What did India do to me that no other place in my life has ever done?
It made me realize and experience emotions. Reluctantly and forcefully experience them, then grow an unforeseen accustoming to them, and eventually think nothing of them. That’s not to say that I was a cold, numb person before coming here the first time nearly two years ago- quite the opposite actually, for the most part I had been soft.
I thought anger was the feeling I had when my parents would not let me stay out late with my friends or towards my doctor when she insisted I refrain from exercise yet generously butter everything from my burger buns to my previously sacred slices of steamed zucchini.
I thought frustration was the regular young person diatribe of being misunderstood, of staying up all night to study for an exam just to barely pass.
And fear? We won’t even go there.
It sounds SO cliche to be “changed” by India, yes I know, but changed is not the correct word, more like aware. India gave me a new awareness, a bleeding raw insight into the reality of human nature- good and bad. Hospitality and love as well as the repercussions of hierarchy, patriarchy, and power.
I had never been so angry, frustrated, afraid, joyful, and carefree in my entire life- but it’s so easy to forget what it feels like, once I went back to the US and reverted to my regular life, I couldn’t imagine what I had been seething so much about. How I had wanted to slash the tires and beat the shit out of the bastard who bike-by groped my friend’s breast with the soles of my Chacos. How I had felt smug and satisfied with myself for the public shaming and beating for the scumbag who groped ME in a crowded old Delhi alley while my entire figure (including face) was covered in a loose-fitting Salwar Kameez and Dupatta (scarf). (You can read about that incident HERE). And how I shocked a man by bashing him in the face with my FabIndia shopping bag as he attempted to use his wretched camera-phone to photograph my friend and I as we walked a promenade in Pondicherry.
This time being back in India, I admittedly haven’t felt the harshest of emotions- I’ve been living quite plushly and only see the crowded male-populated streets from behind a tinted window. However, yesterday I had five minutes of it again, five minutes of biting my tongue and clenching my fists and fighting back the urge to throw a jackfruit at a leerer’s head.
Naz’s mum and I were out running a few errands yesterday afternoon, one of them being picking up some fruit from a fruit vendor on one of the busy streets. With the option of waiting in the car with the driver, I came out anyways- I do admit that had I known I would choose the option to step outside the car I would not have worn shorts (long loose-fitting shorts, but still shorts nonetheless) but in any case shorts are not a COMPLETELY uncommon sight in Bombay like they would be in Varanasi or a small village.
As soon as I was on the sidewalk helping choose out lychees and peaches, I regretted it. That uncomfortable, sticky, violating feeling flooded over me immediately and I instantly felt naked despite being far from it. A feeling probably more disgusting and excruciating than going a year without bathing while living in a humid rainforest tent. I wanted nothing more than to be completely invisible or standing there in a full length abaya with a scarf over my face which would at least make me feel safer and less like some sort of an imported endangered zoo animal. Yet, I also wanted nothing more than to do something, to change this mentality and this perception that it is acceptable to react in such a supremely disrespectful manner. All in all, I felt helpless, yet could not show it. The thousands of men everywhere, sitting on the sidewalks, sticking their filthy-brained-heads out their taxi windows, even the young boy packing our peaches- all staring, without any subtlety whatsoever, staring and chattering to one another, pointing, and snapping with their camera phones. I knew the scowl on my face would do little, the look of utter disgust would show a reaction, I tried to focus on the lychees, but all the flies at my feet were distracting, I tried to focus intently on Naz’s mother’s inquiries about the mangos- but no. I turned around briefly to find some bastard dressed in his idea of “Western” cheap G-star imitation crap snapping a camera flash. I wanted nothing more than to punch his brains out, and spit on him and all these other filthy bastards on their male ego-trips thinking they had any right to make a woman feel uncomfortable and feel like some object for public commentary and show. But of course, I bit my tongue, went back in the car and seethed to myself.