Philosophy, action and reflection
Life has been seeming to settle at home for me. I have a partner I can trust who loves me and is a wonderful father to my son. Things are getting comfortable and I feel the anxiety that I too am getting to comfortable. Having been to India once and feeling a sense and urgency of asserting myself as an independent woman I booked my flight to Kolkata. As the day of departure approached I felt deep regret. I didn’t want to go but being enrolled in the Study Abroad program I knew it was inevitable. Also I had already paid for the flight.
When I arrived I prepaid for a taxi to the city center a popular mall. When I went outside I was immediately greeted by drivers. One took my receipt and insisted I ride. I jumped in and he began asking questions. Wanting to embrace this adventure I obliged in his conversation. I felt brave.. He told me where I wanted to go was closed and the hotel I had previously reserved was way to far from the airport and that he would bring me to a closer one. It was about ten minutes away and when I entered the price was affordable and I figured it was ok in this case to go with the flow it was cheap and close to the airport so the following day I would be able to meet my incoming friend easily. The driver insisted he would be there at ten to bring me to the city center. I was kind of iffy about the whole thing and went upstairs to my room and relaxed for a few hours. When I was hungry I made my way downstairs to go to the hotel breakfast. The driver was there and once again insisted I go with him to the city center. Once again I decided to go with the flow. I got in. He began to ask many more questions and insisted I come back to his home and began to ask if I drank alcohol. I told him no and began to avoid conversation. We arrived at the city center and he tried to insist on accompanying me through the city center I told him no. He then insisted he wait for me to which I also argued back and forth, no! After a lot of debate I told him to give me his number that if he wanted my business I could certainly call him for a ride if necessary.I stayed at the city center for about 45 minutes but the stares as well as the loneliness got to me quick. I went down to the street to attempt and find a ride back. None of the drivers knew the hotel I was staying at and I began to get very worried. I checked Uber and saw the prices were very reasonable about 110 rupees, but the app was not working. I didn’t want to call the driver but realized that may be the only way to get back. I called him and after about thirty minutes he picked me up. We got back to the hotel and he told me I needed to pay him 2700 rupees. At this I laughed, a trip that I had already prepaid that had been diverted as well as the comparable /uber price made me some what angry that he would attempt to in my eyes swindle me out of that much money. As a side note my debit card had been compromised upon my departure to India so I had 300 American dollars for the month and had already paid seventy for this, what I would come to find, cheap hotel. We argued for about five minutes when the hotel host noticed and ushered me inside. I went to the reception desk and requested an escort to my room. I gave the driver 500 rupees and the host brought me to the room I told him what happened. Once he left I locked all of the doors. There was elevator access to the floors and the driver had heard my room number from the receptionist. Ten minutes later someone began banging on my door and ringing the doorbell incessantly. I was terrified I couldn’t know who it was but I could guess. I was terrified. I called my partner talked and cried to him nearly all night.
This experience has significantly impacted the tone of my trip. It has also marked and exposed my own ignorance which is an important lesson to learn, hopefully in the safest way. I am a liberal white woman who’s identity has been shaped by feminist and global citizen ideas. This type of hipster, global citizen, independent woman, explorer attitude put me in the situation where I disregarded my instincts or fear of not living up to expectations I had made for myself. I think they are mistakes that many have made. Before going on this trip I watched a documentary that brushed across India’s history in particular with British colonization. I learned that white women then would go to India (usually accompanied by men/ family) for adventure. Similar to my own intrigue. The relationship of white women to India and to the constructed other of India in particular to religious/ spiritual exoticism goes way back. I am not arguing not to explore and to expose our ignorance but we must be aware of this relationship and if we visit India not let it be for a cliché self actualization or to construct a pretentious self righteous attitude, but use the experience to deconstruct our own learned bias and worldview. Also always trust your gut. Don’t get to caught up in proving things to yourself or others.
Written by: Rebecca Dimond
University of Washington Bothell
Masters of Arts in Cultural Studies
Rebecca Diamond at Assi Ghat (photo credit Haliehana Stepetin)