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The endless puzzle of Bombay

Sunday, January 19, 2014

One thing Indians don’t have is a sense of space. Women will stare right into your handbag with tunnel eyes while the customs officer examines the contents. I say women because in all the huge gleaming airports of Delhi, Bhopal, Bombay and Hyderabad, we’ve had to line up separately from the men and been frisked in a closed, curtained booth by fierce female army officers in army-green saris. Oddly, instead of creating a sense of modesty, I sense some perverted titillation in this. 


The irritation I felt melted at the sight of the benignly smiling woman and ten of her relatives looking curiously at the electronic cigarette over which I was being questioned. Being stared at is uncomfortable anywhere. It’s the worst in India because curiosity is naked, nothing like the darting looks of the British or the studied indifference of us Trinis. Indians get extra polite with people who they feel don’t belong. They are not themselves and become a curious version of what they think the Western world is—which at best is hilarious. 


They offer hot dogs for breakfast when you want the South Indian dosa. They show you to cafes when you want a proper dhaba. They point you to jeans when you want a sari. Indians have a term for feeling at home. It’s called “apnapan,” literally meaning “among us.”