Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Dire Straits Debs

India is impossible to work out, and unfortunately, it's also full of creeps.

I'm in dire straits! I really, really want to like it here, but I just don't. Poor Ben (who's also fed up, but not as fed up as me) is getting increasingly frustrated by my "I hate it here" tears and tantrums. Damn it.

I do have a few 'Indian' advisors in Steve and Zoe (lived in Mumbai for two years, also hated it), and Peter Landa (who's travelled here loads with his lovely, talented, Indian singer and wife Sandhya) but even they can't help.

In one of our long correspondences, Peter mentioned the 'unspoken rules' of India (e.g. It's OK to slap beggars or untouchables if they grab you), and I think he's hit on the crux of the problem - I don't get them. In most countries it's easy to learn from experience, but in India, no two experiences are ever the same, and after each bus, train, or plane journey it's like being in a different country, where you have to learn all over again.

We're constantly misreading people and situations, and often feel confused and bad, rather than amused by cultural differences. It seems that everyone wants our attention i.e. money, but whether we give it or not, it always causes problems.

We feel really sad for the people here who are so poor that they can't afford to eat, but everyone asks us for money, and we find it really hard to tell whether we should give or not. We're always approached by mothers who are pimping their children as sympathy whores, who we refuse to give money to for that very reason, but then the other Indians seem to look at us like shit for not giving them any money.

One part of me thinks screw them all, it isn't our problem, it's their society and their responsibility to sort it out, and another part of me feels really sad that we're turning away a mother and child who are potentially starving. Or maybe they're not, because something will inevitably happen (like someone refusing a 10 Rs 'tip' saying 50 is more appropriate) and we'll realise that they were just trying to extort huge amounts of money from us, and probably weren't genuinely needy at all. Or are we being too sensitive? Ggrrr.

If we tip anyone in a hotel, we end up getting too much attention from other members of staff looking for a tip. In the restaurant of the last hotel we stayed in, where we tipped at every meal, each meal turned into a circus, with up with 9 members of staff hovering over our table and watching our every move, for the entire meal. I know it's sweet, and comes from a nice place, but they're all so laughably incompetent, that their help is more of a hindrance, and it all just turns into a big 'look at the funny Westerners' show, which I find infuriating and Ben manages to ignore.

The men are also creepy, and I really feel harassed at times. We just had another incident in Hyderabad like the one on the bus, but a bit creepier. When we first arrived at the hotel, the sheets on the bed were dirty (What, in India? No?!), so someone came up to the room to change them, and we gave him a 10 Rs tip. No big deal, right? Well, as we've experienced before, this just leads to unwanted attention, which we got.

From then on, people would ring our doorbell at all times of the day, including midnight, to see if we wanted tea, coffee, laundry etc, and sometimes wait there for 5 minutes, then try again for long periods of time. We just ignored them, assuming it was the staff at the hotel, then reception put a very strange call through to our room from someone who said he was staying in the room opposite (which sounded OK because we had briefly chatted with a young guy staying in the opposite room a few days earlier) asking if I had a box of matches he could borrow. When I said no, and then he asked me if I was alone, so I put Ben on, who asked who was calling, and the guy asked for 'Mr Connors', then hung up.

I was really freaked out by the call, and felt like he knew who we were, so we went down to reception to ask about the call, and they said someone had called in from an external line asking to be connected to room 411 - our room. We also asked about the knocks on the door at midnight, and when they claimed to know nothing about them, my mind really started to race, and I was scared. Anyway, we were fine. Nothing else happened, and we think the door knocks were members of staff looking for tips, who were then scared off, but it's just another incident that makes me feel unsafe here.

Seems like nothing we try helps, and the positive experiences we do have are few and far between. Each time we think something's going to be really cool it turns out to be total shit. Then we can find something completely unremarkable to be really charming - like a 26h train ride spent with a really nice Indian family with 2 cute little kids who copied everything I did and said. Made me miss my own family at home even more.

India, I'm giving you one last chance, all right? If McLeod Ganj turns out to be rubbish, we're going to Turkey. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.



Anonymous said...

Hi Deb,

that hhh was me (well Joe actually being a pain). Sounds like you may have hit crisis point with India!! My only advice (and this is only my point of view) is stop trying to work it out, accept you don't really like India and although it seems horrible just stop tipping, don't give anything to beggers, don't be nice unless you're sure about the people (ie the family on the train) and sod the people who look at you funny. Oh yes, carry on slapping the gropers and laugh at the pervey phone calls. You'll have a really good laugh at all these memories one day!

Take care Zoe.

Bjorn said...

oh madamsahib...damn those head shacking Indians..thats funny 'put that in your pipe and smoke it..hahaha
/Bjorn(finally a good zouk dancer).