Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Ugly Truth

I'm at the tailor, again.
It's a hop, skip, and a jump away from home, part of the market complex area I visit daily for chai and produce, cadbury chocolates, Indian snacks, samosas, Chinese food and pharmaceutical needs. It's like the 5th time I come to collect my new punjabi suit- pumped-up at the prospect of wearing it the following day-and every time, I leave empty handed, wondering what to wear tomorrow. This time; I refuse to leave without my new suit, only. (Indian English thrown in there for good measure!)

 I walk in, I smile, I head bob and Namaste the lady- my eyes sparkling with excitement- TODAY IS THE DAY, she assured me! Yay- a new suit just in time for my trip to Calcutta. Cool beans! She sees me and looks away, smiling at the other women and muttering. I wait. Swarms of indian ladies are being attended to, It's like I'm invisible or something, a ghost...
This is tiring my patience now, big time.

The tailor lady averts my eyes and smiles and nods, 'yes yes' she says, 'come back tomorrow', 'come back tonight', 'come back in an hour'... smiling this syrupy smile I want to slap off her face! I start to get short with her. I tell her (in embarrassingly badly enunciated Hindi) that I have been waiting A MONTH for ONE suit to be ready, when the first time I came here (with a Brahmin female friend) I had TWO suits done in ONE WEEK! What is the hold up? 'Yes yes', she keeps smiling, syrup drooling off her face, mocking. 'Come back in an hour'...
'Puckaah?' I say(for sure, definitely?)
'Puckaah puckaah' head bob. She finally looks me in the eyes, even if only for a darting second....

And this, sadly, is how I am treated, sometimes, as a white unmarried 30s something female, in Northern India. I might be the lowest rank, next to, I don't know... the Untouchables, could that be?

 I begin to question her behaviour and my treatment as a foreigner here... and I get answers that I don't like. I'm open and all, but come on- a person is a person is a person, right? The customer is always right, right? WRONG!

I discuss this with my Indian guru back home, and she enlightens me with an ugly dark truth. Glass ceiling for white women here..

I got sexually harassed by my boss. It was unpleasant, unprofessional, and frankly, a total abuse of power. I tell my colleague, a woman, a Brahmin. She casually responds with '...Oh well, you shouldn't have gone to the party with him, what were you thinking? Why did you get in a car with him, that wasn't wise of you B.'

I got molested on the train, I tell her. she replies, 'Well, why were you in second class? You know better. And why were you on a bottom bunk?  If you were on a top bunk then that would not have happened to you, surely. What were you wearing? A Salwaar Kameez... oh. Was your dupatta slightly off the shoulder?'

WHAT? I look at her, in shock. 'Do you know that your discourse is the very reason women have been caged for centuries? Do you realize that you are blaming me for others behaviour that I have no control over?' she sighs, and smirks. 'This is india Bianca. Welcome, and get used to it.'

'But- but, but.....' my voice trails off. She looks away, focusing on something really interesting on the carpet(nothing) and then starts vigorously fishing for her cell phone in her purse. This conversation is closed, and there won't be another one, puckaah puckaah.


Pankaj said...

very wittily written. and....i apologize but....i have to agree with the Brahmin lady.....its better not to jump in a pond-full of piranhas without a protective suit. rather than "its all your fault!" one can take the advice as "better be cautious around those @#$%^ next time"

Lester and Eliza productions said...

You can't expect men to behave themselves around such a fine prize. Which is exactly why I don't think the poor dears should be let out of the house to work, or be allowed to hold any positions of power, I'm not even sure about the vote. What if they see a gorgeous woman on the way to the polling booth? Chaos.