A Western Woman in India

Por Delfina Krusemann.

I remember exactly how I felt while sitting on the airplane that would take me to India, just before it took off: “Why am I going?!”, I asked myself, clearly anxious and a bit doubtful about the course of the personal adventure that was about to begin. As the engines started roaring, I wrote down some possible answers in my diary: cultural shock, spiritual search, and proving myself that I could travel on my own for over 2 months in the most different, far away land I could imagine were all strong reasons. However, all my expectations and fantasies were just the tip of a huge, indiscribable iceberg that I was about to crash into.
There’s a million things I could say about my time in India, but right now I want to share only two stories. Both happened during my first week in that extraordinary country, and I regard them as completely opposite, yet complementary sides of the most important lesson India gave me.
My first story is about Rima, a young girl from Kochi who became my first Indian friend. She was my same age and was also a journalist. I met her one terribly hot and humid afternoon, so we decided to go for a refreshing mango lasse and dinner. Rima’s initial questions were the same as all the other locals’ I had talked to so far: “Why are you here? Are you traveling ALONE?! How old are you? Why aren’t you married?”. And suddenly there I was, telling her “the story of my life” (basically, a very sad break up that forced me to rethink my future) as I would have done with any of my girlfriends in Buenos Aires.  “… And that’s how I ended up here”, I concluded. She then looked at me with her dark, deep eyes and said: “I went through the same thing as you did”. But she lied.

Turns out, Rima had had a boyfriend back in her small village where she once lived with her family. He was a good man, and Rima’s parents were expecting to hear wedding bells soon. But when their daughter turned 25, she gave a shocking announcement: she was not in love with Mr. Perfect Candidate. Oh, but love… what is love after all, specially in a traditional and rural society such as Rima’s birthplace? A type of madness, perhaps… That’s what Rima’s parents thought, so they locked her up in her room for a month, until one night she jumped out of the window and ran away. She had 100 rupees in her pockets (2 American dollars) and nothing else, except the clothes she was wearing. She got on a train that took her to Kochi, where she found a room to rent in the outskirts and a job in a news channel. And what about her parents? They had called the police saying she had been kidnapped, because they just couldn’t grasp the idea that Rima had decided for herself what to do with her life. Of course, they don’t let her in in their house again: she’s a shame to the family. So Rima lives humbly and quietly now… but for those two days we spent together, she wouldn’t even let me pay for an ice-cream. She has a sad look in her eyes, but everytime she smiles, her whole face brightens up and I think that’s the energy that keeps her afloat…

When she finished telling me her story, I could barely keep on drinking my lasse. Her story had nothing to do with mine: I had left my country for a spell, to travel a bit around the world with international currency in my pockets and all my family and friends happily following my steps through social media; Rima on the other hand had given up all her securities because something inside her told her she wouldn’t be happy with the plans her family had designed for her. I wanted to cry and shout; I felt such impotence… I did not know how I could help her; I wanted to say something, DO something that could magically solve her problem. But I soon realized this reality was not in my hands to change. However, there was something I could do for her: make her smile as much as I could. I told her jokes, I was friendly and upbeat, and I let her know that, as a woman, I respected and admired her. A lot. That’s how I learnt that, no matter how far we were born and raised (not only geographically but culturally, too), we were two young women struggling to be authentic, free, and “architects of our own destiny”. In the end, although our stories were so different, Rima was right: deep down our purest essence, we were the same…

The second story is about two young Indian boys. I never knew their names, but I am pretty sure they haven’t forgot mine. I first saw them as they approached me in a beautiful park up on a hill. “What’s your name?”, one of them asked. I was focused on taking a picture of the magnificent surroundings, but still I replied: “Delfina”, and went back to my camera. Before I knew it, that same boy violently grabbed me (hours later, bruises appeared in my arms) and tried to kiss me. All I could do was push him away and scream – I have a Masters Degree in high-pitched screaming, by the way. I kept on screaming with all my lungs, and after some seconds of doubt, the boys ran away. When they finally left, I started sobbing like a little girl. I had been so stupid, going on my own to that quite deserted paradise! A man in a scooter who had heard me came to my aid and took me to a tourist police station that happened to be less than 300 metres away. “Filthy boys…”, said the officer there when I told him the recent events, and promised: “We will soon take you to your hotel, madam”. I accepted the offer, since I didn’t feel like going on my own. I felt vulnerable and thousands of kilometres away from home… which was exactly where I was!

The officer’s promise took no less than five hours to come true. More and more policemen arrived to the station and soon I had become the town’s “sensation”. I had to retell my story every time; a doctor came to see if I had been harmed in any way (“No, no, I am ok…”); even some TV cameras and photojournalists turned up to cover the “assault”, although I could not understand what they were saying because they spoke in Hindi, as everyone around me… All I wanted was to go home, but finally I listened some English and understood what was going on: the boys had been caught and I would have to identify them soon. When they came into the room, I felt a shiver. But, alas, they were even more terrified than I was. And so I understood: they had meant no harm. They had clearly a wrong concept of the Western woman – probably taken from XXX movies and even some Hollywood titles, in which a beautiful actress would spent a crazy night in Las Vegas with a man she had just met… So, were these two Indian boys guilty of thinking that maybe I wanted that kiss as much as they did?

Back in my hotel room, exhausted and confused, I asked myself what was the purpose of my stay in India. Why not take the first plane to Thailand, where I could enjoy sunny beaches and party nights like most tourists my age? But I kept on thinking: in my country, two boys could have easily shut me up and done whatever they wanted to. Instead, these two Indians had become paralized with my own fear, and now faced an uncertain punishment. I wished I had had the opportunity to talk to them, to explain why I was not OK with them trying to kiss me. And though I would never see them again, that night I promised myself that I would do the best I could to become a sort of ambassador from my country and my part of the world. I still wanted to discover India, and I wanted India to discover me, too. There were so many prejudices and barriers to knock down, and from my own tiny existence, I was responsible of helping that process to take place.

My trip to India turned out to be an enriching, pivotal, life changing experience. It taught me how the media can shape the image we have of others, and how dangerous that can be; but I also learnt how easy it is to communicate and bond with others, no matter how different they may look and live, if we speak with authenticity and listen carefully to their own stories. And when that magical connection does happen, they are not strangers anymore: they become part of my own life story, too.

 

Delfina Krusemann (27)
Periodista
dkrusemann@gmail.com