Everyone warns you to be cautious. To always have an eye on your things. To be aware of your surroundings. And to be especially wary of men (if you’re a woman).
But really, after a few days in Mumbai, I feel it’s not so different to South America, Africa, or even North America or Australia. Perhaps it’s because we’ve only been here a few days, maybe it’s because the pace has changed, or maybe people are just too sensitive and negative . I felt more ‘on edge’ in New York last week than I have here in India yet.
But there’s one big culture-shocking difference here; the staring.
Wherever I look, there’s a pair of eyes looking directly into mine. Not a threatening look, but a puzzled stare? I’m mastering the art of blocking out my peripheral vision, because 50 sets of eyes honing in on mine can be a little creepy. As I’m writing this, I’m balancing my (heavy) backpack with my feet, against the wall to block the direct stare of an Indian fellow in the opposite berth.
I caused quite a scene on the ferry in Mumbai when I offered to take a photo of a family. Afterwards, the mother wanted a photo of me with her shy toddler and kept yelling at and smacking the child to smile when she cried about standing next to some weird, blonde-headed alien. So if your teenager’s only ambition is to ‘become famous’, pack them off for a month in India for a taste of pop-star attention.
One thing that stops me running to buy a burka, is that a smile is almost always reciprocated. Indians like to receive attention as much as they give it, and many of them will have a thrill posing for the camera and even make you shoot another if they don’t like the first take. And the big plus, instead of expecting or asking for money (like South America), they will ask you where you’re from, where in India you’re travelling to, if you’re married, etc.
I’ve come across only a few beggars, contrary to the hyperbolic advice I was given before coming here that the whole population would be asking for money. But, everyone was correct on the smell front. In some areas it’s quite stinky. Sometimes a pleasant stink of rich coriander or fresh curry, but other times you’ll be punched in the schnoz by a foul, lingering pooey stench.
All part of the experience, I say.