Many men in Northern India are abominably bad-mannered. Notice that I didn’t say all. I said many. I have become rather adept at avoiding eye contact (a social intimacy which, apparently, only hookers are tacky enough to engage in), wrapping myself in various layers of shawls, clothing, and more shawls, and taking it upon myself to carefully guard my body parts when traveling on crowded buses or through throngs of people. One cannot be too careful, particularly when she is female and has white skin.
The other night, I had the luck of riding in the back of a half-empty bus. The nearest people were white kids several seats ahead of me, so I felt comfortable spreading out on the back seat and taking a nap. Sometime around two in the morning, I woke with a fright, as someone sat directly on my legs. Suspicious. Doubly so, because the culprit was a scrawny Indian man who could have taken any of the rows of empty seats ahead of us, but chose rather to sit on my legs. I pulled them away quickly, sat straight up, and resigned myself to staying awake. I kept a careful watch on him out of the corner of my eye.
Unfortunately, I was distracted by a horrible song on my IPod, and had to look down for a moment. When I looked back up, he had conveniently crept over three seats, and was now sitting directly beside me. There was no need for that. The bus was dark, so I couldn’t see where his hands were, but I knew he was up to no good. I slowly eased my right hand down near my side, and, surprise! His creepy hand was right there, inching in towards my thigh. Two weeks ago, I would have been more polite. I would have swatted him and walked off, unsure of the proper protocol in such a situation. But luckily, I have recently made good friends with an India veteran named Mia, and she told me all about what to do in such situations.
“Hit them with your shoe,” she coached me, as we sat beside a pounding waterfall. “Tell them they are bad men and should be ashamed of themselves. If you really want to be rude, call them a ‘sister-fucker!’” I haven’t perfected the art of public cussing yet, but her words buoyed me. “But why your shoe?” I asked. “Why not just slap them with your hand?” “Because,” she said. “Shoes are considered dirty, so it’s more disrespectful. Plus,“ she said brightly, “It hurts more!”
When I realized that the slimy Indian’s hand was a millimeter from my thigh, and creeping fast, I swatted him and screamed. “Fuck you, you idiot, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?! DO NOT touch me, do you understand?!” He conveniently pretended to fall into a deep sleep, slumping sideways with his eyes closed. His sudden slumber appeared to be so deep that he didn’t even notice me hitting him! Amazing. I stormed my way into the aisle, cursing him every which way as I went, and took a new seat several rows up. He wasn’t daunted.
Five minutes later, he stumbled up the aisle, pretending to be jolted by the bus. As luck would have it, I was lying sideways on the seat, my head to the aisle, trying to get some sleep. He must have remembered that he had tucked away a scrap of phantom paper, or a piece of ghostly gum in the compartment above my head, because he stopped there of all places to conduct his phony search. He also didn’t miss the opportunity to bang his tightly denim clad genitals against my head as he dug around. I nearly screamed. Instead, I sat up and aimed my elbow at his crotch. Before I had a chance to connect, he had quickly darted off, forgetting whatever it was he had moments before been so eager to find.
I hate to say that I am scarred by Indian men, but for the time being, I am. They are shameless in their leering, muttering, groping, and eye-fucking. When a young man approached me on the street today, I hardly had the time. “Please, miss, please, will you take a seat and talk with me for two minutes?” he pleaded. I looked at him warily, and started walking again. He seemed young and fairly innocent, but still… He tagged along behind me, speaking good English and begging for two minutes of conversation. I kept huffing and puffing my way up the hill, but I said, “Okay, I’ll talk to you, but we’re not sitting down. What do you want?’
He complied, and trotted behind me. The hill to Dharamkot is unforgivably steep, and after a moment of breathless conversation, I gave in and agreed to sit at one of the roadside benches for a moment. But my disillusionment lead me to snappily say, “Now listen, Deva, I will sit with you and talk for a few minutes, but don’t you dare try to touch me. You be good, do you understand?” He nodded sagely. But I wasn’t finished. I was so fed up with Indian men, I found myself taking it out on this kid. “If you try to touch me, I will kill you.” His face got very serious. “Okay, okay,” I said. “I won’t kill you, but I will hit you hard with my shoe. I’m totally serious.”
Deva must have sensed the gravity of my words, because he slid to the far end of the bench and stayed there. However, he proceeded to tell me a pity story about how no one in the town liked him and he needed money to get to Goa where he could start a new life. “And anytime I ask friend for money- just two hundred rupees to help me buy bus ticket- they say no,” he said pitifully, dropping his head and sticking out his lower lip. Then he looked up quickly. “Maybe you are better friend?” he asked, holding out his hand. I denied the scoundrel any money, because despite his seemingly good manners, he was blatantly a scammer. But although his instant request for cash was rather annoying, he was as good as his word- he never tried to touch me.