First day in the city: who watches whom?

On the second day of our stay in India, August 27th, our brand new colleagues took us out to Bangalore’s city heart. Their goal was to introduce us the different sites of the city and, especially, the inherent changing ambience of those sites at other times of the day. But apart from that, questions with a more fundamental background were the incentive of this day’s site seeing.

 

In this first blog we will therefore report our personal experience of the city as a non-Asian visitor, but also address the local’s response on our presence as white foreigners in their native environment.
Starting around 11am, the City Market gave us a relatively quiet first impression of the city. The market appeared to us as a place of the people, where the authentic locals meet one another. No ‘white’ or ‘western’ person was around, which made us very explicitly the odd ones out. But despite our awareness of our odd appearance within the crowd, we didn’t notice the gaze of people around us. Captured by all the colourful scenes at the Market, we had no eye for the ones that did had eye for us.
But on our way to another site of the city, our private city guides expressed their astonishment on the staring of the crowd. It appeared that this gazing didn’t occur in the extreme fashion as they expected it to happen in advance. On the contrary, they were pleasantly surprised by their kindness and had never witnessed the friendly gesture of vendors giving away freebees as a welcoming sign to their city.

 

Stip

Using public transport introduced us to more busy places of the city at that time of day. We took the bus from Shivaji Bus Depot, an already more crowded and chaotic environment. The vehicle itself was pretty packed, though more passengers kept entering the bus at every stop. Nevertheless, it was something else that struck us more.
In the bus, all the women were sitting in the front, all the men on the back. A strict division that, at first, seemed just a funny coincidence, but soon got a more serious tone when we noticed every new passenger obeying this code. This way, the public transport trip confronted us as Dutchies with the division between men and women for the first time. Separation in sex, division in restrooms apart from this, and the differences in the constructed gender roles never occurred to us that much, certainly not in The Netherlands but until then neither in India. And however there was barely time to think about this phenomenon with all the bustle around us, questions started to pop up in our heads. Why is this division necessary? And why is this habit absent in our culture? Unconsciously it triggered our attention.
Though, during the rest of the day, it was the cautiousness and caretaking of our personal guides that caught our eye: continuously checking if we were still following, if that homeless man wasn’t bothering us and if we had our backpacks safely closed. The whole day they looked after us and made sure that we were feeling comfortable and safe on the streets and in public spaces. By the end of the day we have had a fantastic city tour and a marvellous first impression of the city without any bad experience of people responding inappropriate to our presence. Unfortunately, our guides were exhausted and their obvious relief with ending the day without any trouble couldn’t be unseen. A remarkable sign, that suddenly shed another light on the question of how the Indian locals respond on our presence as white foreigners in their native environment.

 
Familiar with all the current circulating worrisome stories questioning the safety of India’s public environments, we didn’t expect a pleasant first impression. However, though it became clear that our presumptions were proved utterly wrong by our true experience, who would have thought that this preconception would be shared by our own caretaking colleagues? Who would have thought that the ones being most surprised by all Bangalore’s kindness would be our private, Indian city guides?

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