When preparing to go to India, I expected the worst.
Horror stories of food poisoning, getting ripped off and being constantly in unsanitary or crowded conditions put me on guard, but I knew it would be a personal challenge with optimal rewards if I could see it through.
So when I first arrived in Delhi, I wasn’t too shocked at the chaos around me. To ease my transition into the country, I opted to pay extra to have my guest house, Hotel Rak International, pick me up directly from the airport. As I walked out of the arrival gate and saw my name on the placard, I was relieved that, so far, everything was going smoothly.
As I followed the driver to the parking garage, adjusting to what would become the familiar feeling of a 30-pound bag on my back under the blazing sun, I kept looking for the vehicle that would take me into my first glimpse of Delhi. Shiny new cars full of air conditioning and shocks lined past me, and to my disappointment, continued to stay past me as we walked on.
Finally, I spotted a small, dark paint-chipped car, covered in dirt and rust, with fallen upholstery showing through its grimy windows. Clearly, this car had come to the Delhi International Airport car park to die.
“Please don’t let this be the car, please don’t let this be the car…” I thought in my head. But as we headed toward it, ignoring its shimmering neighbors, I knew I was in for quite a ride.
Now, if you’ve been following my blog, you know one of my biggest complaints living in Malaysia was driving alongside people who all apparently have a death wish. I didn’t actually think it was possible to find worse drivers until I went to India, where traffic laws are virtually non-existent. Red lights are pretty much ignored, and the basic rule of the road is the bigger vehicle has the right of way and, when in doubt, blare your horn as loud as and for as long as you can and hope for the best.
Obviously, I somehow managed to survive the journey, but my car ride was just the first in a series of rude awakenings that marked my arrival in India.
After settling into my guest house, what I can only describe as “clean enough,” I walked around the Paharganj neighborhood to get a feel for things.
Noisy, crowded and dirty, Delhi is an excellent representation of the country’s worst traits, especially in the north. All around, people, cars, rickshaws and motorbikes compete for space on narrow roads, while random cows and goats hold their territories, forcing others to move around them.
For non-Indians, especially white people, you are a combination between a circus freak, celebrity and walking wallet, something to be stared at intently and then harassed into buying whatever grossly-inflated scarf/travel package/transportation they’re selling. Other times, everyone and their mother insists on taking a photograph with you (sometimes without your permission) and, at times, even asking for your autograph!
No matter what you’re doing, where you’re going and who you’re speaking with (or rather, trying to avoid), it seems nearly everyone has a burning desire to know your life story. I found myself trapped in about 100 line-of-questionings that went something like this:
– “Which country?”
– “Your name?”
– “Where are you going?”
– “What’s your job?”
– “Do you have a boyfriend?/Are you married?”
– “What is your phone number/email?”
My natural instinct when someone says “hello” to me is to greet them back, but I quickly learned in India that any acknowledgment whatsoever of the mostly creepy Indian men harassing me led to this questioning, and I had to turn the Erica bitch factor way up.
While most of the time India is harmless, there were two occasions in the beginning that definitely made me question whether or not I would cut it there for the subsequent three months.
On my second day, while walking down the street with two male friends, a motorcyclist reached out and grabbed my chest while passing by. At first, I thought it was an accident, the streets are narrow after all, but my friend confirmed that the grab was, in fact, deliberate.
This incident, while unpleasant, was relatively tame, and I brushed it off fairly easily. The second incident a few days later left me much more disturbed.
My friend Daniel and I had decided to go to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. While Daniel was taking pictures on the square, I was sitting on the wall alone, minding my own business, when this boy, about 10 years old, comes up to me and tells me I’m sexy (Mind you, I’m wearing a super ugly, floral print house-coat-like thing that was required upon entrance).
The conversation then proceeded like this:
ME: “Excuse me?”
BOY: “You’re sexy.”
ME: “Do you even know what means?”
BOY: “I fuck you.”
Yeah. I was sexually harassed by a child. At a mosque.
Now, as much as I wanted to backhand this kid, I found it quite sad (and telling) that a child is making comments like this to begin with, so I just walked away and ignored him.
And that was my welcome to India.