As I sit here trying to make some coherent sense of yet another’s day’s crop of news stories, I am torn. Conflicted is too dramatic a word, but I am definitely torn. Is India too nice to foreigners? Or not nice enough? Too accommodating? Or too exploitative?
I am writing this against the backdrop of yet another disgusting gang rape – of a foreigner – which doesn’t actually alter the horrors of it one little bit.
A rape is a rape is a rape.
I am also writing this against the backdrop of apparent national outrage against the Italians. No, no, not that Italian. This time it is over Italy’s refusal to send back their Marines to India to stand trial. I will not wander off-topic here, but one has to ask why on earth they were allowed to return to Italy in the first place. For a month? To vote? Really, India, really? As an aside, one also has to admire a country protecting its own. Would that India would be so fiercely protective of all its citizens!
But anyway, back to India vs foreigners, which is where my musings are taking me this week.
Because, here’s the thing. I think, on balance, that India is far too nice toward foreigners. And (obviously) I say that advisedly, as someone who has consistently benefitted from Indian hospitality.
I think kindness and good manners and welcomingness (that’s not a real word, is it?) are sterling qualities in a nation. But I do wonder if India doesn’t slightly overdo it sometimes. I have shared with you before, in earlier diary jottings, stories of how my being a foreigner means that I am often, for example, shepherded to the front of queues. Nice, very nice indeed, but not at all necessary. And I am always astonished that no one ever objects. Catch the roles being reversed, and I know I would get stroppy.
I have told you before how I have been excused many faux pas over the years, which is a little more understandable, I admit. India works on the basis of ‘ah well, these foreigners are not expected to know how to behave in x,y, or z situations’ and gives us the benefit of the doubt. Many other countries take the opposite view – you are in our country, therefore you jolly well behave as we do.
I am minded of this because I have just returned from a fun jaunt around The Golden Triangle, which has to be one of the epicentres of Indian tourism and I had great fun observing the dynamics. Yes, there were touts galore. Yes, foreigners have to pay so much more than Indians to visit the Taj Mahal (why oh why oh why?). But even so, I received nothing but kindness and smiles from Indians.
It was Indians who smiled and patiently waited as we took probably too many photos of the view of the Taj. It was Indians who didn’t mind moving to one side to clear my view for a photo. It certainly wasn’t the groups of jostling foreigners, reluctant to cede one inch of vantage point. I noticed another thing. Most of the Indians at the Taj looked happy. Most of the foreigners didn’t. They all looked hot and frazzled and anxious and huddled.
Case in point. Two middle-aged Muslim women were with two much younger, burqa-clad women. Once inside the Taj premises, the young women promptly took off their burqas to reveal bright jolly colours underneath, and the 2 older women rather curiously put the burqas on and then began clowning around, posing for photos. Giggling, hugging each other, laughing uproariously — they were on their own version of ‘A Girl’s Day Out’. They decided to borrow sunglasses from two elderly German women who had been watching them fooling around over photos. Did the Germans lend their glasses with a smile? Not one bit of it. They handed them over grimly, and looked put out the whole time, while the two Indian women clowned around even more for the camera.
Later, at Amber Fort, we decided to clown around a little, too. There was a huge tour group of Italians – yes, really – with all the men wearing those fabby Rajasthani safaris. So we decided to borrow them for a silly photo (two women, yes, I know, I know) and asked two men if we could quickly borrow their turbans. Perhaps it was the language gap, but they handed them over to us without a smile, looking rather anxious. I know, I just know, that an Indian would have smiled at us.
On the train, there was a pristine morning paper. I picked it up and started reading, presuming it was provided by good old Indian Railways. A young man across the aisle politely asked if he could have it, so I said yes of course, once I have read it. When I handed the paper over, now crumpled, he smiled and said, “Actually that was my paper. I bought it.”
Horrified, I asked him why he hadn’t said so upfront, and he sweetly said, “It doesn’t matter, honestly. You clearly wanted to read it, so…”
That kind of kindness is what I mean.
Perhaps the said young man would have been just as nice to an Indian woman who swiped his paper, but he was just another example of the politeness that we unthinking phirangs consistently receive.
So, when a sweating, middle-aged, overweight American in our hotel rudely interrupted my conversation with the chef at the breakfast buffet to bark, “There are no bowls on my table” the decision was taken.
India 1. Foreigners 0.
Photo credit: UrvishJ