The women’s train

Am I am on a blogging spree? I am on a blogging spree. I like reading stuff that makes me think and reminds me of things I wanted to say anyway.

I read this article on my new fav magazine Caravan (can’t link it unfortunately) about women in India traveling alone and the perils it involves. Rather, the reactions it involves.

And I wondered about all those times I traveled alone and faced “you did what?!” expressions and outright questions. And the follow-up of “but why”. Their expressions remained dubious despite my explanations, which is why I stopped explaining why I traveled alone.

The first time I did, for a long trip, was to Sydney. I had time after a work trip and figured I could use to roam around. Why waste two days as I was already there? So I packed my bag and happily wandered around the Circular Quay, the shops and whatever else that caught my eye and plopped myself down in a park and read a novel when I didn’t feel like roaming around anymore. That was perhaps the revealing moment when I looked around me and saw plenty of people sitting around and reading books, writing, listening to music or just staring into the sky.

I guess I was accustomed by then to travelling alone. I traveled alone to Australia, I would often take trips to Brisbane to meet friends and would be alone in the train. I never considered this ‘journeys’, though in a sense they were. But I guess people do not take ‘vacation’ trips alone. But then, none of the trips except for Italy was a vacation. They were desperate attempts to get away from the city.

Back on track, when I told people I was going alone to Italy, there were tons of horrified expressions. So I had to give them a lame explanation about how  my friend cancelled on me, omitting the part that my friend cancelled about a month or more before I was supposed to leave and I could’ve called off the entire thing. But I wanted to go.

My first solo trip in India was to Pondicherry. A number of circumstances forced me to go alone and I was shit scared. I wanted to go but I was shit shit shit scared. I’d heard plenty of stories about what happen to women in India traveling alone. And it is true. You don’t see people traveling alone in India much, except for some white women or men. Indian women and alone? Yet to find one. But I took off… ran into a few guys just celebrating finishing college. They were the nice sort who helped me find a hotel, though I moved out of there in half a day (the rooms were miserable for me). I also met a French guy who ended up being a really close friend. Of course, nobody there thought I was Indian. Every auto guy, bus and whoever else thought I was of Indian origin from somewhere else. Because Indian women do not travel alone.

And apparently that is a widely known fact because even when I was in Italy people kept asking me ‘where are you from’ and the conversation would inevitably continue to ‘Indian from England?’ and I’d have to roll my eyes and say ‘no indian from India’. In the end, I would just recite a monologue saying “yes, I’m Indian. From India. And my parents know that i’m here alone and they are perfectly okay with it and I did not have to threaten them with anything to let me come here alone.”

They were convinced. And these were second- or third-generation Indian immigrants. Or Bangladeshis.

I haven’t really traveled alone much since then… I haven’t traveled much since then actually… but… I like the charm of being by myself. I like to wander around, thoughts running silently in my head, absorbing the place. And then I like to meet my friends and have a good time, talking and enjoying. It is different when you are alone… the way you perceive things is completely different. And you meet people faster, so technically you are not alone. And these new people – you are not obliged to hang around with them if you are getting bored. And the adventure of meeting someone new, learning something interesting.

My current favorite method is half a day with friends and half a day without them. But that is simply not possible in India. A woman alone attracts attention, no matter how subtle you try to be. I have learnt to simply ignore everyone and walk around, and they think I’m a ‘firang’ anyway, despite my skin color… or maybe because of the skin color I don’t get hassled much because they think i’m a half-firang.

But it is surprising that with all the women traveling around, we still don’t see acceptance anywhere. Yes, I’ve read the articles too quoting statistics about how more women are traveling.  But do you really see it happening? It is one in a hundred. We are still the freaks, the eccentrics.

I didn’t start traveling alone by choice but now I like having the choice, the couple of hours of freedom to myself in a group. I like the combination of both.

there is this organization – Women in Wanderlust – that arranges trips only for women. A fantastic step in a country like India. Women are getting out of the hosue without the men. But the men are allowing them cuz there are no other men around. And the adventure isn’t about traveling in a pack. It is about being able to get out alone. Rent a room alone for yourself, being able to sit in a restaurant alone and order a meal and not be hassled. Or being able to handle the hassle. About knowing how to take care of yourself and handle yourself.

Are we ever going to see that? Am I ever going to stop getting ‘are you nuts’ look when I tell someone I took a trip alone?

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