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Indian Fashion Accessory of the Year…

27 Jan

Three words…Ali Baba Trousers.

The fashion fad of all fashion fads for the 2007-2008 India travel season is the Ali Baba trousers…also affectionately known by us as genie pants, diaper covers, grungy hippie premium denim, and load in the pants. They are made with billowy material usually with an elastic waist and about two yards more fabric from the waist to knees than you actually need. In fact most of these pants hang well below the knees and this- in essence- is what makes it look like the person has taken a dump in them.

And they are EVERYWHERE…I challenge any of you to go to any Western travelers haven in India- be it Goa, Hampi, Puri, Mamallapuram, or Varkala and NOT see these pants on someone. Male or female- it doesn’t matter- although in my humble opinion, men should NEVER wear these pants unless they are very comfortable with their masculinity and don’t mind looking like a big dork.

So to be an completely individual traveler in India, get your Ali Baba Trousers, sport your Om tattoo, carry around the Lonely Planet guide, read Shantaram, do yoga while you are just standing around, buy a drum, stare off into space and wear your hair in dreadlocks and you will look just like every other twenty-something backpacker that I have seen for the last six months.

Ed note: I am not knocking Shantaram- it is a great book and I would recommend it to anyone. Read it now before Johnny Depp ruins it on film.

I think I might love India…

12 Nov

I really noticed how used to India we had become when we landed in Mumbai on our way to Goa.

Many of the people who come to Goa are Euro-trash tourists, Liverpool blue collars and Israelis looking for fun and sun. We however, were on a mission to take a break, to spend some time near the beach and cruise on scooters having fun. We decided to come to Baga and spend a week swimming, sunning and scootering…then travel the rest of Goa before heading back to Puducherry.

We had a layover in Mumbai, before we ended up in Panjim, Goa. This is where I realized we were used to India…and well, we had won our right of passage. The people, the madness, the confusion, the late planes, the endless waiting…it just didn’t phase us. This is how it just is…this is India. But the contrast- between our acceptance and ability to look the other way, and the new comers was very tangible.

The tourists were impatient, they ACTUALLY waited in lines or at least thought there were lines (and when, of course, Indians *and two white tourists* cut in front of them…they threatened to complain!) I remember we were like that way, way, way back (sigh…) but no more. We know there are no lines, when you want something just push to the front and step on the toes of the person next to you to make it. We know that NO plane (ours was 2 hours late) or bus (a 2 hour ride really means closer to 4 1/2 hours) or train (only had 1 on time in all these months- “the inconvenience is most regretted”) will be on time in India- there is no such thing as time in India, and there will never be. We know that they will scan, search and struggle with Anthony at every airport and securtiy check in India, but let me walk through everything (I am the one carrying everything illegal ;)- less they frisk and harass (hand over mouth here) a woman. Just being in India is a struggle, but we…we have made it through initiation- and won!!

I am a Salwar wearing, chaos loving, Dosa eating, water drinking tourist and I love it. Give me a 100% pure-veg thali any day!!! Lime soda please, sweet with a little salt. Watch the back of my salwar as I ghetto scooter it out of here sister- honking to make the cow move just avoiding your pan spit. This is India.

So we are in this little beach town, (called the freak zone because it is nothing like anything else in India. If you never went anywhere else but here, you would have no idea what India is really like) settled into a great place called Alidia Beach Cottages, cruising on our ghetto scooter (it doesn’t have side mirrors like all the others, but it has brakes- that’s not bad!!) just feeling groovy. Then I gasp… there are whities everywhere!!!

They are waddling down the road, wearing next to nothing (I would rather they didn’t…I just don’t need to see that- it’s never the good looking ones you know, just the old and fat) and badly sunburned. They look confused, dazed and otherwise annoyed. Sure! Of course! It’s 38C and 98% humidity and it’s dusty, dirty and crazy- why in the world are you walking in the sun during the middle of the day? The old English Raj saying “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the middle of the day” really fits. We are out, but that is because we have a deluxe ghetto bike and we are free. Besides, we are heading either to shade or the water- it’s crazy to be in the sun in the middle of the day!

It’s fun to cruise and laugh, playing with the traffic just like everyone else, honking like mad. We understand how traffic works and we play with them. But we notice something, something that is not playing and definitely not laughing…the whities! They are signaling to turn and no one is responding the right way!! Ha, Ha!! Honking is a national past-time in India. But it really means pass me in India, not a signal to indicate rudeness. So what else is there to do, but pass? So we zip by, others zip by and the whities get mad!! So they honk (to say hey, that’s not nice)…but you know…that means pass me!! So everyone does and we all honk back which means thank you, and they become more impatient and angry. Silly! You know “Horn OK Please” or “Sound Horn OK Please” means let me know you are there, pass me and then honk when you do pass. Well India IS Horn Please in every way. So people pass, when the whities honk and then the whites want to turn! They stop in the road (honk!) turn on the turn signal (pass me) and wait. No one stops everyone passes and the whities honk. Of course! Put your arm out and just go if you want to turn. No, don’t stop in the road- just go. “But there is a car coming!!” Go faster! Flustered whities everywhere and not knowing what to do!!!! Funnier than hell. Which leads me to another topic- whities on the beach.

