There comes a time when a person has to abandon their plans, expectations, hopes and embark on a different path in hopes of salvaging what is left of themselves, their hopes, and sometimes their sanity . This knowledge struck me dead on my head on New Year's Eve in Mumbai.
I was at a club with Sexxy Jimmy and the JET gang. We were psyched to be spending New Year's Eve in the cosmopolitan hub of Bombay. We ended up at Not Just Jazz By the Bay club hoping to crash their holiday party. We had the money to get in but we had no idea what the hell was going on or the rules of the game. I made my way to the front of the pack hoping to get some information on entry requirements. A man working the door kindly told me what was going on, so I reported back to the JET gang. Basically, there were tickets still available for the club's all you can drink and eat New Year's bash. The cost of entry was 2500 INR (Indian rupees) for couples, while tickets for a single person was 1500 INR. We decided to abandon the club hopping idea and spend the evening partying at Not Just Jazz By the Bay.
I got out my money to buy a singles ticket since the JET gang has been great about me sharing their plush hotel rooms and only paying a fraction of the cost (I'm working on a backpackers budget!). So, I went up to pay for a singles ticket and the man working the door wouldn't sale it to me. I was confused and shocked since I was just told about 5 minutes ago that there were a bevy of tickets available. I got really pissed off especially since I was familiar with the stories of Mumbai establishments not allowing Africans on their premises (Please not that very few people I've encountered in India have figured out by simply looking at me that I'm American.) I also had read an article discussing anti-African prejudice in Mumbai in a recent edition of TIME OUT MUMBAI.
I stepped away from the register with the JET gang to plan our next move, when a guy approached us looking to become part of an instant couple. So now the problem was solved and myself and the guy approached the register to buy a "couples" ticket. The same man who didn't want to sale me a "singles" ticket was stunned to see me with this guy. It took us a little time to buy a couples ticket even though we had the 2500 INR ready to hand over. The man's behavior was bizarre. He basically didn't want to sell us a ticket but he had too. We went into the club and I was fuming.
Basically, I'm was fed up. I've definitely encountered more bullshit in India than any other country that I've ever travelled in. Sometimes I deal with the B.S. well and it rolls off my back. However, I haven't reached enlightenment yet, so sometimes I counter the madness by offering my own special recipe of bitchiness. The JET gang was getting their drink and party on and I was standing around pissed. However, my pissiness wasn't about this incident but a culmination of events.
Several days earlier, I went to the New Delhi Railway station to try to buy a train ticket to Amritsar. I waited in line when the usual Indian standing in line shenanigans occurred (massive cutting in line, etc.). However, since I had been in India for over 2 months, I wasn't in the mood to let 10 people cut in the line ahead of me while I'm standing patiently with a 16 kilo backpack on. I basically jostled and pushed to establish my place in the line and people got pissed at me. I guess I wasn't playing the "dumb foreigner" role very well.
Then the computers at the current reservation area went down. It was a mini-disaster but I continued to hold my own in the line. Then an older gentleman asked me to take off my backpack because it was bumping into him. I kindly told the man that I apologize for the bumping however, "I can't take it off. If I take it off and put it next to me and something happens to it- NO ONE IN THIS ROOM IS GOING TO HELP ME!" The older gentleman looked at me begrudgingly.
Then some man in the front of the line tried to convince me that the "line was over" and I should leave. I looked at him like he was on crack. And why would I listen to someone on crack?
Once the computers were working again, the pushing and angling in line for that one more inch of space that would somehow propel the pusher to the front of the line continued. Then the railway employee (working behind the window plated desk) joined the madness by decreeing that he wanted a "single" line. I thought he was joking because I've never seen anyone in a single file line since I've entered the country. Of course, joker's edict was met with even more pushing in order to make a suitable single file line.
This the part of the story that should get better because there is an end insight but it doesn't. Since I've decided to follow Indian Airlines new advertising motto and "be Indian," I've now pushed, jostled and angled myself to the front of the line. Soon I will enter the heavenly gates of current reservation and actually be able to hand my completed train form to the railway employee, except one man doesn't like the fact I'm ahead of him, so he starts trying to push me out of line. I guess this man didn't know that I'm Black, don't like being bullied, not in the mood to take shit, and been in India for more than a week. I yelled at him, "Don't you dare!" then I pushed all of my weight plus the 16 kilo backpack on him and successfully shoved him into a corner (Please note that he was a medium sized Indian man.). A shoving match ensued for all possible guests waiting in the current reservation room of the New Delhi Railway Station.
In the end it was a tie in the shoving contest. The railway employee took his form first which isn't shocking since I'm a foreigner and female. Once I gave my form to the railway worker, I was told that there were no more tickets available for the train to Amritsar. I wasn't surprised by his response. There may or may have not been tickets on the train. I didn't care. I felt good because I stood up for myself.
I ended up taking a 10 hour bus ride from Delhi to Amritsar. It was a hellish bus ride on a government bus which had couple and 3-people seating. I made the mistake of seating with a small person and a big person which meant that there was only room for half of my body on the end of the seat. (Please note there wasn't enough space to move around freely and I needed to sit in the front to keep an eye on my backpack). I spent 10 hours pushing, shoving, and maneuvering my body in various positions hoping to get comfortable. Please note that I never got comfortable. I would get into short body pushing matches with an older big-sized Sikh gentleman seating next to me.
Once people finally started getting off the bus at various stops, the Sikh gentleman motioned for me to move to the back. "No, I'm not going back there. I'm a woman and a foreigner. You can go back there." Neither of us moved and we remained locked into shoving body combat until the bus stopped in Amritsar. He probably emerged the winner but I didn't care because I stood my ground.
By the time I met up with Sexxy Jimmy & the JET gang, my behavior had regressed to an over aggressive 2-year old. The only word I seemed to know was, "no," because I had been singing and shouting it from Delhi to Amritsar and back. I had dealt with frustration in India but now I was dealing with the stress of countering bully tactics (in my opinion). Honestly, I felt like people, mostly men, were out to bully me and I wasn't having it.
I thought about all of this as I stood apart from the party while refusing all drink requests. I was in India and I was miserable. I'm living my dream and I'm miserable. I'm spending money which took me 2 years to save and utilizing time which is always a precious commodity and I'm miserable. How many times have I thought about getting on an airplane as soon as possible and leaving India? Too many. I was tired and frustrated. However, I never booked a departure ticket because I know it isn't time for me to leave India yet. I still long to see a little more of the country but something or me(if I'm the problem) has to change. So, I decided on the eve of a new year to throw my previously hashed plans in the rubbish bin and start out on a new path. I would cancel my train ticket to Varanasi as soon as possible, buy a airline ticket to Bangalore or take the bus to Goa. It was time to see another side of India - South India.
I must say that my first decision of the new year was a good one. The south is a different country. I feel like my experience in India has shifted 360 degrees. It is so laid-back. And things are much easier for me here even though I'm doing lots of government bus travel. I feel like South India is the India that I have been dreaming of for years. Let's all hail the South!
Please read this post-script to this weblog post if you have time. Please note that this post isn't anti-India or anti-traveling.