Aside

Well, hello again! As I warned you, nothing’s happened, hence the delay in blog posts. The monsoon is lagging, we’ve been a week with no rain and it’s back up to just the usual hot as hell; they keep calling for thundershowers but so far they’ve been sadly mistaken. I’ve learned to gauge the humidity by the amount of shoulder force necessary to open my front door (I don’t mean merely pushing the door, I mean throwing my entire body into it. I will probably need a running start soon). My indoor gecko is getting around quite a bit so he must be getting used to me and my outdoor gecko (I usually see him on the outside of my bathroom window) is hopefully making short work of the ants in my shower. Mangoes are still good!

Last week I went to the Lotus Temple, a Baha’i worship centre. It’s huge, a big nine-sided concrete structure shaped like a lotus with pools all around. Inside it’s fairly bare, there are stone benches and a lectern and that’s about it. The real draw is the outside.

We were actually just killing time there until the main attraction started: a piano recital in the auditorium of the Information Centre. It was put on by the Canadian High Commission and featured Canadian pianist Berenika playing Chopin, Debussy, and Glass. It was a good concert, she played beautifully and it seemed the audience was appreciative, if not the most attentive. It was nice to hear some Classical that wasn’t on my iPod. 🙂

The recital was only about an hour long, but when we got out we got to see the temple lit up, which was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, we had another appointment to keep so I didn’t have a chance to socialize much with the other concertgoers. There weren’t all that many, to be honest. This event was open for the public, but I’ve found the Canadian High Commission doesn’t really do much to advertise outside of its own circle and a lot of events are for base staff only. There is a certain idea of exclusivity here that I’ve noticed too, it’s much less of a “come one, come all; the more, the merrier” attitude. I tried to go to a screening of a French Canadian film a couple weeks ago but when I called the India International Centre (the cultural arts centre, like the NAC or Place des Arts) I was told it was for IIC members only. And to be a member, you have to be over 30 years of age, be nominated by two other members, pay significant fees, and anyway they weren’t accepting any new members at that time. Someone at work told me it was basically an old boys’ club – who knew they were so into French Canadian films? Another woman here tried to join her local swimming pool but was told it was only for Indian nationals.

This brings me to A Sensitive Topic: living as a visible minority. It does feel strange. I knew it would, but I didn’t know how awkward it could be. There’s a very bizarre double standard here when it comes to white people. I don’t watch TV here, but my friend told me there are ads all the time about skin whitening products and having darker skin is really seen as “bad.”

Meanwhile, in Canada I have no problem being very pale even though tanning is still a popular (stupid, dangerous, etc) grooming activity. Here, knowing that white skin is prized but still having the ole’ White Guilt complex makes for a strange feeling. I do feel like there is a certain resentment here towards white people; I’m not sure if it has to do with the relatively recent colonization or the way expats live here or just the idea lots of people around the world have of the West. I don’t really think there is any such thing as colour-blindness, as much as we may try, but I was brought up to be so careful of colour being a neutral topic that having it raised, however indirectly, is uncomfortable. My friend said she got the impression that being white was an instant upgrade (this was in terms of male attention – they like white girls but I don’t know if it’s because we’re seen as exotic or just “easy”); at the same time, she feels like a target everywhere she goes. I don’t feel like I get preferential treatment, if anything, it seems like the opposite. For example, if I’m buying something I have to wait while Indians are served before me, even if I got there first (there aren’t really lines or “queuing up”). I pay more for things too. The thing is, I’m honestly not sure if this is something to be upset over or not. If I can afford it, I shouldn’t mind, everything is still pretty cheap. It just feels unjust because I know I’m being singled out because of my race and I don’t like that. At the same time, if paying above-market prices for things (rickshaws, fruit and veggie wallahs) allows them to keep the prices lower for people who actually can’t afford the inflated rates, maybe I shouldn’t feel this way; maybe geared-to-income pricing is ok. I’d be a lot more comfortable with that though if I had any faith that the vendors actually did keep prices lower for poorer people – and so long as they’re being kinda jerky with me, I can’t confirm that. But the idea of being racially profiled for anything, however minor, is offensive; you can say “don’t take it personally”, but that’s the very thing that makes it so bad: the impersonal judgment.  You are assessed entirely by the colour of your skin and so many judgments are made on the spot. No matter what colour you are or in what environment and whether the resulting treatment is preferential or discriminatory, there is no way this can ever feel good. The ambivalence towards white people is just confusing. Even though I feel there is some resentment, at every tourist attraction I go to, I’m pounced on by gangs of teenage boys who want to take pictures with me. There must have been 25-30 boys at Lotus Temple and they get REALLYCLOSETOYOU with their arms around you, trying to make it look like a girlfriend picture. They would never touch an Indian woman that way. It’s very conflicting, and I feel sort of powerless because the impression people have of me has nothing to do with the way I actually conduct myself. I feel obliged to say yes to the photographs because I don’t want to be a bitchy white girl, but I don’t like it. Then, when I don’t protest about them touching me, I’m just reinforcing the stereotype that Western women are fine with being touched. I can try to haggle with the drivers, and I do, but even if they come down 10 rupees I’m still not winning. Maybe I shouldn’t argue at all, I feel like I need to make recompense for all the whites who have come before me. At the same time, I’m not a summation of my one characteristic of whiteness, and I resent their judgment. And then I tell myself that racial minorities in North America have to feel this way all the time (or worse) so maybe this is just me paying my dues.

So yeah, not that much new… went to a really good South Indian restaurant last Friday which makes me very excited for Kerala. Work-wise, I’m coming up to my midpoint assessment and last week found myself redrafting my entire scope of work for my objectives. CARE India is starting up the preliminary work for the two programs we’re going to start with and I’ve been assigned to the Dalits (Scheduled Castes, sometimes known as “untouchables”) program. I’m having a hard time motivating myself to do my schoolwork but I know it really needs to get done. I’m having better success with my chapatti in getting them to puff up, but it seems to vary according to the humidity. Tomorrow we’re trying out a sushi place. In short, I’m feeling more at home here, finally, am getting into a routine and hopefully the motivation and productivity will follow shortly!

Lotus Temple and other big white things

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