THREE Indian boys recently asked a 27-year-old archaeologist from New Zealand why the tourists in India are so rude to the Indians, and the Indian press seems puzzled by why the tourists aren't coming here. Some light on both matters. For a start, every foreign female here reports having had "hello hello" whispered in her ear, had some part of her body touched or had someone follow her and be obscene. In the daytime. No matter how she's dressed. In English.
A 35-year-old post-graduate in education wanted to take a picture of the Prince of Wales Museum. He was stopped by the security guard, whose job it is. "But I was also subjected to a stream of abuse by some passing upper-crust Indian yelling 'bloody tourist, go home', and other offensive rubbish."
Before we even get here we're supposed to have injections against typhoid, cholera, malaria, hepatitis, even Japanese encephalitis. The timing of the planes to and from India expose the exhausted to lying taxi-drivers with their extortion, their "breakdowns" and their "don't know the address" tours of strange cities at 3 am. Then there's road, train and plane accident statistics, possible natural disasters and the question of prompt and effective rescue. And on the well-worn tourist tracks you face non-stop clamours and lies of touts and would-be vendors.
"Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are crowded, but I don't think I've seen anywhere as filthy as India," says one 26-year-old teacher after 18 months travelling in the Far East, Australia and India. India in reality is a contrast for someone whose best friend 'at home' is Indian neighbours have shown her pictures of a beautiful country, or who was raised in a predominantly Asian district of an English city with Asian school-friends.
We saved for years to come here. After being treated as walking cash dispenser, walking sex dispensers, and being ripped off at every step, what can we say to people who ask "Ah hi, how was India?"
We would really appreciate some understanding of our position here. We are not all rich, and we do not all like shouting and swearing. But we are all being harassed and insulted, in the street and in the media, at just about every turn, and it is exhausting.
OUTLOOK September 3, 2001
ELIZABETH WILDE:(The author is a British academic based in Mumbai.)