Now, I am no prude. I love to be naked and I do it all I can but I also respect culture and have to live here and be a white woman in India. Yes, I am wearing a “bathing costume” in India, on the beach. I know that is not totally respectable, but it is a fairly modest costume and I am going to specified beach areas for tourists, and there are other Indian families vacationing in various forms of similar dress, so I figure it’s just fine. No issues, this IS a beach resort. Sure, there are plenty of Salwars walking around, but not in the 1K or so radius of beach in our area. But that’s not the issue- here’s my issue- please don’t go topless.

Come on ladies, how freaking stupid can you be? You are in a 3rd world country, dominated by religion and social modesty, where you won’t even get frisked at an airport for fear of immodesty and you are going topless? Shit. See here’s the issue- you show up here 2 weeks a year, do your thing and then go home. You don’t care what happens to other women nor about the ramifications of your actions towards other women, especially western women. I do. I am the one (and other fellow traveling women) who want to immerse themselves in culture, who want to learn, who want to show respect. We are the ones (because we are white) the conservative Indian men see as the breast bearing whores (trust me, they have cousins all over the country who will hear and see on their phones pictures and stories about your ta ta’s and tell others etc.), which is the exact thing they expect from an MTV or Eurotrash gal. Why? Why do you do it? Here’s the thing… I just can’t cry a tear for you.

When the Indian men circle your chaise lounge, walk by you at least 20 times, laugh and point, bring other men to stare at you and make life hell- you get annoyed. Oh boo-hoo! How dare they harass your toplessness and not just leave you alone, how RUDE! You live in this isolated non-India (trust me, Baga is NOT India) for a week or two and go home, and that’s the extent of your understanding of India. You know- this isn’t the West and this isn’t home. Things are different, no matter how similar they seem (Goa tourism has worked hard at that- making you think you were in Ibiza.) I would love to take you any day to any city or village and show you what it is really like in India. What it is like to just be a white woman, and discuss the attitudes and viewpoints of conservative Indian men. Then, when you ask me “where does this come from?” I will point to you and say “girlfriend, it’s you.” Take your top off all you want- I do- but not on the beaches in India. Show some respect for the other women, both Western and Eastern- who have to tolerate the ramifications.

More to come on the list I have of idiosyncrasies of Indian life…like leaving the sticker on all mirrors and bathroom fixtures. No matter the class of hotel, inn, guest house etc. there is always a sticker. Why? We take them off…are we breaking the law?

Stay Tuned!!

Bhubaneswar…Beware of the Pandas

1 Nov

Not the furry, cuddly, black and white animals that you might find in zoos and Chinese rainforests. These pandas or Hindu priests are sleazy, disgusting creatures that lurk inside Hindu temples. BEWARE! Once they see your white skin they jump into action grabbing flowers and trying to hand them to you, getting you to offer them to the deities and pray for your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, and your crazy uncle Larry. Then comes the best part, you get to pay for this honor and they don’t want measly ten rupee notes, no, they want hundreds only. One hundred for father, one hundred for mother, and one hundred for the aunt you don’t talk about rotting away in a women’s correctional facility in Bakersfield, CA. (Ed. note: I don’t have a crazy uncle Larry or an aunt rotting away in prison, but if I did, the pandas would want me to pray for them.)

I’ll admit it, even after reading all the websites, the travel books, etc. I got suckered into the scam- and it is a scam. Having never been in a Hindu temple, I did not know the etiquette. Am I supposed to give a holy man the finger and tell him to bugger off? I guess I am. But these pandas are counting on the fact that you won’t. That you will be good little rich, white people and go along with the prayers, that you will open your shoulder bag (which is obviously overflowing with money) and give freely. I got away with only giving a couple of ten rupee notes. I feel the need now to apologize to my family- of course you are worth more than twenty rupees, but not when I am getting scammed.

Our autorickshaw driver-cum tour guide (who barely spoke a word of English) quickly ushered us out of the temple and back into the rickshaw. He turned to me and mimed the signal for money (rubbing fingers together,) the signal for no (palm facing me, waving side to side,) and the signal for get out of here fool (a sweeping motion with the hand.) He must have really wanted me to understand because he went through it about seven times and another two before we entered the next temple. OK, OK, I get it…sheesh.

Unfortunately, Hindu temples across the board are difficult. If you can get in, meaning you are either Hindu or male, though sometimes women are allowed in, you ALWAYS have to deal with these pandas wanting to give puja. Finally, we just gave up and went to temples that were open as archaeological sites. They tended to have more presence anyway, and rarely do you have pandas, or anyone else for that matter, coming after you.

