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Thursday, March 09, 2006

My Porter, The Hero

At some point, it was bound to happen, I guess….
My awful, awful experience in India. So, here goes. Being a woman here just sucks.

Everyone warned me on taking trains, but in the same breath, would say I had to experience the railways to truly get the idea of what travel is like for the people of this country. Flights are a luxury here, as they’re quite expensive. So, after my train to Agra was cancelled and I took a car in the interest of saving time, I opted to book an overnight train from Hyderabad to Delhi. About 27 hours. I booked a first class sleeper compartment, to be shared with three others and boarded at 6 AM in a very hectic, very crowded and chaotic Hyderabad station. The cabin left much to be desired, plastic-covered blue and white striped beds that folded down, mud-caked windows, and insane-asylum white formica walls, browned by years of use. But, it was FINE. The conductor informed me that nobody would be joining me until 10:30 PM that night, in Bhopal.

At about 1 PM in the afternoon, I was awoken by the sound of rapping at my locked cabin door. “You have another passenger, Madam,” and into the car walked a seemingly distinguished looking doctor making his way to Delhi for a conference. He was very nice, immediately talking to me, chatting, telling me about his family (late 40s, married, 5-year old son) etc.... Then, decides to "relax." That entailed getting comfortable in his bed, a mere 2 feet of space separating him and I, no curtains, no divisions, just empty space. At this point, he’s wrapped in his sheet, and starts asking me more pointed questions that started to take on a sexual theme. About promiscuity in the States, about unsafe sex, about how arranged marriages lead to lots of cheating b/c it “just gets old, especially, like him, if you’re not attracted to your chosen wife in the first place.” I am nodding respectfully (why, not sure…), I guess feeling that I have to spend another 10 hours with this person before others join us, might as well try to not be rude, even though I am uncomfortable with the way the conversation is going. Then, he asks me what kinds of movies I like:

“Um….I don’t know, all kinds. Dramas, comedies, I don’t know,” I say, “and you?”
“I like romancees….and porn.”
“Excuse me?”
“Pornographics, I like those a lot. You know," he pauses, "all pornographics feature western women, just like you.”
GULP, GULP….my heart is starting to race. I don’t like this. AT ALL.
“I DO NOT like pornographics, as you say,” I say definitively and go back to reading my book.

At this point, I’m intently trying to focus on reading. But the words are a blur and my instinct is telling me something isn't right. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see the sheet moving suggestively, unnaturally (well, actually, quite naturally for the nature of what was going on underneath…). His eyes are shut and he is touching himself. Quite obviously, and quite enthusiastically. I freeze. He sees me see him, and starts to gyrate his hips under the sheet, looking at me trying NOT to watch him. Staring at me, hard. I am locked in my head. WHAT IS GOING ON? WHAT DO I DO? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE? THIS IS NOT HAPPENING. PLEASE TELL ME THIS IS NOT HAPPENING.

It continues, he’s tossing and turning and jerking off in the bed two feet away from me. And, as I’m about to get up and leave, he takes his hand out from the under the cover and goes:

“I really think that what you are doing is fantastic and I admire you. Shake my hand,” and offers his sweaty palm to me.

I bolt. I unlatch the door, shaking, and run into the passageway of the train, where three young porters see my visibly agitated state. They are asking me what is wrong in whatever Indian dialect they speak. I am trying to ask for a conductor, who I KNOW speaks English. They keep asking: "What is wrong," their body language says…. So, I make a jerking off signal with my hands to my crotch, and start to cry. Immediately, one porter, who probably isn’t 20 years old turns to stone, goes into my cabin and starts to remove all of my luggage, transferring it to the next cabin over (there are three first class cabins). He is so incensed by what I’ve tried to express, and spits on the doctor in his hasty transfer of my belongings. Settled in the next cabin, he shows me the panic buttons, the “help” light, and tells me in halting English, “no worry anymore, I right there,” pointing to the wall – indicating he resides on the other side of it. “You need me, ANYTHING, you call. I here," and hits the wall we will share. "You safe now.”

I lock the door, close the curtain and cry hysterically for about an hour. I have never felt so violated, dirty, unable to defend myself, as the nature of my crime in India is merely being born a white woman. I’m in hate with India, as it's SUCH a beautiful and interesting country but the people need to learn respect of other cultures and, of women. I’m angry, I’m scared, I’m furious, I’m hurting.

The porter sends in a variety of officials to hear my story, taking them aside and explaining to them in his native tongue his rendition of the incident. They all apologize profusely. The problem is that at 10:30 PM, in Bhopal, a member of Parliament and his family have reserved the compartment they put me in after the this all happened. So, they explain, I might have to go back to the other one, when others join the room. I'm miserable the thought of such a thing. But, the porter won’t hear of it – he’s taken on my defense with a passion. So, as the Parliament member boards, he goes over to him and explains the situation (a porter, speaking directly to a member of Parliament!!! Underheard of!!!) and Mr. Parliament was equally appalled. So, he had his eldest son sleep in that cabin and his daughter and wife with me (and him).

I woke in Delhi, after sleeping under Parliament’s watch, to a new day. A day to start fresh, try to forget the disgust I felt on the train ride that I JUST HAD to take. Well, I certainly got my “experience.” One I’ll never forget, that’s for sure. Michele and Jeff met me in Delhi that evening, easing me out of the anger, keeping me laughing all night. Seeing them couldn't have been timed better. And now, onto my last India city, tomorrow. Varanasi, the spiritual soul of India.

More from there, hopefully with less dramatic incident.


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