To many foreigners India is considered a beguiling culture with its many colourful traditions and ornate architecture. Albeit living in India is vastly different to being a tourist. Especially if you live outside of tourist destinations where most locals have never met a foreigner before. I have adapted to most of the local customs however some I just cannot due to my western upbringing. Returning to India for a second time I find myself becoming less and less patient with some of the local customs. That at times I lose it and am called 'cumli' meaning crazy or mental. I find myself asking is India making me a bad person?
It was just another day, we were going to the markets to buy accessories for my cousin's upcoming wedding. The markets are a mass of people all barging their way through the small winding roads of stalls. Motorcycles blare their horns in an attempt to warn pedestrians don't walk in front of me or I will run you over. People stare at me as I walk with my friends through the crowds. As we enter the small confined shop front we push our way through customers who are being served and too engrossed in their shopping to move out the way. I barge past an elderly woman in the process. There are only a few people serving yet the shop is packed to the brim with customers. Locals are so consumed with making money they skimp on customer service. I wait patiently to be served only to then have another woman barge in front of me and be served first. Eventually I am served and wait for my friends. Another customers child then walks in front of me stepping on my feet and decides this is where he wants to play. There is literally no room in front of me as I am leaning on the counter yet he stands between my legs and on my feet without any thought. The mother says nothing as I glare at her young boy. So I go to sit down only to have another large robust woman then sit down next to me and partially on me without any shame. So I decide to wait outside where everyone continues to stare at me.
As men drive by on their motorcycles I thought for sure their necks would break as they turned 360 degrees to continue staring as they drove on. A man walked by and touched me from behind and kept walking on as if this is what all men should do to a foreign woman. Beggars spot me from a distance and approach me with their palms open. They are persistent and won't leave. I refuse to encourage beggars by giving them money, but I am not without sympathy. Children are often sent to do the begging so it makes it even more difficult to turn your back on them. Hawkers then approach attempting to sell any bric-a-brac that they have happened to collect. They shove the items in my face trying to get me to take the item so I have to pay for it. I continue to stare blankly into the distance and ignore them. Eventually my friends are finished and we make our way back to the car pushing through the masses of people, motorcycles, cows and stray dogs. This is just a typical day living in India.
After my cousin's wedding, my friend who had done the hair and makeup for my cousin and her relatives, was telling us how they mistreated her. The relatives did not realise that she was a family friend and as such treated her as though she was a common worker at a Beauty Parlour. They ordered her about and spoke rudely to her. This is how most people here treat workers. Whether they happen to be a hairdresser, cleaning maid or cook. There is no such thing as common courtesy. It is very much still dominated by classes. Cleaners are often surprised when you greet them and treat them with respect. Although this is not the case with all locals as my family and friends treat everyone with respect, just as I would.
I have had many instances where I have yelled at someone and had my family call me 'cumli'. Translated it means mental or crazy. There is only so much you can tolerate before you become 'cumli' or you find yourself becoming the person who you always tried so hard not to be. It makes you question if you are becoming a bad person. When you first arrive it is only normal to let everyone mistreat you as you learn the many cultures. How do I overcome this? I treat everyone with courtesy until they give me a reason not to. I do not smile at men I do not know. Most importantly I accept what I cannot change.
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