Sunday, 19 March 2017

#7 Patriachy and the pink city

I was wondering how long it would be before things got so interesting I wouldn't have time to write. I'm guessing you were too friends? It turns out it was up until Jaipur.

As I remember it, I left Ranthambhor on the train at 7pm a soon as I arrived back from the tiger safari.

The train ride from Ranthambhor to Jaipur was only a few hours so it was quite a treat not having to try and sleep.

Near the end of the journey I took the opportunity to ask the very well spoken business man I was seated next to how much a rickshaw should cost to my accomodation so I didn't get the tourist price.

Before I knew it, every man, and it was all men, in the carriage was offering advice and one even called a friend to ask as well. I've said it before and I'll say it again. India never ceases to amaze me.

The kindly businessman and one of the younger fellow passengers told me to follow them and they'd help me get a rickshaw for the local price.

When we reached the station in Jaipur I felt very smug trotting along behind my new friends as they shooed away over eager rickshaw drivers.

As it happened a pick up had already been arranged by Mr Travel Agent and a friendly looking middle aged driver with glasses was waiting with my name on a piece of paper.

The kindness of the two men on the train made me drop my guard a bit and so I made the first bad character judgement of the trip so far.

The rickshaw driver looked like a nice man and I remember thinking he had an honest face and kind eyes.

He appeared to be so very friendly and happy. He smiled and chatted and even sang all the way back to the hotel. He told me how much he loved his job and western culture and had made many foreign friends some who he was still in touch with.

I was feeling so relieved after the nice train ride I was probably a bit more friendly, perhaps talking more than I usually would, smiling unabashedly and the future misunderstandings most probably began there.

I remember talking with him about trust and how important it was when travelling in India. I remember telling him I thought he had an honest face. I really thought he did.

He offered to be my driver the next day and I happily agreed to be picked up at 9 am.

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift," he happily shouted at me as we weaved through Jaipur traffic.

"I don't like to make plans or dwell on the past," he said. "In India anything is possible."

The next morning he picked me up for sightseeing as promised but he wasn't as bubbly as the night before. After taking me around some of the sights in Jaipur he began to tell me about how unhappy he was in his marriage.

When he was 18 his parents arranged his marriage to an unknown girl of 17.

"One day my father offered his congratulations to me. I asked why are you congratulating me and he said 'on your engagement.' Within the week I was married," he said.

I genuinely felt sorry for him. He went on to tell me too much information about his sex life or lack of with his wife. I ignored how uncomfortable that made me and accepted the comments as coming from a culture that invented karma sutra. Maybe sex was discussed openly here and why shouldn't it be? Maybe he just needed a friend to talk to. As a fellow human I should listen and be a sympathetic ear.

Unfortunately he had some strange ideas about single western women and asked me to 'help him out' with some kind of 'favour.' When I finally clicked to what he was implying any child-like innocence I may have managed to retain over the past 24 years evaporated and I knew it would never return.

Thankfully my words did not fail me this time and I told him how disappointed I was that he would think that was ok. I reminded him about our conversation on trust. I told him he'd broken mine and that I'd like to go straight home now as didn't feel like sightseeing any more.

My face must have given away exactly how dissapointed I was and how terribly he had misread the situation. He was so apologetic. In the end we shook hands and I agreed to continue our tour on the condition that he respected my wishes that I only saw him as my driver.

The rest of the afternoon was awkward. I'm not going to lie. He took me a few more places before dropping me home where I was so dissapointed I couldn't even muster the energy to leave the hotel to find food.

The feminist in me was angry with myself for expecting and accepting something like that was bound to happen and for telling myself it was possibly even partly my fault. I shouldn't have smiled so much.

After a while mulling it over I wasn't angry with him or patriachy and vowed to be much more cautious in the future but that it definitely shouldn't be my fault.

For the first time I gained a tiny insight into how it felt to be objectified. He didn't see me as a fellow human being but as a sexual object. And it felt awful. A combination of his own misconceptions about my culture and a moment of naivety led him to make a very misguided judgement.

So that was Jaipur. In between the mess of human experience there were some nice forts and beautiful palace ruins. It is sometimes called the Pink City as many of the shops in the old part are made of terracotta. But that is sadly not what I'll remember the city for.

In the afternoon he took me to see elephants which were kept in a tiny concrete enclosure chained up and fed on chappatis.

I'm a firm believer that not all pictures speak 1000 words. The background behind that photo of a contented looking Ayla next to the pretty painted elephant just goes to show how photos and social media do not tell the full story. Neither Ayla nor Madonna the elephant were very happy at that moment.

Despite the nice picture neither beings in this photo were having a good day

Fort in Jaipur

It's easier to accept bad living conditions for animals when people's conditions aren't much better. I know not everyone will agree but at the least there is more of a sense of equality somehow. Maybe? Something to ponder anyway.

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