A Tourist in India [en]

Some thoughts about being a tourist in India, and how I hate being a tourist.

– ‘Your country?’ Asks the man on the bus.
– ‘Switzerland.’
– ‘Svizerrland!? Ooh. Why you are not staying there?’
– ‘I am staying there. I came on holiday to visit some friends. I used to live in Pune.’
– ‘Ooh, so you are just tourist, then!’
– ‘Well, er…’

That was a week or two back, on the overcrowded bus which was finally taking me down to E-Square to see Ek Haseena Thi. I’ve always hated being associated with ‘tourists’, in India or elsewhere.

Tourists come to see, not to share. They watch the world outside from cozy A/C boxes. They are impolite, they don’t know how to dress or behave, they can’t eat the food or find their way around without a map. They see what they are meant to see, stay in places specially designed for them, and buy things in shops that nobody else would buy. They have money, lots of it.

In some ways, I have to admit that I am indeed a tourist. I take lots of photographs. I buy loads of stuff in shops to bring back to Switzerland for my enjoyment and that of others. I don’t really keep an eye on what I spend, I eat in nice places, I go to the cinema as often as I like.

But on the other hand, I much prefer trying to share the life of ‘normal’ people or just walk around the town I’m staying in, rather than sleep in expensive places and do the things that only the tourists do.

I like people. I do my best not to turn them into objects. I like everyday life. I like soaking in the atmosphere of a place or time.

I’m very suspicious of other foreigners I come upon in India. I kind of assume that they are not like me, more the ‘hippy-dippy’ type, as Aleika and I used to call them. Some sort of anti-tourist snobism, in a way.

Of course, I’m wrong. Lots of foreigners in India are certainly nice people. I almost walked off for ever after saying hello to Aleika, mistakenly assuming she would be ‘at the ashram’. Quite a few of my friends from Switzerland or elsewhere have been to India, so they would therefore certainly have been ‘foreigners nice to know’ had I met them in India.

Ironically, I find myself looking at other foreigners with as much curiosity and maybe more questions as many Indians who see me walk by. Why are they here? What brought them to India? What are they looking for? How long are they staying? Do they ‘fit in’ or not in their home culture? What is their life like here?

The result is that I’ve had very little contact with other foreigners in India, and I’m aware that I’m probably passing by people who would be interesting to know. I keep myself ‘aside’, comfortably settled on a jute bag full of preconceptions and marked ‘Fab India, Pune’.