shut by metro attendants, as stray body parts and bags get in the way, people sucking in their stomachs to press themselves in as the final boarders.
Finally OUR train came. The one in which we were close enough to the door to somehow get thrashed through the doors in a giant flowing wave of eager people. As soon as the doors to the metro opened, the flood of people began to move wildly, and suddenly I found myself being grabbed in too many ways – it was as if the opening of the doors, and the movement of the bodies was a signal for the gropes to begin.
Kelly, much more proficient in Hindi than I, began yelling in foreign tongue shaming all the perverts around her. I, on the other hand, in my shocked state, stuck with the native English that I know so well, yelling,
“What the fuck?!
Do NOT touch me.
Get your HAND. OFF. OF ME.”
Things to this effect.
As we had been separated in the struggle to board, I looked back to catch a glimpse of Kelly’s flailing limbs, obviously wild with offended passion.
Once packed in on the train, people somehow made a path for us to be reunited. That whole ride, we were very liberal with our language, not bringing down our voices to discuss our most recent experience. We didn’t shield our disgust or our surprise at the hands that had meandered in places they shouldn’t have been. We didn’t stop laughing at the absurdity. I personally was in a state of shock. Do you, Mr. Man, really have to get off by grabbing a woman’s ass on a crowded metro? Does that fulfill you? Are you done now?
As a woman, I don’t think I have ever felt more stripped of my independence. I’ve never felt deprived of my ability to take public transportation without feeling like an object for use of entertainment. I don’t think I’ve ever realized the social implications of patriarchy. (Which I realize exists in the vast majority of the world. I am not trying to just pinpoint India.) It’s not even a fear of safety – it’s just the sense that you aren’t looked at as a human; instead, you are a thing, you exist as a concept. I have never felt so out of control among such a vast amount of people - - -
Am I not human? I am existing. I have a mind and a soul. Nothing warrants you to touch me. Not even in the most opportune of moments in the depths of a crowded metro stop.
The crazy part is –
If that man up at the beginning of this post, the one who asked me what I think of India, asked me this question tomorrow in the metro station, I would give him the same answer that I did earlier today. Of course I love India. Of course I love this experience, what I have gained, the smiles, the good; I even relish bad experiences here, as you always can in life… I don’t judge your country based on a metro stop.
Other than spurring a web of thought tentacles, an evening like this could never deter me from my enjoyment of life, and right now that life involves India.