The Indian Stare & Glare
As I’ve voiced since the beginning of my travels, Indians like to stare because I’m so different. It’s likely not an evil, creepy stare; it’s more the intrigued kind since it’s not often people see a live Asian girl on their streets. The thing is, when you stare back, they do not look away. They keep staring! It gets super awkward for me, so I look away first. One time, at a jewelery store in East Fort, I saw this plump old woman keep staring at me. As I walked past, I saw her eyes follow me. Her head remained still, but here eyes followed me and nearly disappeared behind her lids. When I sat down at the next showcase over, I noticed her head roll in my direction. She had this stern, hard look that emanated condescension. Where’s the shame in staring down someone?! It’s so uncomfortable and rude!
In the beginning, it was all weird and creepy, believing the eyes were all devilish, wolfish, and probing. I was uncomfortable around passing rickshaw drivers, laughing children, oogling pedestrians, etc… I was only fine in the hospital with doctors, because there I didn’t feel as vulnerable and judged. With strangers, I felt weak, open, and like an exotic zoo animal.
As I acclimated, I let loose and became more accepting. I embraced who I was and made the most of it. I smiled back and played with kids. I waved to kids on the streets, and boy do they get giddy when a foreigner acknowledges them. It’s like I’m a local celebrity to them. I smiled more to people and nodded my head as I thanked people in shops and restaurants.
I rambled about how bathrooms suck here before. And I’ll ramble again because that’s how terrible the flushing systems are in India. Good luck finding a bathroom… If you do, they are literally crap holes. They are squat toilets located in cramped spaces wreaking of urine and ammonia. Plain disgusting. On top of that, there’s no toilet paper, only a bidet hose! A hose!!! You have to hose down your ass after your personal business?! Indians really don’t waste anything here. Even with the bidets, I would not trust the cleanliness of the water enough to wash down the behind. If you ever go to India, make sure you pack a roll of toilet paper in your bag.
You may find a bathroom and really have to pee, but make sure you have a rupee or two to spare. Yes, you pay to pee, to have to do something as natural and necessary as relieving the bladder. I made that mistake the first weekend I went to the Napier Museum/Trivandrum Zoo. Since when did it become a cardinal rule to pay to go to the bathroom or wash your hands? It’s supposed to be a comfort station, not a piggy bank!
So I wonder, how do women handle their monthly dates with Little Red Riding Hood? No toilet paper, no waste baskets, no trustworthy flushing system, etc… Emergencies happen and the urge can be unbearable. It can seriously strike like a tsunami. What do they do?! How do people feel about using a bidet? I’ve never used those gadgets, but I’ve toyed with Japanese ones that had nifty options and music. Those seem fun and hospitable, but not Indian hoses.
So if you ever go to the bathroom in India, your best luck is to go to the bathroom twice a day, in the morning and evening. During the day, you’ll be drinking plenty of fluids to replace lost ions and water from sweating like a marathon runner. You’ll be drowning yourself in water, but you’ll barely feel the urge to go. You’ll feel dehydrated, and everything you chug and wolf down will be absorbed.
Speaking of stink and poo, BUGS are EVERYWHERE! Flies, ants, mosquitoes, gnats, roaches, fruit flies, and moths – I’ve seen them all. Except, they are more like mega bugs in India. Disgusting, absolutely! I have this perpetual fear of insects, basically anything with over 6 legs that can creep, crawl, fly, or bite. Ewww, I shiver as I conjure up images of the bugs I encountered…
In the apartment, there was giant cockroach that lived under the kitchen sink where it was dark. It met an untimely death when it came out and attempted to enter my closed room. There have been swarms of fruit flies in the kitchen. They multiply like the speed of light. It got so bad that fruit flies covered the whole inside of a wastebasket, which had to be taken out onto the balcony. Later on, there was a wavy trail of marching ants across the outside balcony. Around the same wastebasket, there was a concentric circle of dead fruit flies. And still, a layer of live fruit flies laid along the inside of the bin, unperturbed and resting. Also, several huge-ass flies came buzzing furiously in the apartment. They were monstrous! Good thing my roommate killed them in blitzkrieg-style using a rolled-up Gelato advertisement. They were left along the balcony door beneath the curtains. Another unfortunate fly died a terrible death under the dinner table. I was watching TV by the couch and I kept hearing an obnoxious “BUZzz BUZzzzzz.” I turned and saw this twitching fly. It was giant. A few days later, some scavenging bugs surrounded it and had themselves a feast off the unfortunate beast. Then they mysteriously disappeared…
I got random bug bites during my trip. Not sure if they were mosquitoes or another species of pests. But I got most of my bites one night and after beach excursions. And leggings did not help! Because they’re skin-tight, bugs can still penetrate. Just because they’re long and black does not fool these buggers. I still ended up with an itch fest on my legs and arms and cheeks. How awkward it was when it came to scratching my behind?!
Bugs are literally everywhere and people here are used to it. They, little ants, roam desks, tables, and shops. Roaches crawl all over trains and no one seems to care about the socializing bugs on the ground and seats. They’re completely harmless, but they are still gross to see…
Poor babies. Sad, lonely, and unwanted, they roam and sleep on the streets. At night, they howl and cry into the night. It may be doggy sex, some late-night loving, or doggy abuse. It’s a sad sight and a terrible thing to hear in your sleep. But in India, they are like garbage on the streets. They are not the Indian man’s best friend. Our natural instinct is to pet them and play, but not there. They could be carrying disease and pathogens. There, they have to be treated like a disease. That’s just the reality. No matter how pitiful and lonely they are, dogs will never be accepted as cuddly friends.
India is probably a good 10 years behind schedule compared to the rest of the world, on many things. Take technology – cars, computers, cell phones… Remember the Nokia ringtone, ever so popular back when cell phones were just emerging? Yeah, it’s overplayed in India. While Americans and Asians have migrated to funky Verizon tunes, rock songs, and K-pop music, Indians are loving their Nokia tone. Most people have simple mobile phones, if they can afford one. Doctors and professionals have fancier phones like Blackberries, Androids, and other Smartphones. However, I find the ringtones not very fun, spectacular, retro, cool, or cute. Things are basic. I still like the Nokia tone, since my first cell phone was the rather heavy navy blue edition. It’s refreshing to hear the old tune again, something different from the Verizon tunes.
India also likes Fur Elise by Beethoven. It’s the default car backup warning sound. It’s also the cancer clinic’s waiting notification, the tone that’s played to call in the next patient. I like the song very much, thanks to my sister’s brainwashing. She played Beethoven’s classic song on the piano for NYSSMA one year. I also heard it played over and over again at a neighbor’s apartment when I went to Shanghai 10 years ago.
JFK = Just Fucking Kidding
One of the biggest frustrations is dining at restaurants. The menus are never honest. The menu pictures and descriptions tantalize you until you drool. When you are ready to order the signature dishes and featured picks, you call over a waiter. He approaches and shakes his head, “Sorry, we don’t have that.” WTH!!! At almost every restaurant I went to, this happened! Way to shoot down my hopes and cravings. It happened with milkshakes, desserts, breads, and main entrees.
Seriously, if you put something on the menu, colorful pics and juicy descriptions, I expect to have that choice. I expect full service and options, not disappointment. I don’t expect to be tempted, then shot down with a forced alternative.
Aside from toga dresses, tobacco gnawing, and awkward gazes, Indian men are not afraid to be touchy, with each other. On the streets, I’d see Indian guys hold hands and flaunt their open friendship. No, they are not gay, simply happy to be with each other.