I think I am less vulnerable than a white female foreigner. Nandeeta says no; in India, the white woman would get more respect that me. I asked Nandeeta, a native of Delhi, what would happen if the woman who cleans the shop tries to walk into the hotel. She replies that there is no way that woman would be allowed to enter.
I also experience many opposite reactions, especially in bureaucratic circumstances. In Customs, Immigration, walking past a police man or army officer in the airport, I do not feel privileged. To the police, I have as much potential to be a problem as anyone; certainly some of them may have dealt with drunken, obnoxious foreigners. However, as a polite person who often smiles, says hello, and waits patiently when necessary, I usually get treated well. I have read some commentary online that Americans are sometimes considered insincere because they are always smiling and polite no matter how they might be feeling. I do see most Indians being pretty blunt and open with their feelings.
Riding alone on the metro, many people look at me and look away when I look back. But on almost every metro ride, someone has reached out to be friendly and helpful. A young guy gave up his seat for me (I wanted to refuse but I forget that I’m 67; I used to give up my seat for older folks. So surreal…). Another time, a man showed me a better way to get to my destination.
Yesterday marks 90 days since I entered India on May 20. I’ve learned a lot; I have a lot more to learn. On September 23, I will be giving a lecture on predatory leadership at an academic conference in Pune, about 600 miles south of Delhi. I will return to the U.S. briefly next April. Before then, I will be traveling with my friends to various places around India, and to Thailand and Singapore; maybe also to visit my respected sister, Binita, in Nepal. Life the past couple of years in Florida was fairly static. The adventure here has been varied and unpredictable. May the stories continue…