A woman with a backpack? How un-Indian!

A woman with a backpack? How un-Indian!

Contributor : Dr. Vandita Dubey

“Are you going to Ashram?”

asked the taxi driver at Bangalore Airport as he put my backpack into the trunk of his car. I looked at him, trying to figure out why he thought so, and shook my head. I then showed him my friend’s address and explained that I was headed for her house. As we settled for a long drive in the taxi, he turned around and asked me,

“What country are you from?”

Now, I am neither blond haired nor blue eyed, but I have noticed that whenever I travel with my backpack I am mistaken for a foreigner. This is regardless of where I am – the Delhi Metro station, Bangalore airport or on a train from Delhi to Kathgodam. Traveling around with a backpack in Indian or un-Indian clothes has had strangers attempting to talk to me in English, asking me which country I was from. This never happens to me when I travel through the same places, or elsewhere, carrying a suitcase or a bag. So. what is it about carrying a backpack that makes me un-Indian?

I realize that with a backpack folks cannot put me in a box. I know I don’t look like a student, definitely not college-age (however much I may wish I did). I proudly walk around with my untinted grey hair, announcing my middle age to all who may care. So, I clearly look my age. Perhaps I don’t act my age?  The fact that I carry my well stuffed back-pack around defies the Indian rules of age, gender and class. Women of my age and social status are expected to have coolies or other men folk carrying their luggage. But then I have also lugged my own bags and seen other women do so at railway stations without being labelled foreigner. Of course, this is as long as the luggage in question is a suitcase or a bag. So, what seems to  cause all this confusion is the innocuous backpack itself.

I have to admit that my backpack is an attention grabbing red with some grey. I bought the backpack more than 10 years ago from a specialty outdoor store. It is designed keeping the female form in mind. And, I have spent many a sweaty days, hiking with it in the mountains. However, now our hikes involve mules and it seem masochistic to lug uphill weight that I do not have to. So, my backpack has become my travel luggage of choice, especially when I travel alone. I prefer to carry my own bags. It makes me feel independent and in control. Perhaps that is what a backpack signifies – independence and control. Is that what is disconcerting then? An Indian woman, middle aged, independent and in control of her life?

Or. Is it that most women who travel with backpacks are foreigners? Hence, any woman who carries a backpack is a foreigner. But then any woman who wears Indian clothes is not necessarily assumed to be an Indian, especially if she has blue eyes and blond hair. Why then, with my brown eyes and black (ok, black and grey) hair am I mistaken for a foreigner?

Do tell me what you think. I’d love to hear your backpack stories or unusual travel tales.

About Dr. Vandita Dubey : A US licensed psychologist, Dr. Dubey works with her clients over phone and skype, and also hosts therapy retreats in the Himalayas. A published author, she also co-hosts the Himalayan Writing Retreat. You can learn more about her at www.vanditadubey.com, and about the retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com.

 

 

 

 

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Who can borrow what from whom?

Who can borrow what from whom?

“Bro, I know it’s a big ask so don’t hesitate to say no.” said Tim.

He had my attention.

“My motorbike’s rear brake has packed up, and I am riding down to Munsiyari with some other bikers. I just rode past your place and was wondering if I could borrow your Himalayan for a couple of days.”

“When are you back?” I asked. My car was limping on a broken shocker, so the bike was our main transport right now. The car repair would wait for when I could find time for the 3 hour drive to the Honda showroom in Haldwani.

“On Saturday. In three days.” he replied

“And your bike is driveable? You’re moving around on it?”

“Yes. The front brake works fine. It’s just that my journey is a rather long one.” I knew Munsiyari was at least a 10 hour drive.

“Okay sure. Come by and pick it up.”

“I just rode past your house. See you in five minutes.”

I had just dug out the bike papers when Tim Subhash Chandra rolled in on his black Himalayan. His real name is Tim Sebastian, but he’s realized that Subhash Chandra is easier for most Indians to say. I’ve known Tim for over a year – I first met him just a few days after he had opened the iHeart cafe down in Bhimtal. It is a great little cafe with a lovely ambience and good food. moreover, it makes a great pit stop on my trips to the plains. And he’s helped me in many ways in pushing my recent baby – the Himalayan Writing Retreats. So he’s not a dear friend but he’s more than an acquaintance.

He hopped off his bike and we chatted. He talked about the possibility of getting the bike fixed in Almora or borrowing my bike. I told him I was happy to lend it and it was entirely his call. As we chatted, he explained his chain of thoughts about whether or not he should call me to borrow the bike

“The guy’s Indian and a village man, so he’ll probably say yes. But he’s lived seven years in Chicago, so that part of him would say no. Heck, let me just call him and ask.” he said.

Now that was an interesting insight. Even as an American, he expected an Indian to lend him something fairly valuable more readily than another American. And if you’re a “rural” Indian, that increased the chances even more.

So what exactly was Tim saying? That a city bred, more urbanized and therefore Individualistic person is less likely to lend something? And the rural person – who probably has a lot less to start with but who is used to living in a community and is more accustomed to sharing things – is more likely to lend you something of value?

Rings true in my experience here so far. And Tim – obviously very tuned into India – clearly seems to think so.

What do you think?

(Image credit : studentsforliberty.org.)

The shooting star caught me off guard

The shooting star caught me off guard

Contributor : Arun Kumar M.

A slow, deep breath. As I exhale I open my eyes to the star-studded dark sky. I could sense myself going into a trance, deeper amongst the stars.

In a remote village, 6200 ft above the sea, the breeze was a chilly 14 degrees. A day before, Erode, the place where I came from was 41!  This cool calming transition allowed me to sink into the beautiful night.

It is not often we look up into the sky at night, let alone see stars. A sky overflowing with them is a rare sight for city dwellers like me.

Lost among them, as I was trying to figure my way out, I stumbled upon a peculiar thing. One ‘dot’ was moving. The first question that popped into my mind was, “Am I hallucinating, or is that ‘dot’ really moving?” A shooting star is not the way it is shown in Disney movies. (Hey Arun, take out the phone, try capturing it and see if you can upload it to get a lot of views). Somehow, that thought suddenly felt cheap.

Wow. It felt amazing. To be part of this ever-surprising nature can happen only when you un-city yourself. That is a pity, but such is the state of our tightly packed concrete jungles.

But hey! When people see a shooting star, they make a wish. Oh man! It is gone now, and I spent all the time I had figuring out what the dot was. It was a bummer not to have made a wish.

But guess what happened? Another star. I grabbed the opportunity, and this time I made the wish. Having made my wish, I now lower my eyes to some funny expressions from my group mates. They found my reaction to the entire episode quite naive.  “Arun, shooting stars are common here. You know what? You can sometimes see the light from satellites as well.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Oh, what has the city done! I was jealous.

We were huddled around a makeshift barbeque stove. After a long day of writing, learning, podcasting and trekking, the blend of the cold night and warm embers was perfect.

Back in Erode, I have now started looking up at the sky often – trying to peek beyond the few stars that I can spot. No shooting star, unfortunately. Beyond the pollution, just knowing that they exist is soothing.

A deep breath!

 

About Arun Kumar M : Arun loves to be constant in one thing. That is to learn. After earning his degree in Aeronautical Engineering, he went on to establish and head a research forum. He has also completed courses in philosophy and model thinking. All he needs is a good cuppa coffee and a book. He blogs at https://maktheway.com .