Loose women

Posted: June 19, 2012 in Delhi life
Tags: , , , , , ,

It is one of the more unsettling facts of my ‘normal’ life that I am used to being watched. For four years, my every move—post-gym sweat, illicit snow angels, evening stagger, Sunday hangover bagginess, gluttonous M&S shop, kebab van prowl, spasmic midnight dance, nighttime visitor, accidental backflip over the QUIET PLEASE sign—has been lovingly observed and recorded. (And the zoom is so good that they can even see into some of the windows, I remember with occasional heart palpitations.)

I live almost exactly under Oxford’s ever-vigilant two towers. In a dusty, key-strewn panopticon, three porters and a catfish-faced bursar watch, to lubricate the flow of college gossip preserve our security against the great unwashed. It’s impossible to forget that the eyes are there, even once you’ve resigned yourself to the existence of a rapidly circulating This Is Your Life video of shame.


The upside, though, is that being stared at and judged all the time in India is just like being back home, only with marginally less risk of blackmail. Foreign women—and my delicate brother—frequently complain about constant violation by hundreds of goggling strangers. Some beaches now even have signs imploring locals not to harass visitors. On one hand, Indians (some themselves internal tourists) have an inexplicable urge for pictures of dreadlocked albinos holding their unamused babies, just like, er, Bollywood. On the other, young men—and often much older, besuited ones too—are clearly interested in something else. I don’t deny the staring grows wearing. But gradually you becoming inured to it, just as you stop seeing the dirt. I’ve only had to punch one man this whole trip.

In fact, it’s not just goras who attract eyes: anyone weird or even vaguely female does. This is coupled with a famous nosiness—the classic ‘how much do you earn?’ quizzing—and a frankness hideous to British ears. ‘Your personality grows larger every year!’ a friend’s mother said to his cousin, by which she meant: Fattyboomboom. Equally when people say I ‘look like a Punjabi’, I slap them and burst into Bollywood tears. These are the gentle ones, though: I’ve eavesdropped on brutal conversations that basically went ‘Woah, porky, lose the monobrow’.

And on to the loose women of the title: c’est nous. Indian neighbourhoods are notoriously gossipy. Alas, the gossip surrounding our flat—where pretty young foreign women come and go every month or so, occasionally having flings with the downstairs people—is that it’s a brothel. The landlord called in to check, but unfortunately only a blonde Russian monoglot was home.


Added to this is the fact that women never, ever call in at local ‘English wine’ shops. Even respectable men do it away from home, so that even ‘the world’s most expensive shopping area’ (it’s not), Khan Market, can’t stomach public booze sales. This does mean I get my own lady queue. It also means narrowed eyes from the neighbours and the nightwatchmen. Gasp! even a young man came to stay with me (nobody realised David and I were related…awkward). And sometimes one of us will crash elsewhere to desperately milk an acquaintance’s air conditioning, turning up panda-eyed before the morning guard. We confirm the stereotypes: Western women are loose. BUT at least nobody’s CCTVing it all!

Unfortunately, staring is a contagious hobby. Who’s that three-headed dude/attractively bearded lady/ludicrous sari-wearing Westerner over there? I find myself thinking unabashedly, and having a good gander. You have been warned. College, if you’re reading this: I require serious re-house-training in eyeballing, how to hold a fork, and the etiquette of talking about overactive sweat glands and bowel motions over the Sauternes.


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