I’m tired and I’m irritable. I’m in one of those moods where everything annoys me and this morning is no exception. For starters I’m recovering from a bout of Bhuj-Belly that rendered me a shivering wreck on the last day of my holiday. And as if sharing a sleeper carriage with nattering, hawking, spitting men on the night train wasn’t enough, I now have to contend with ineffective toilet attendants hovering by the cubicle door waiting for their tip for keeping the convenience disgustingly smelly as I sweat it out on a loo doused in something wet. But today none of these people wind me up as much as ‘the starers’.
Indians can be quite child-like in their general demeanor, from their innocent curiosity to their friendliness towards new people. On the whole I find them happy folk who are just willing to please. Sometimes, however, just sometimes, when I’m in an irritable mood, the staring thing really gets to me.
Not For The Paranoid
I’ve always said India is not for the paranoid. As a westerner you should expect to be stared at wherever you go. Almost everywhere on our travels across this huge sub-continent, if people aren’t pointing, giggling and touching (yes, occasionally we’ve been pinched to ensure we do actually exist) they are at the very least staring. One should not take offence though as a smile back at the gawping locals breaks the ice. Next thing you’re chatting and you have a friend for life.
Aside from my silly rants and the odd Facebook update that verges on puerile, I consider myself to be a ‘mature’ traveller, accepting of different people and different cultures and all that guff. Sadly though I am not perfect. No seriously, I’m not, and today is no exception.
Take this morning, for example, when at 3am Liz and I walk in to the airport and look for somewhere to sit, an entire row of Indians, twenty or more, stares at us intently. Each face is examining our every move, scrutinizing us like we’ve just materialised in a shimmering beam from a hovering space craft. If it were a quick stare – where they look up for a second, then continue with what they were doing – I wouldn’t mind, but instead an entire row of rubber-neckers stares at us for what feels like an eternity. And when they start giggling and nudging each other, well, that’s when I get really hacked off. I just want to shout ‘What IS your problem? Have you never seen white people before?’ Perhaps it’s the grey hair, or maybe it’s my unfeasibly large stomach. Maybe they’ve never seen a woman with blonde hair in real life, or maybe they’re just as knackered as I am and find the most innocent of objects hilariously funny, like you do when you’re over-tired.
I’m like a bear with piles and in no mood for the stary thing
Whatever it is, this line of 20 people just stare. Under normal circumstances I’d have just returned the stare with a smile, got a ‘hello’ out of them and ended up answering the usual ‘which country?’, ‘where are you going?’ questions. But this morning I’m like a bear with piles and in no mood for the stary thing, so what I do next is pull a face. I stare back at each one of them in turn and pull a stupid, tongue behind lower-lip stare. Now this normally works when it’s one person. It embarrasses them and they don’t know where to look. This morning, however, I tried it on this whole row of starers and I knew as soon as I’d done it that I’d just made a complete tit of my myself. Now they’re all laughing… and still staring.
Whispering to Liz that I feel like a monkey in a cage, I start to imitate an ape. I can’t help myself, an animal-instinct takes over as I curve my hands under my armpits and stick my lips out. It’s about as confrontational as I’ll allow myself under the circumstances, the circumstances being that I am tired, ill and still have a wet arse. It’s my way of telling them that in England staring is rude and that they are making me feel uncomfortable.
It’s How They Roll
Except we’re not in England, we’re in India and it’s their rules we’re playing by. Staring at the ‘different’ person is acceptable. Gawping at Johnny Foreigner is allowed. Giggling amongst yourselves like a bunch of junior school children is how they roll over here.
Having achieved nothing except complete embarrassment to myself and a wife who refuses to acknowledge my presence, I drop my head and shuffle over to the farthest corner. I plonk myself on a seat next to two armed security guards who are playing ‘who can spit their chewing tobacco the furthest’. It’s the lesser of two evils but compared to the starers I find this surprisingly comforting.