As an Indian girl living abroad, I struggle to talk about my experiences honestly every time I return back to India for a visit. There is plenty to say, but I always feel that I am walking on eggshells while talking about my experiences.
I remember Skyping with my mother once where she caught me by surprise by asking me a difficult question indeed. She asked me which place do I like best: my Shimla, Chandigarh, Noida, Great Britain or Germany (where I am currently living). You see, I could have easily said that it is my hometown, which I found to be the best, home sweet home. I think she was at least expecting this answer as well. Instead, I chose to be honest and gave a fairly complicated answer. I said that I was born in the mountains, so I yearn for them at all times, yet Shimla although provides me with the feeling of being acquainted never has provided me with comfort, freedom, information, connection with the world, etc.
Chandigarh like a caring mother, nurtured me for nine months, made me tough for the future and in general made me ready for the big bad world. But it was just the daylight that was for me. Again there was no feeling of security or peace, partly because I was studying all the time! It was like a nurturing house arrest, largely self-inflicted.
Then came Noida, needless to say, the big bad world they always talked about. Oh the feeling of being herded inside women’s hostels at 10 in the evening or being ever so slightly bullied by the “seniors” of the university (not that I did not do the same, makes me cringe every time I think of it and leaves me feeling a bit guilty)! What was most surprising was that I never allowed myself to go out of the campus alone! Ever! The 3 best years of my life! I suppose not everyone will oppose my decision, Noida by far is the worst place that I have ever lived in. The frequency of staring, groping and teasing that I experienced in Noida was very high. I felt insecure all the time outside the campus even while being accompanied with people! Now I know, a lot of people will say, I should not blame Noida if I am cowardly. Maybe I am. Or maybe just Google Noida and read about the rate of crime there, especially against women.
Noida however gave me amazing friends, perspective and lots of fun as well. Noida gave me information and exposure without which I couldn’t even properly define the feeling of security or freedom for that matter. Having said all this, I would apologise in advance if I do not consider Noida as a favourable place for women to stay.
It was ironically Great Britain that I first felt really secure as a human being. I was not a woman, a girl, a “respectable” girl, a “non-respectable” girl, etc. I was simply a human being who could go out in the night and feel that if anything goes wrong, the police can be called for help. Less judgement, more security and respect for me as a person. I blamed Britain for a lot of bad that goes on in India, even now (maybe merely on instinct) but I do appreciate the non-interference at 12 o’clock in the night alone on the road.
Germany is different though. In Germany people mind their business even to the point of feeling eerily disconnected with one another. People are in general more serious here and generally do not stare. One word for that: Peace. I am not really a party person but I have heard that people do change a lot once drunk in a club. Having said that, people here have a higher alcohol tolerance and I have found some people completely drunk yet perfectly respectable.
As noticeable every place had something great and something not so great. Of course I did not explain everything so detailed to my mother but I did give a big answer in which she quickly lost interest, which was good.
However, saying all this to someone who already has preconceived notions about me will be extremely difficult. As you will notice, I am not trying to say: India is bad and Europe is great. But I am saying, we need to mend a lot in India when it comes to treating women. But for someone who thinks that since I now live abroad, I must carry some superiority complex, may or may not interpret what I have to say rationally and a lot of times people have taken offense. I am suddenly directed into thinking that I should mind my tongue and not try an act too smart.
Sometimes, I am made to feel that I am not mature or evolved enough to appreciate my “motherland” now that I live abroad. Isn’t it interesting that I may or may not think that Europe is better, but people who judge me, may. Due to so much insecurity in people, I have to “mind my tongue” when all I am trying to do is state facts. But please remember: facts from my life, the life of only one in a more than a billion people and it should not matter to people so much of what I think if they believe that I have misunderstood India.
About me I will say, home is where I feel safe. I have not found my home yet as I don’t feel safe. It maybe my personal problem but whenever I leave the house, I am on high alert mentally performing warm up exercises of Kung-Fu, even when I don’t know how to fight. I still carry ghosts of people pulling my skirt up in Shimla, an old man passing obscene comments in Chandigarh and groping strangers in Noida. I am sure I am not alone feeling like this. I feel sad that I am still required to praise my motherland at all times instead of giving it what it actually needs: honesty.