An A to B guide to being a single white female in India
India is just one of those countries where you become very aware that you are a single white female travelling alone. I guess it happens in varying degrees in other countries where feminism is yet to rear its Medusa like head but I can’t comment on that since my field of expertise is India. Since I do happen to consider myself a bit of an expert on being a solo woman traveling India alone (based on my 21 years of exploration where no woman has dared to venture), I do also make an annual pilgrimage around the tourist sites in India to see what happens to women traveling alone these days.
It’s tough out there, I have to say. You can expect your own personal Great Race story if you travel alone in India but that’s not to say you shouldn’t do it. If you are young and fit and strong-minded it can be a challenge like no other. If you are older and have more insurance…well then get yourself on a tour where your trusty tour leader will protect you from daily annoyances and allow you to concentrate on the beautiful opera that is India.
For those who are considering venturing into India here is a brief excerpt from my book India for Idiots.
Blondes in India definitely have more fun.
BREASTS AND HOW TO MANAGE THEM
Please refer to cleavage below. Scarves draw the male eyeball away from the chest area, which should in any case be covered. Scarves also are good for wiping faces, hiding faces and carrying shopping.
BIKES AND HOW TO RIDE THEM PILLION
Indian motorbikes are built for the entire family so there is easily enough room for three adults on a motorbike. For your first menage a trios on a motorbike, try not to sit in the middle.
Remember that every sudden move on the road in India is a move towards life.If you are a woman and find yourself in a pillion situation with a male, please remember there is room for three on the bike.
There are many reasons why Indian women sit side-saddle on a motorbike. One might immediately assume that the reason lies with the sari, which is partially true, but the real reason lies with breasts, babies and cell phones.
Sitting side-saddle on a motorbike, the average Indian women can hold baby on her lap, a cell phone in the other hand. In between tending to the baby and talking to her mother on the phone, she is also able to step neatly from the bike should it lose its precarious balance. While her husband is skidding along the highway, the woman and baby can step to safety without creating so much as a pause in her conversation.
Do not wrap your arms or your thighs around the driver.
Place your hands around the rear of the seat where you will find a handy little grip. Keep a hold on this in preparation for the Sudden Braking Technique. The SBT is the real reason Indian women ride side-saddle. The SBT (please also refer to Camels) has an added benefit of sliding the female pillion passenger towards the driver with the point of contact being breasts and back.
Beauty is big in India and the beauty brings its own rewards. Women are rewarded for looking dewdrop beautiful; beauty parlors are where women go instead of the barbers. Treat yourself to a hair spa on days when the going gets tough. Don’t get mad, get a facial is the best advice I can give any woman anywhere but especially in India.
Cleavage is a No. Please refer to Staring, Eve Teasing and Breast Bumping.
A term to refer to sexual abuse or attack, detailed below.
This is a ritual beginning to take hold in cities and crowded foot paths all over India whereby men will suddenly veer out of the crowd and turn his body into a heat seeking missile aimed straight at a breast located in the teeming crowd. In a seeming random and accidental movement the Eve Teaser will bring his upper body into contact with the breast he has selected. Please refer to Cleavage and breasts and how to manage them. When walking in a city street, keep one arm across your breasts and the other slightly bent to cover your groin. You are permitted to push the man to help him back on his correct path.
You may hold hands with other women. You may not hold hands with your husband or boyfriend or any male over the age of eight. Men may hold hands with each other with impunity. Men can do anything with impunity.
MEN AND MIXING IT UP WITH THE LOCALS.
The centre of the family is the male child. The male child is the Kohinoor Diamond of the Indian family. The Indians did not take kindly to the British stealing their jewels and they will not be dancing in the street if you try the same.
Then consider how many centuries the caste system has existed in India. Unaccompanied Foreign women do not rate in the caste system. Everything that makes you special in your world makes you terribly unsuitable in his.
Finally, marriage is not an individual act of love in India but something your family arranges for you after all they are the ones that have to live with your wife.
MEN AND MANNERS
Boundaries like rules are not meant to be broken. If you walk in the street wearing a gypsy skirt and your hair flowing free, do not stop a man and ask him if he has a light for your cigarette. He will think you are a prostitute.
Indians like to see foreign women wearing their clothes. For beginners, there is the salwaar kameez. This is the Indian tracksuit that can go from bedroom to boardroom. All salwaar Kameez follow a standard pattern, variations exist in cloth and cut as well as color. The pants (salwaar) are roomy enough for two. Worn as a three-piece with pants, dress top (kameez) and dupatta or scarf.
Indian women will cross the street to tell you that your pleats are a mess and swiftly retie the sari for you. In the process you can make a little conversation. Remember to thank her nicely and ask if you can come around in the morning so she can dress you properly.
Some people see Western women only on television and so will approach you in the same vein. They do not expect a response and will happily discuss you as if you were appearing on an untranslated episode of Sex in the City. If you are a single female, check that you are wearing a bra. Sunglasses and ladies waiting rooms exist for a reason.
Is not encouraged except in the case of feet. Men and women do not touch in public, men touch men in public and women touch children. Hugging and kissing in public is considered scandalous and slightly titillating. If you hug a man then you have broken a boundary and further incursions will inevitably follow.
Indian women are generally found inside the house. Men make the big decisions about who will win the local elections and what to do about terrorism. Mostly they talk about cricket. Women make decisions about what to eat, what to spend, when to do a ritual, what school to send the children to and who to marry them to. Men usually “take advice” from their wives when they arrive home in the evening.
It is considered inauspicious to outlive one’s husband.