The last time I posted I wrote about my experience with “two types of Indians.” The next day I awoke to a note in my inbox, it was a kind critique from my mother gently reprimanding me for the over-simplified nature of my statement. As soon as I saw her email I realized she was of course correct.
I could now take her ideas and write them as if they were my own to make up for my short-sighted statement but I think it would be more fair to her if I quoted her.
“In any situation where people don’t have much there is much more pressure on the those in need to be on the “take”–for self, for family. Even the same people who “take” one day will be generous on another day if the circumstances allow. There are the noble needy who resist the need to take, ask, beg, whatever the form, and, well that is remarkable really. However most of us are more vulnerable to our surroundings and our needs, or at least to the needs of our loved ones, children, etc.”
She went on to note that as a Western tourist I was perceived as someone who had more money and so why shouldn’t they try to get as much as they could out of me. This of course can be difficult to deal with as a student on a budget, but regardless I can’t deny that I have much significantly more money than any of the people on the street trying to push me to buy a scarf or boat ride.
I do feel in many ways that I have been lucky to see many sides of India. On the one hand there is the extremely family oriented, incredibly hospitable side. This was not only the side I saw through staying with Mirai’s and her family, but also working with SEWA. Countless times I went into the homes of SEWA women and I was offered chai or biscuits by women who had next to nothing.
I have heard and experienced that India can be a very tough place to manage until you have a connection. Once there is that connection though everything can open up. I think this is unique to India/South Asia and is partly attributed to the centrality of the family. In the US I do not get the sense that if you are a friend of a friend you will instantly be welcomed and cared for the way you are in India.
When I first arrived in India, my introduction was to a wonderful family and work environment. Though I did not want to import every bit of Indian culture back to the US, I was amazed and pleased by how nice and welcoming all the Indians I had met were. A month later I met up with Cailey and it was clear she had a different perception of South-Asian culture. To her everyone was pushy and she got the feeling that if people were being nice it was just because they wanted something from her. These observatins no doubt extended from the fact that her interactions were mainly with shop keepers and taxi drivers whereas mine were with families and people I was working with.
When I got into tourist mode I was of course treated differently but I now realize (with a little shame) that I also reacted a bit differently. Being surrounded by other backpackers my mentality changed and I was unable to be a part of the culture as I had when I was working with SEWA. As my mother quite correctly pointed out, to lose sight of how other people see me would be doing myself a disservice. I have tried to process everything I have seen and experienced, but there has been a lot, some of which I may not fully appreciate in the moment. Writing and (reader comments) have been a major help in my attempts to better understand my time in India. I have 9 days left in India, here is to hoping I continue to have wonderful, enriching experiences.