I’ve read many blogs about travel in India by non-Indians. I have read a few by NRIs (non resident Indians) or foreign born Indians whose parents or grandparents came from India and still maintain close family ties.
But then there is me and others like me. Non-Indian Indians with no ties to the motherland.
In my case – back in the 1800s our ancestors were fooled by the British and taken as indentured labourers to work on sugar cane plantations in their colonies such as Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana and my home country Trinidad & Tobago. While in many of the others they maintained the language, we didn’t.
We maintained the culture, traditions and Hindu/Muslim religions but I’m fifth generation and while I may be Hindu, I have not one blessed clue where specifically my ancestors came from North India and I don’t speak Hindi. Actually no, let me rephrase that. My Hindi is limited to watching tons of English subtitled Bollywood movies over the years and that one semester I took Hindi in university. I still suck at it though.
So visiting India isn’t any easier for people like me than it is for Caucasians and other races. I may look Indian with my colour of skin, hair and features. I may easily pass off as one in local Indianwear but my mannerisms, intriguing Caribbean accent and lack of any Indian language brings on all sorts of curiosities from the locals. That curiosity often lead to the question “so you Indian but you not? Same same but different?” Yep, that’s me…a non-Indian Indian!
Three Trinis and two Americans at the Taj Mahal.
I’ve been to various parts of India before with friends who actually spoke the language. Many times they told me to just keep my mouth shut and smile. On my own however, it was a completely different experience. An eye opening one!
In line like a herd of brown skinned people waiting to enter the Taj Mahal.
At the Taj Mahal, yes we paid full tourist prices (and there is a huge difference!) but inside the Indian guards treated us like locals pushing Mom and I around and yelling to us as we waited our turn in the crawling line to get inside the Taj. They didn’t care that we did not understand them. I felt sorry for the locals being herded around by these guards. My American friends on the other hand got the royal treatment nevermind they were right next to us.
But I guess this could of been us in the local Indian line, separate for men and women.
In tourist class on the train from Haridwar to Delhi, the food being served got dumped in front of us (not that we planned to eat) but the servers attitude changed immediately towards my American friends. In fact when a local accidentally tipped his overhead luggage on my American friend’s head, the train master offered to stop the train to get her a doctor. Now if it had happened to me…
In some of the smaller cities they would look at us and automatically speak Hindi/Tamil etc., then got upset when we did not understand them. I refrained many times from replying “No, we’re not dumb, just Indian looking tourists who don’t understand the language!”
My Ayurvedic yoga retreat in Kerala was used to mainly European guests. Then I showed up and confused them. Even the young female doctor was shy to ask me questions about my personal life cause I was of “Indian decent” but not exactly Indian. To my surprise she even giggled at a few of my answers making me feel downright dirty for not being the innocent Indian girl I was expected to be! Hmmm…
But maybe being a non-Indian Indian in India can have its positives too!
In Varanasi, at the nightly Ganga Aarti, this old man heard me speak English and quickly rang up his son on his little Nokia phone so that his son can talk to me. I got a marriage proposal just for looking Indian, being well travelled and speaking proper English. The son had no clue what I looked like! Imagine, I could of married an engineer 10 years younger than me just like that!
All because of this Ganga Aarti ceremony in Varanasi I got for a marriage proposal!
Ghazipur isn’t popular for foreign tourists but when we visited, I was treated as if I had come straight out of Bollywood. Maybe wearing those grey contacts were a bad idea but many locals wanted their photos taken with me using their little film cameras. Yes Film! I knew those years of watching Bollywood films would come in handy one day…I was up to date on Indian cinema gossip to make conversation!
She got her pics on film and I on my phone.
In Nepal too it worked! Only Hindus were allowed inside the sacred Pashupatinath Temple for worship in Kathmandu. Our guide told us to wear local wear and keep our mouths shut so we looked local and got to enter. All this just to worship at the temple. Sigh! It worked though…except that we learnt there were varying prices the closer we wanted to get to the Shiva Lingum. Granny was pissed at this money making scheme and even told the priest she knew the Hindu prayers better than him in the little Hindi she knew. Yes I have her sassiness too!
Before entering Pashaputinath Temple, Kathmandu.
And I’ll admit there were a couple times I sent Mom (who is darker skinned than me) to pretend to be local and buy us entry tickets to certain sites at the local price. We had to milk this where we could right?
There was a big difference in price, even for goats being transported for worship!
All in all, it’s not easy being a non-Indian Indian in India but I wouldn’t trade the experience no matter how frustrating it can be whenever I visit. Yes we got pushed and shoved and frustrated at the confusion over not speaking any local language but at least no guys tried to stare us down or rub themselves closer to us or steal from us like so many other tourists experience. In many of the temples con-artist priests would even ignore us “local lookalikes” and target other foreigners to hustle their money.
And for some locals we met who love cricket (which is literally ALL of India), we bonded over how crappy my West Indian team was. Yes! These were the people who finally didn’t think we were Non-Indians but instead “Brian Lara people” (famous cricketer from Trinidad).
Nod and smile. That’s all I could do. Afterall I’m same, same but different right?