Mahatma Gandhi once said “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”. Its good that it doesn’t reside in the level of poverty,the hygiene standards of street food or the pockets of its politicians otherwise India would be screwed.As it stands, The heart and souls of most of the Indians I have met have never ceased to surprise and delight me, or frustrate the heck out of me on that note. Funnily enough they manage to do both but there is something about their nature that makes me forgive them their quirks and remember their sweetness. Last weeks bus trip was a prime example of that.
I was going back down to Mahabs for my one free day to lie in the sun in a bikini, eat grilled fish, drink beer and talk to people (no pretense there-that was all I wanted to do). Instead of wandering down to the bus depot and standing squished between people for an hour and a half I thought I would spend the 50 cents extra and get a direct, maybe air conditioned bus down (Which, of course, I never ended up getting). For that I had to go to a bus depot a little further away. I vaguely knew where it was so I boarded the metro and 3 stops later walked out…into the middle of nowhere. The metro station was on the side of a highway with no buses in sight. So I eyed out the 3 Indians standing around, chose the one that looked most like a student and asked him where the bus station was.
“Oh madam, that is where I am going, I will accompany you”.
Drat. I thought to myself, not this again-he’ll want to talk to me, ask me questions, I will have to communicate. I just want to find my way there, alone. I cursed my parents for making me so independent, and then bringing me to India and making me fall in love with this unique and crazy place. Especially in an Indian city, independence is more of a handicap than a help. See Indians really are some of the nicest people in the world. They will not just point you in the right direction, they will take you there, guiding you through the madness, not letting you do anything yourself and often paying for your transit there.
Which is exactly what he did. He showed me to the shared cab we had to take to the bus depot, haggling with the driver that charged double because of my white skin. I tried paying for the cab for both of us but he insisted and I had to plead with him not to pay my bus fare to Mahabs too. He even got on the bus with me and found me a seat. As he left to go there was only one thing I could do. I took his hand, looked him in the eye and offered a sincere “thank you”. He blushed, nervously taking away his hand.
Oh dang, I thought to myself, waving at him from the window, I probably made him nervous. Girls don’t really interact with male strangers, let alone shake their hands.
As I am pondering this dilemma of being both a white foreigner and an unmarried, young women I am acutely aware of the man standing in the aisle next to me, leaning heavily in my direction. At once my senses are alert-one of the downside of so much crowding is the epidemic of groping that goes on in Indian buses. When you are so squished you can barely move it is hard to tell if that hand on your behind is there because it has no other choice or because it’s a wandering hand. I lean into the women next to me who gladly makes room and am about to start using my very versatile and sharp elbows when he suddenly straightens up to make room for his daughters who he has been letting by. He points me out to them (“English, English”) and, what do you know, two minutes later they surround me, shyly touching my hair and asking me questions, wanting to communicate with me.
It’s a different world, and it gets pretty annoying sometimes constantly being singled out, with people always wanting to know things about you, wanting to interact with you, wanting to touch your hair and your hands but what else can you really expect?And really, how bad is it? I would still much rather people approach me with curiousness and kindness then with hatred and guns. So I do what I do best. I forgive them their quirks, I forget my independence and my need for solitude and my cultural ideas of what is appropriate and impolite and, much to their delight, I seat the youngest one on my knee, answering all her sisters questions and letting them touch my white skin, my blond hair and my heart.