Thursday, May 10, 2012

A tourist at home

I spent two weeks in Hyderabad in March, with 30-odd classmates of various nationalities. I had written, before going, that I wasn't sure how to answer their questions about India. What I hadn't anticipated was the discomfort I would feel visiting India with a group like this. Not during the project part of the trip so much, but more during the sightseeing portion.

I didn't like being a tourist in my own country. And I don't mean visiting Hyderabad, where I had never been before. I mean being part of a group of foreigners, for lack of a better word, that was visiting India, and by default, therefore, being treated like one.

I didn't like being bought a "high-value" ticket at the Taj Mahal so that I could escape the long queues to get in. I definitely didn't like being told to hold my ticket unlike everyone else, because y'know, I look Indian. I didn't like that my classmates could get away with doing head stands, but I had to keep waving my high-value ticket to prove I could go peer over the railing in the courtyard.

I didn't like how we were taken to tourist traps for shopping where 100 grams of spices or tea cost exorbitant prices. I didn't like that we were taken to a highway shop where chips and soft drinks were ten times their MRP - although I am quite proud of the fact that I found a roadside stall just outside that stupid shop, and bought stuff there.

I didn't like the whining about the crowds and the queues that began among my classmates halfway through the trip, particularly when people started getting close to exhaustion and stress on their projects. I didn't like the constant defensiveness I felt, and the way I had bite back the urge to retort.

It wasn't all bad, no. Most of the folks, especially my team, were extremely comfortable trying out new food stuffs, exploring random shops and areas, getting off the buss and walking through Agra to find a place to eat. I loved how curious they were about the tiny things, things I probably haven't given a second thought in years. I loved being able to explain things to them, introduce my country to them.

But there was a lot that made me uncomfortable. And part of me wonders if I'm overreacting. I've taken a step back, waited more than a month, to when I'm finally back home in India, to publish this post. And the feelings are still there. So maybe I'm not. I just wish I could explain it better.


Avi Agarwal said...

wonder what was the reaction of those foreign tourists with you!!

R said...

The trouble is that you were a tourist as much as them but they aren't likely to understand how the differences between states to us is like the difference between countries, or even continents, to them. Food, language, appearance, culture, habits, mannerisms, religion, customs, all change once you cross a border.

At the same time you also look extra Indian in the presence of firangs which makes the Indians assume you are not a tourist when they otherwise would have treated you as such. Which is good or bad, depending on your perspective.

But I have to say, the skinnism really gets to me and I'm on the 'good' side of it. Well, theoretically. It gets worse as you adjust to a foreign country and culture as well. I can't explain India to firangs and I can't explain what irks me about Australia to desis. Admittedly, the latter is easier to do because we speak the same language (I don't mean English, I mean the whole shebang - gestures, body language, tonality, slang, etc). But still once you adapt, the dissonance is something that you can never really share with anyone else.

a traveller said...

@Avi: Gee, I wonder.

@R: No... that really wasn't it. I see your point, but that wasn't the issue for me.