Out of Place

On my last night with my host family, Aanya, my host, and Jinali, her best friend, took Farris and I to Marine Drive to walk by the ocean. Pointing to the Queen’s Necklace, a row of lights that surround the semi-circular coastline, they tried to identify every site in Mumbai in a few sentences. Unable to take in all the information they were pouring on me, I began to watch the people walking by.

From their range of attire, from workout gear to traditional saris, I could tell that people of all backgrounds, classes and ethnicities walked this path.

Yet, I still found people staring at me. Naturally, Aanya and Jinali told me: “It is because you are a foreigner.” Whether it was my shorter-than-usual shorts or, more likely, my white skin, I stood out.

Whenever young men walked by, I noticed Aanya and Jinali glance at one another and quicken their pace. “Be careful,” they whispered to us. They told me that oftentimes these “creepy” men would hit your behind or say something vulgar as they passed – especially with Americans.

Unfortunately, there is a certain negative stigma that comes with being American. And in India, there is no way to hide my American-ness. Sadly, I found myself feeling somewhat ashamed to be an American tourist.

I like to consider myself a traveler, but I worry that I will never be able to see the world without this American identity. Is there any way I can act to portray a different image? Is there anything I can do to fit in?

Being an outsider makes the Niswarth program even more challenging as well. Though we have looked education systems through a variety of media, including readings, film and service, we will never truly be able to be Indian and understand that point of view.

When I am walk down the Marine Drive, into a bus, through a pathway in Dharavi or even into a hotel lobby, the surrounding citizens stare at me. But, I want to know what it really feels like to be one of them. What is like to not be noticed? How can I experience that?