That being said, Astrid and I really did enjoy the temple architecture of Bhubaneswar. An example of the Kalingan style showing influences of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu styles with arches, carvings, and domes that look like Buddhist stupas. The best place by far to see these temples is the Mukteswar and Siddheswar temples in Bhubaneswar pictured here, and the Sun Temple in Konark.

To the left is the Siddheswar Mandir with a red-painted Ganesh greeting you as you come closer. The feeling here was calm and serene with only a couple of families walking around. A huge change from the other frenetic temples we walked through.

The Mukteswar Mandir pictured to the right, in the same temple complex as the Siddheswar Mandir is one of the most ornate temples in Bhubaneswar, and one of the most beautiful.

From here we leave by bus for a one and a half hour journey to Puri to spend some time near the beach by the Bay of Bengal, see the Sun Temple at Konark and sort out the next leg of our trip.

See you there.

Being a Western Woman in India…

25 Oct

So I have never posted to this blog, it’s kind of Anthony’s project and I leave him to it. It’s good to have projects, keeps people occupied and out of trouble. Well, the time has come to speak out- or rather rant about a major issue here in India. Being a white, Western woman in a land dominated by small, (I’m 6ft. and most men tower out at 5.6ft) mostly uneducated men.

Why is it that men who are holding hands, groping each other, etc. can stare at me, laugh at me, go out of their way to try to bump into me (yes, Anthony is right next to me) and otherwise harass me? In my country, in my world, this would never be considered acceptable. Oh sure, people are made fun of and all of that, but this is different. This is public harassment in a form I have never seen, and more than that- it is totally socially acceptable.

In this ancient society that is trying so hard to step up to the 21st century, staring and gawking are totally the norm and nothing is thought of in publicly harassing people. NOW, this I know is not just left for me- I have had so many conversations with white Western women from late teens to late 30’s who have just hit the end of being able to deal with this issue, feel harassed, bothered, unsafe or otherwise tired of the whole thing. The only place in India that I have been, where both other women and I felt safe was in the hill stations. Starting in Darjeeling and going upwards, the harassment abated and the jeering stares disappeared.

Harassment was replaced with curious stares, questions, smiles and fair conversation. At no time did I feel harassed and insulted- usually I was met with smiles, nice conversations and earnest questions. The harassment that I am referring to has been exclusive to the low lands of India.

Most of this behavior has been explained as the boys/men here only see sex coming out of the West and assume this is what all Western women are about. Oh shit, please. This is a society that allows boys/men to do what they want, when they want, rule with abandon and not give two craps about anything or anyone around. I have seen little boys hit their mothers, scream and yell and otherwise display behavior that made both Anthony and myself drop our jaws. With the “gut and a strut” fathers just standing there, smoking and otherwise not doing a damn thing. That’s just the way it is. In fact, some of the worst harassment I have encountered is by little boys being egged on by older men around them. The favorite is to come up, of course holding hands and groping each other (this will be discussed in a later post…sigh) and they stare. Then they try to get closer and closer, and they try to touch. Now mind you, the whole time Anthony is standing right next to me staring them down. I try to do the same, even saying something-but see, I don’t count! So whatever I do or say is ignored. But they won’t even look at Anthony. They won’t get near him, but they will circle around until he just about jumps them, then they saunter away playing kissy face with each other, pants hiked up under the armpit, belt wrapped 3 times around their waists laughing as loudly as possible. So this happens 6-7 times a day at least. Take that with the glaring stares, trying to touch or bump, and a lady just has enough.

I had a super conversation with a few women from Seattle, WA regarding this issue. They were young, in college, cute and all. Studying in Delhi for a few months and then touring India, (why didn’t I do this in college? There was more to do than get loaded? hmmm…) anyway, they had a few things to say also. We compared notes, and we vented. It was great!! I told them about the fantastic book “Holy Cow!” by Sarah MacDonald (just about this very issue) and they ran out and bought it, we spoke some more and laughed over the next few days. The thing we all agreed on was that we just didn’t understand this lust and lurking that these men do. I know they don’t get laid, they have the social maturity of a 5 year old (especially toward the opposite sex) and they are ignorant about so many things in the world. But come on.

I have not in any circumstance been met with this behavior by educated Indian men. I have had fantastic times with educated, intellectual Indian men. Call it respect even!! They know there is something outside of their world and have seen more… I appreciate it greatly. Hands shaken, eye contact, business cards exchanged. All very kind. Now come on, I know that they are looking- but it’s not the same. I am not ranting about looks, I am ranting about all out harassment.

So if anyone knows how to say “Get Fucked” in Hindi, or “Go fuck yourself” or “If you actually had sex instead of fantasizing about me then you might feel better” Please let me know. I really need to say something.