15 Aug 2017 Freedom & Independence; Together in India
Freedom & Independence; Together in India
International travel represents a higher level of achievement and independence. It has always been my dream to leave the comforts of home and embark on a trip across the world. The day my passport arrived was one of those monumental moments of achievement. The freedom that little blue book resembles is indescribable and yet carries prestige to the holder. Long hours of standing in line just to wait some more, a quick and unexpected trip to the county clerk’s office and a hectic battle in traffic back to the passport office were well worth it. After a two day wait and then the ever anticipated delivery of a large white envelope, I was approved and free! Free to leave the stress of work and the ever present rat race of my hometown. Free to travel the world and experience life outside of the United States. I received multiple travel alerts and words of warning from kind strangers along my way. I am sure that the sight of a young American woman traveling alone, glittery Victoria Secret bag in tow, was enough to give concern to sympathetic travelers.
I gladly touted my strong sense of independence and repeatedly assured them of my capability to survive. Besides, I had done my research; weeks of research to be exact, I had taken all of the necessary precautions in making my arrangements. I wasn’t posting on social media to alert stalkers, I placed myself amongst a family of travelers to hide the fact that I was alone. I even had multiple contacts that would meet me and show me around India. Underneath this façade of strength I was secretly relieved for the words of warning, words of encouragement and the kind smiles of those strangers. They knew better than I did, they knew what I would have to face all on my own. Stubbornness and independence have always been my shield, my driving force to go where others do not dare to go.
We are all social creatures, we not only crave social interaction, but are highly dependent upon it. When we travel, we travel with purpose; every trip begins with a plan of where to go and what to do once we get there. Despite the feelings of excitement and anticipation, we shackle ourselves to fear. Luggage, suitcases and travel bags present a feeling of security. If only we could pack the entire house, bring all of our personal belongings with us, then we would be ok, we would be comfortable and secure. Once our bags are packed, we race towards our destination, the façade of freedom and independence. That’s when I ask myself, is it possible to have freedom and independence?
Experiencing India as a solo traveler was a monumental accomplishment and a rewarding experience. My mantra is to learn something new every day; I learned so much about India and about myself. True travel into the depths of the city and off the main roads is the best way to explore and gain an understanding of what freedom means to you.
Let’s first look at the statistics; Delhi, India has been identified as the rape capital of the world. Women are still considered property/slaves, and are not permitted to speak to a man, much less walk around in public alone. My encounters with kind travelers warned me of these things prior to my arrival. It was even reported that a young foreign college student was beaten by a mob simply because of the color of his skin. In this digital age, of course there was a video highlighting the horrific event. I was willfully entering into a country where the color of my skin, my gender and my outspoken demeanor would all serve as my own prison.
My passion for culture and history have created a simple awareness in my mind that I would surely be stoned should I ever let my temper or attitude run free within the streets of Delhi. This diverse mixture of strong will, independence and a desire for freedom could prove to be very dangerous for me. I literally felt trapped within my own mind; the onslaught of stares, lewd comments, sneers and racial prejudice was almost too much to bear.
In my hometown I am loved, adored, resected and given special treatment everywhere I go. In India, I was a spectacle, a foreigner, an animal on display at the zoo, an alien that might cause havoc. It’s similar to going to the gym and feeling like everyone is staring as you bend over in your hot pink yoga pants to contort in some ridiculous yoga pose. I was the center of attention everywhere I went but not in a paparazzi way, in the most uncomfortable way. Even my espadrilles and cute peach summer dress couldn’t deflect the way their stares permeated my skin and grasped at me. Who knew that a simple stroll through the market would have me clinging to my guide, questioning my dependence on him?
At home, everyone is consumed with their own lives, or if your gazes cross they might throw you a cool southern wave. As a true Texas woman, full of fire and venom, I remained adamant that I would exercise the same freedoms that I enjoyed at home, those simple pleasures. At the age of sixteen, everyone revels in the freedom afforded by that shiny new driver’s license and whatever car we can get our hands on.
So that was my plan; I would travel the way the natives do and then I would surely avoid the stares as I waited for my daily Uber driver to find me among the crowds. After a little research and a few conversations of Hinglish (Hindi and English) I headed to a local rental shop to peruse the lot for a suitable scooter. A local friend had let me borrow his Hero Maestro scooter and I had fallen in love with the look and the swiftness in which it allowed me to anonymously maneuver the heavy Delhi traffic. I negotiated a great price for a used rental “Scooty” but was quickly informed that as an American, that I couldn’t rent it unless I handed over my passport.
I was outraged, how could I hand over my one lifeline to go home? My little blue book, which I protected with my life, was the one thing that could give me the freedom that I sought, but could also be my jail sentence if I were to lose it. How could I trust this unkempt, sweaty, no suit, flip flop wearing, sketchy Indian man with my life, my American passport?
I shouted that it was illegal and that he was crazy, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t rent a scooter. Defeated, I booked another Uber to go back home, so thankful for my “Hinglish” translator who was able to guide the driver to our proper destination. Homesickness began to set in, missing conventional Uber drivers, who actually know where they are going. I began to miss the freedom of jumping in my car at home and taking an impromptu drive to the beach.
The reality was that my independence in India was dependent upon others, on the kindness of strangers. A few phone calls later, we set out to buy a scooter, because surely I could flash some cash and buy a scooter. The shiny new and gently used scooters gave me hope and a glimpse of the fleeting freedom I would have to drive around the city. I disregarded the stares and the parade of gawkers as I picked out my new found freedom. We negotiated a reasonable price, only struggling through the “Hinglish” a little, thanks to WhatsApp.
It’s amazing how well the natives could read and write English, but yet couldn’t understand the spoken language. I handed over a cool 40,000 Rupees, the equivalent of $619 USD, for a used 2015 Hero Maestro Edge. The sleek gray color and the amped up motor made breezing through the streets that much more glorious.
I reveled in the feel of the wind in my face as we raced past the ever present (Delhi) traffic jam. I could quickly speed away, away from the spectators, away from the crowds and for a few moments become an incognito tourist. I was free at last; freedom that had been unknowingly acquired through the dependency of others.
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