Agra-vations: Thoughts on the Taj & everything in between

Hello there, and here we are once again. So I’m in Agra now after a 17 hour overnight train from Varanasi. It was only meant to take 12 hours but was delayed during the night. Nobody really knew why but we were stopped at the same station for quite some time and when we eventually took off again the already full train was filled beyond capacity with lots of families; crying children included, of course.

I didn’t even realise what was happening cos I was half asleep but I woke up to a lot more people on the train than were there before. Thankfully I was on the upper berth so I didn’t have to share my sleeping space with anyone but I felt sorry for the ones on the bottom who weren’t given a choice but to share with the mass of passengers who got on without a ticket, presumably. I do wonder about all these families with very young children who travel in the middle of the night… Where are they going, and why?!

The mind boggles, but one thing’s for sure, it makes you appreciate what you have and the privilege of being born in the west. There’s no doubt about it, life in India is hard… I mean, unless your lucky and you’re born into a well-off family, the chances are you’ll face the harsh realities of life in India. Even if you are born into a well-off family, inevitably you will still come up against the challenges being Indian presents, and the social norms you are expected to live up to here.

Being a complete outsider, I have only come to these conclusions from observing life here and speaking to Indian people. Naturally, the majority of Indians I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know have been 20-something students & budding entrepeneurs, who appear to have quite a comfortable life and are happy with their lot. On the whole, it is clear to me that they experience the same social pressures and expectations from their parents that we do in the west, but it goes without saying that those pressures and expectations are a lot more rigid here and there’s a lot less room for doing your own thing.

So what has this got to do with anything, you say? Well, it’s just one of those things that I picked up on and it has changed my attitude towards India quite a bit. Before I came here, I read every bit of travel advice I could get my hands on, over-preparing something serious! You’d swear I was visiting another planet… And it definitely made me overly cautious in the beginning. My biggest fear was the fact that I was a woman on her own, and considering India’s reputation and everyone else’s reaction, it didn’t seem like the safest thing to do.

We all know about the gang-rape that happened in Delhi a couple of years back, and have heard other such stories. That was an outrageous and horrible thing to have happened, and is clearly a sign that India still has a long way to go in terms of women’s rights. Having spent 3 months here, it is clear to me that women are still very much seen as second class citizens. Before coming here I would have blamed Indian men for this and felt angry that they would treat their own sisters and mothers in such a way. But now I realise blaming them is not the answer, and the inequality that exists here is a reflection of much deeper held social and cultural attitudes towards men and women’s place in society.

Indian men are, unsurprisingly, just like any other breed of man, with perhaps a dollop more privilege on the side. From what I can see, their sense of entitlement to a ‘good’ wife who performs all the typical duties of a decent housewife such as cooking, cleaning and raising a lock of children, preferably boys, is more deeply rooted than their western counterparts. Despite the hyper-masculine stereotypes that are present in most Bollywood films and tv adverts, Indian men are surprisingly in touch with their feminine side from what I’ve witnessed. They are very affectionate with each other and often walk around holding hands and with their arms around each other. Don’t ask me why, they just do…

It is a peculiar place to come and observe the way of life here and how it differs to the West. If I’ve realised one thing, it’s that Indian men are not a bad bunch atall, and it’s possible that the media hype has resulted in them being stereotyped as a bunch of rapists. I would imagine that, in reality, the chances of being raped while travelling alone in India are just as likely as any other country. The attitude towards sex here is extremely conservative, and I can’t imagine there’s much in the line of sex ed, so when you consider that, along with rigid gender stereotypes and the inequally that exists between men and women, it’s not surprising that rape is such a big problem here.

Really, the conclusion I’ve come to, though, is that it is not a uniquely Indian problem, but simply a reflection of the global inequality that exists between men and women across the world. It’s just that we are better at hiding it the western world and it is more extreme here in India. That’s my twopence on the subject anyway, but who am I to talk?

I went to see the Taj Mahal yesterday, and it is a pretty impressive building alright. Something about it doesn’t sit right with me though, and I found this to be the case with a lot of the magnificent buildings I’ve seen here in India. It all seems a bit unnecessary, and considering the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by a king in memory of his ‘favourite’ wife, who died after giving birth to their fourteenth child, it’s not surprising I find it all a bit absurd. To think it is sold by the tourist industry here as a romantic love story sickens me, to be honest.

Speaking of which, I woke up this morning after suffering from bad stomach pains all day yesterday only to be sick, and have had a bad case of the runs all day. I’ve since been sick 3 times, so that’s fecked up my plans to travel to Delhi today. I’m still hoping I might be fit to go tomorrow, but it’s not looking good at this rate. It’s the last thing I needed this late in the game, but at least I’m not missing out on anything particularly important. It’s not the end of the world if I have to cut my time in Delhi short by a few days… Once I get there on time to catch my flight home! I just keep telling myself it’ll be grand… My body just needs time to get whatever is causing this horrible sickness out of my system, and I’ll be right as rain! But right now I feel like shit, it has to be said…

Anyway, this post may seem a bit random, but hey, I needed something to keep my mind off being sick! Plus, I’ve been mulling over those issues for a while now, and the time seemed right to release them onto the Internet 😛 Please do share your thoughts on the issue; whether you agree or disagree, or if you just think I’m completely mad… All is welcome! I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my opinions, and if you think I’m out of line commenting on such a sensitive issue, do let me know. Anyway, I’m off to the toilet again, think I should call it a night and stop using up precious energy typing 😛 Goodnight all, and do say a prayer for me in the hope by some miracle I’ll wake up in the morning feeling fine and able to travel! Tehe 🙂

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