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8.1.13

Payback

A camera is one of the most common and distinctive single characteristics of a tourist. Everyone knows the hordes of the Japanese tourists swarming all over the world photographing every silliest detail they can find. But most 'western' tourists also have for decades taken for granted that they can travel to another country and take photos of children, animals, beggars, homes, old people, religious sites, people at their work and so on. Many times without asking a permission. I know I have. Then I travelled to India.

It began already in Mumbai. On the very touristy island of Elephanta some Indian people wanted to have themselves photographed with my six-year-old son. Well, he's blonde haired and pale skinned, so I guess he can look quite exotic in Indian eyes. A man touched his hair, then kissed his own fingers and took them on his heart. A lucky touch? One would think a huge city like Mumbai sees its share of caucasian tourists so regularly that it wouldn't be so big a deal, but then these people were most probably tourists in Mumbai themselves. Little did we know that it was just a small taste of what was to come.

We flew to the island of Diu, which is a former Portuguese colony just below the state of Gujarat. It has an old fort, some beautiful beaches, resorts, churches, temples and other sights, but compared to e.g. some parts of Goa, it's very small-scale, relaxed and laid-back. Foreign travel agencies don't bring people here. Tourists have to find this place themselves. On the other hand, Diu is to a great extent a holiday island to the Gujarati people. The big Indian state of Gujarat is a dry one - the local hero, no one less than Mahatma Gandhi himself, didn't have a taste for booze, so alcohol is banned for the rest of the people too. It's legal in Diu, however, so a drunk Gujarati is not a rare sight on the island, especially during big holidays like Diwali, Christmas or New Year.

Local people on Diu probably see caucasian tourists enough so that they're not that impressed, but the (often tipsy and uninhibited) Gujarati tourists often don't hesitate to show their astonishment of seeing exotic-looking palefaces. - Hello! Where are you from? Your name? Nationality? Profession? One photo? One only! they'd typically ask. Then, when the photographing permission is granted, they take turns to pose with the unusual westerners. Most of them are very friendly and clearly earnest. We got sincere invitations to visit people's homes only three hours drive! away from Diu. I still have a piece of paper on which a guy wrote three different phone numbers of his so that I could call him, the reason I really don't know. He didn't even speak English.

Then there's the awkwardness of this type of behaviour. No matter if you're absorbed in your book or otherwise look like you'd like to be alone: One photo only! If you're a woman in a bikini on a beach, you can be sure the mobile phone cameras will lick your body from head to toes. Without a male companion the thin line of harassment can get stepped over very easily. One kiss please! Just one kiss! 

In the end, the photographing and the curiousness towards western looking people is, of course, just a retaliation for all the photos the western people have taken over the years. It's a matter of taking something and giving something. On Diu we rarely denied the photographing, and posed for most photographs when asked. More annoying was to notice being shot on video or photos on the beach without having asked permission. Then again, I've done that too. It's just a payback.

2 comments:

Rachel said...

I'm not surprised myself for I have been (victimized?) by some of them too. It wasn't that bad though it's quite alarming. I was with my family and I was really young then when we visited our relatives in Delhi, I guess 12 or 11.. when I overheard a man asking my cousin if he could court me and make me his wife! He might be just kidding but it was frighting for me as a kid. I didn't go out alone while we're there. There weren't cameras that time, but when all eyes are on you, it's as disturbing as camera flashes.

Divine said...

Heh, on Diu town's market place a local man wanted to introduce his daughter to me. There was quite a language barrier between us, but I was left with an impression that he might've wanted me to marry the girl. I quickly introduced my wife and son (who were nearby) to them...