Posts Tagged ‘difficult’


Yesterday, six of us left the Heritage Walk on our way to find the Wind Palace. We walked, through shops opening on Sunday morning, selling silver bowls, hammered food containers, shoes, fried food, statues of gods and goddesses, tee shirts, textiles, fabric, saris, and bangles.

When we thought we were close to the correct gate, but couldn’t find a sign or entry place, I asked a street vendor. Before the vendor could answer me, another man came up to tell us. He offered to take us to the gate, which I took to mean we would need either to pay him, or come to his shop, in return. I was relieved to see that we could actually see the gate from where we were standing, so we wouldn’t actually need to give him anything in return.

It turned out that he did need something from us. He said, “I need your help. I speak English, but I cannot write it. I want you to write a letter to a women in England.”

We agreed, and followed him. On the way to a quiet space with a place for me to sit and write, he got a newspaper so I’d have something clean to sit upon. We borrowed paper from one of my classmates, and as we all sat with him, he began to dictate a letter.

He asked me to write in block capitals; he intended afterwards to re-copy it in his own handwriting.

He dictated his love for Celia, how much he missed her, and how he looked forward to being together again. He asked her to send her flight information, so he could pick her up next month in Delhi. He asked our advice for any good phrases in English that would convey his love for her.

When I finished, he had me read it aloud, so he could hear how it all sounded together. How strange, to be reading aloud to some Celia, from a quiet alley in the Pink City.

Of course, nothing is uncomplicated in India. My effusiveness during the writing and re-reading of the letter must have given a wrong impression. There’s a reason we suggest to visiting students that they keep their distance from men, including male classmates, and avoid smiling at strangers.

When I finished reading, the man wanted to give me a hug; I accepted, and he tried, three times, to kiss me on the mouth. I avoided it by doing a double-cheek air kiss, and finally said, “Enough!” as my classmates also said, “Okay, okay, enough!”

I forget myself easily. And then, I am grateful that I live and work in a place—even with plenty of injustices, inequities, and difficult conditions for many women, nearly all of my experiences with men have been safe and positive. The encounters that have been unsafe, wrong, or frightening are in the minority, and no one would say they are my fault. Not that my effusiveness here brings anything that happens to me on myself. It’s difficult to try and parse out responsibility, physical safety, and cultural differences.

I don’t regret writing the letter. And I felt safe because I was surrounded by friends, male and female. But I again tell newcomers, as I will tell the teachers who arrive next month: be more modest, and more subdued, and less interactive, than you would normally be. Not because what might happen is related to anything we do or say, but because it’s hard enough to navigate many differences and misunderstood intentions without sending signals we may not understand.


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