We survived a little over two months in India so far, and as I sent off my end of semester assignments in a haze of stress; the temperature had been steadily rising, and so was our discontent with our current arrangements.
At this moment, I write this not to scare away those who wish to visit India, but to vent my feelings and frustrations, and share my realizations with everyone. A country cannot make you feel such amazement, confusion and wonder if it is remotely similar to your own upbringing.
The down shot of this absolute up-side down world is that it brings frustrations and emotions which just don’t quite occur in the world you are used to.India is a land of contradictions. Tradition and culture meets modernity in a strange mash that can leave you speechless for all the right and wrong reasons.
We have spent amazing days exploring Maharaja Palaces’ and watching beautiful women do their shopping in sarees, and eating delicious thali’. Only to visit the train station a few hours later to have Shabir witness me being reduced to a cowering lump of a human, hiding underneath my sarong as I try to avoid the carnal gaze of at least ten Indian men.The culture shock we so desperately wanted to experience by travelling to India didn’t hit us straight away. We were far too excited, and amazed by almost everything we saw, and so eager to experience more, that we could barely register anything more than the delirious happiness that comes with setting off on a long awaited journey.
Instead the shock of being in a land so vastly different to the way we normally live crept up on us slowly, so much so that I remember thinking, and maybe even saying out loud a few times: ‘India ain’t that crazy after all!!’This post has become a rant-come-reflection on what I found so difficult to deal with, and the hard realizations of why I was feeling so uncomfortable. So take the ramblings with a grain of salt, knowing that I am an angry privileged foreign girl who may have just been broken (at one point) by the change of pace that is (Northern) India.
If you make it to the end you’ll see not only how important it is to identify what you are feeling, But also the reasons why you might be feeling that way whilst travelling, this way you can avoid a reoccurrence .
One thing that really got to me is the leering of by men who have, I can only assume, never been taught how to behave around women. I haven’t shown my legs in over two months in India, I have only bared my shoulders once (at the Taj Mahal, while wearing a scarf), and I always carry said scarf to hide behind when the men get too intense, even in the 40 degree heat of summer. I watched a documentary about a “mothers’s market” in India where all men where banned because “men are immoral”. This market had been running since the 16th century, and yet none of these older woman had thought to teach their sons the correct way to behave in society?!
Females are met with such discrimination they seem unable to even instill their own values values in their own children. This infuriates me on a daily basis in India, and has made me realise how much of a feminist I am.
As a result of this, and many other things, India as a nation is having to come to terms with it’s reputation of being unsafe for woman, after horrifying statistics began to be noticed by the west. A quick Google search reveals headlines like “Is India the Rape Capital of the World?” and “10 countries with maximum rape cases”. Digging deeper I see that in 2013, 92 woman were raped EVERY SINGLE DAY (source) this is an astounding statistic, but after a little more digging I found that worldwide about 54% of rape cases go unreported, and this is said to be as high as 90% in India (source). So doing the math’s; that means that there are potentially 920 rapes every day!
On that note: I’m sick of sweltering in long pants and skirts and T-Shirts because men can’t control themselves.
I’m sick of people pushing into lines.I’m sick of the open sewers.I’m sick of the burning piles of rubbish and the stigma that surrounds the waste and recycle workers. These people are some of the very few people working to make India a cleaner more eco-friendly place.I’m sick of not being able to be in control.I’m also sick of doing ninja moves to duck out of the unapproved selfies that men feel the need to take with me in the background. Why on earth would any one in their right mind want endless photos with a strange foreign girl in the background? WHAT USE IS IT?! Is it for the wank bank? Cos I can’t think why else you’re taking it, and that’s grosse, man! So as long as you keep taking them, I will keep confusing Shabir with my sudden disappearances to avoid being in your collection of ‘erotic’ photos of ‘easy’ western woman.
On the way to Bangkok, we flew with a full service airline, and the man across the aisle from us contorted himself in his seat in order to position himself for a selfie with me in the background. A grown man, in a full business suit and tie….
Living in China, the staring and photo taking was a common occurrence. And although strange and annoying at times, it never made me feel uncomfortable. Completely the opposite, in fact, after a little consideration I’ve found that this is because Chinese girls and woman were the main culprits. The woman in India are not as visible on the streets, and even when they are, they don’t seem to be confidant enough to approach me in the same way.
I’m also sick of being surrounded my men at all times, where are all the women?!I’m sick of restaurants advertising 30 menu items but only having 4 available.I’m sick of those same restaurants waiting until you’ve spent 5 minutes deciding what to order, before finally telling you they only have 4 options.
I’m sick of being treated as a second-class citizen, who cannot manage finances or god forbid, order her own food! One menu is often handed to our table, and you better believe it is always handed to Shabir, who is expected to order on my behalf.
I’m sick of being groped when Shabir isn’t looking. Yep, this has happened multiple times.I’m sick of the incredulous look I receive after I slap/whack/bash the groping culprit.
I’m sick of Amul or ‘tinned cheese’ being used so commonly! This is a cheese FULL of preservatives that doesn’t even need refrigeration, it has made myself and a many other travellers very sick.
I’m sick of being sick and run down because the food lacks all valid nutrients and fresh ingredients. I was so excited to be in a vegetarian country, where I had endless options to choose from for every meal. Instead I faced the same 20 items on all restaurant menus, ranging from poor renditions of Indian favourites that have been reheated two too many times, to oily and flavourless attempts at western dishes. I ordered ‘grilled vegetables’ at an up market restaurant once and received the tiniest portion of vegetables, with three miniscule pieces of broccoli and 3 tablespoons of oil for good measure. I have to give them credit, it was tasty though…..
My mum said that I would be a changed woman after 6 months in India, and I can already see that there are changes, but at this stage I can’t say they’re ones that I can be proud of. For one, I don’t yet feel like I have become more tolerant, in fact, quite the opposite.
I am quite ashamed to say that it took me more than two months to realise the cause of my increased stress, anger, and frustration was due to the very thing I originally sought out from my time in India. I wanted to be immersed in a new culture; I wanted to be challenge by it.
I wanted to be able to look back at our time in India with affection knowing that together, Shabir and I had tackled one of the most intense travelling experiences on offer.
Instead I closed my eyes to half of the experience and allowed my own privileges and expectations to get the better of me. The reason I was feeling uncomfortable and unsafe was largely due to my own inability to open myself up to the experience. What is travel if not a challenge? Why do we travel if not to experience different ways of thinking? Of course I cannot argue with the statistics that I have written about in this post.
After much internal debate and bruising to my independent spirit, I have had to come to terms with the realisation that I probably would not travel in India as a solo female. And it pains me to say that, it really does. We will see how our time in the South goes and if my opinion on this will be changed.We are now returning to India after a month’s hiatus and I am positive that our experience will be far less stressful and more enlightening this time round. With help from writing this post I can see where I am going wrong, and how I can increase my tolerance and thicken my skin in order to tackle round two in India.
We have made a pact, one that we should have made at the very start; to remain open to the experience, letting go of our pride to see where the next three months in this strange land can take us.
Have you ever suffered from culture shock? How did you deal with it? And were you aware of it straight away, or were you stragglers like we were? Please tell us all about it in the comments, so we don’t feel so bad!