When we were in India, my husband and I were pale, pasty Americans swimming in a sea of caramel-colored, dark-maned, beautifully accented, crazy-driving, amazing people.
We spent our entire week in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, the fifth most populous city in India, spread out over a large area on the banks of the Sabarmati River. In July 2017, the Historic City of Ahmedabad or Old Ahmedabad, was even declared as India’s first UNESCO World Heritage City.
Everywhere we went, especially since we were not going to any major tourist areas, we were stared at, watched, had “sneaky” cell phone pictures taken, and I was asked by many locals to take a selfie with them. I happily obliged.
Toward the end of our trip, my introvert husband expressed how uncomfortable the strangers stares made him. That he just felt very noticed.
I laughed at him, at first.
I didn’t mind the stares. We were the tourists, the intruders in the beautiful city. We didn’t know their language and probably horrifically butchered every attempt at their lilting words.
We also looked nothing like them and sounded worse.
Of course they would stare a bit!
But as the thought of the staring rattled around in my head over the next couple of hours, I realized the real reason it bothered me so much less than him.
I finally expressed it, to his shock.
“I think the reason it doesn’t bother me is because it’s clearly not malicious. I get stared at, commented on, told to smile, and even ‘accidentally’ groped or brushed up against on the trains all over NYC. I’ve spent my whole adult life learning to ignore the stares and comments and act like it doesn’t bother me, until it finally stopped bothering me on a regular basis. I barely notice it here.”
The look in my man’s eyes.
The realization that it didn’t bother me because I WAS USED TO IT, and used to it in a more malicious and scarier way, seemed to almost take the wind out of him.
My heart seemed to skip a beat for him.
My husband is not a man who touts white privilege. He is compassionate, empathetic, fully supportive of the #metoo movement and my recent book inspired by it.
He had at one time been ignorant of the way women base so many decisions — where they live, what they wear, where they go at night, how late they stay out, where they park the car, what route they take home — on avoiding attacks. He always calmly listened and absorbed as I told him my experiences.
And even though he didn’t share those experiences, he started meeting me at the train station when I came home late. Without teasing, just doing it because it made me feel better. Safer.
He was upset at this revelation. This idea that of course it didn’t bother me, the locals so clearly were nice and had good intentions. The idea that at home, I could not assume the same of others.
It was strange, in a way, to burst that bubble of his. I didn’t mean to make him concerned or worried about me. I can handle myself! I just meant to explain how I felt.
And interestingly enough, I was able to come up with a perfect analogy. How sad that this was what I had to compare it to.
India was amazing and I hope to go back someday and see more. The groom’s family took us in and included us and made us feel incredibly welcome and wanted. They took the time to explain traditions, invite us places, take us shopping, and more. It was an awesome trip! I can’t believe I get to experience so much beauty and joy in my life!