|In the very early morning, at the bus station in Madurai, I find out that the bus schedule has changed and so I sit down to wait with some chai.
The station manager has soon either spread the word about me, or else I guess I just draw attention to myself by purely existing. Because the lady sweeping the floors comes up to me, 5 cm to my face. Closely, closely, she lets her eyes wander along my traits as I dare not breathe in fear of exhaling chai breath over her. Never have I felt as scrutinized. I become aware of every single imperfection and skin blemish I know I have. Then she simply steps back and points to a bus that will eventually take me to Munnar before silently continuing to sweep the floors. A bit confused and relieved, I thank her. In response, she rather brusquely pushes my legs with her broom in a sign that I should pull up my feet so that she can sweep the floors.
If she would have been a man, my reaction to her closeness would certainly have been different.
Most boys working as ticket collectors and bus announcers have their eyes on me and they discuss my travel plans in a mix of English and Tamoul. Their eyes. The Indian men's way of looking at a girl is just something out of this world. They just stare at you. Silently.
A little later, on the bus on the way up to Munnar, this little man would sometimes just pop his head around my seat and smile broadly at me before popping back to his seat again. When I turned around at one point to see how full the bus was, I was faced with three intense stares followed quickly by three enthusiastic grins right next to one another, really awake. I surely prefer the smiles from the more total poker-faced stares that is otherwise more common.
What is it really that creates this kind of energy? It's a sexual one, no doubt, many of those stares are full of a certain lust. But it isn't necessarily lust with pleasure, it's lust with a sense of looking-down upon the object of desire, i.e. random female body, a way of devaluing this female for awakening lust in the man's eyes. But then doesn't this lust devalue the men more than me? This is the same discussion one might have about veils and I am definitely not getting into all that again. I just find it fascinating on a level, irritating on another. I dress very appropriately here, I hide to smoke the few cigarettes I smoke while on this trip, I only order a beer with dinner if I feel that it is ok in a particular restaurant, I dress with long skirts and covered shoulders and I always have a shawl at hand to wrap around my body or head if need is felt. And as we all know I am just an average looking girl, it has nothing to do with looks, it is just two-boobs-hips-ass alarm going off. And so I look down, hide shyly and a bit embarrassed under my shawl and do exactly what is in fact expected out of me as a female: slowly disappearing out of public focus. That of course awakens the feminist in me who wants to be able to drink three bears, wear whatever, smoke three cigarettes if I want to and just be. But of course I wouldn't. Not amongst traditions that it isn't my place to play with. There clearly isn't one way to define the balance between male and female, and as opposed to for example Sweden, India really has and is voting for strong female political leaders. Just as an example. And after all, the Kamasutra is from here...and the whole Hindu pantheon of Gods and Goddesses… There is a role played by women here that is just different from how it is in Europe, but not at all necessarily lesser than that of men. In fact, it often feels like women are the ones in charge, just like in Vietnam. It is when western women meet Indian men that complications occur. And of course not always, everywhere, at all times.
However, in Vietnam, I only got to hear things like "why you white monkey?" pointing to my (perfectly normal) hairy arms. Or "hihihihi, sorry, no big size" as soon as I walked into a shop (and I am not that big after all...). Just like in Japan, I got used to being rather desexualized, which honestly, was quite nice. Even if that too could be irritating sometimes...
Knowing all this, I had the funniest guide yesterday.
Munnar is a little town amidst tea plantations up in the mountains at the limit between Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the Kerala side. The town itself is really nothing to stop for, which is usually the case with those hill stations, but the surrounding areas and landscapes are just absolutely amazing. I will try to upload pictures as soon as I can, for now at least, I have added pictures to previous entries...
So yesterday morning, before dawn, I head up in an auto-rickshaw to go trekking. The driver is also going to be my guide. We stop at a forest guard's house and then start up the hill that soon becomes a mountain that becomes steeper and steeper. It's a great, physical climb. We pass through thick lush, wet, vegetation, bushes and tall grass, across mud and sand and then up on pure rock. Since I don't have any climbing or trekking shoes with me, my sandals are soon off and I do the walking barefoot, it's better that way. Wonderful feeling of nature, of peace, quiet and serenity. Slowly, the sun rises over clouds laying like a snow river in the valley in under us and the colors, cloud formations and reflections are incredible.
When we have reached perhaps half-way up the mountain, Ravi, the guide, starts talking about sex. Now, in general, I have nothing against talking about sex, but one has to put oneself in my shoes, or rather in my bare feet and up on that mountain completely and utterly alone with this guy who just suddenly stops so unexpectedly that I nearly bump into him and says (after we have gone through, married/umarried ordeal):
" Sorry madame, but here in India, if a girl waits too long before marriage then a man will come and boom, sex her."
Quite taken aback but this sudden very clear way of putting things, I decide to laugh. But I let the distance between us grow...The conversation then circled around when or how it is appropriate for a man and a woman to "sex" until it turned into a talk about gay and lesbian rights in Europe versus India, transsexuals and Hijras. Quite interesting really and after a while I realized that Ravi was gay for sure, he couldn't say it, but clearly he was and that made the rest of our day much easier to handle. And when we finally reached the top, he let me sink into silence and just look out over those valleys and mountains, not a sound, not another person, just sky, clouds and steep slopes with peacefully eating goats.