Sarah MacDonald’s “Holy Cow!” is the book on India that I wish I’d written – a wonderful (and very funny) account of her two years here whilst her husband was the India correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Based in Delhi, she learned Hindi and travelled all over the country, trying to get to the heart of this huge, complex and endlessly fascinating sub-continent.
She noted at one point that the Indian people are famously direct and this struck such a chord with me, as I read that particular page of the book on the day that the comment marked * below was uttered. I know that some comments are made due to lack of language facility … but honestly? I really think that others are made out of a wish to know the answer, coupled with a different cultural approach to asking what we might perceive to be more personal questions. The comments noted here were put to me by both men and woman and I’ve changed or obscured a few of my answers in order to protect the innocent (me).
So here are a few recent examples, all sent my way over the last ten days:
“This dress I have in very big size, it will fit even you, Madam”.
“Where is Husband?” London.
“Why he is not with you in Goa?” He is working.
“Are you sure you have Husband? Perhaps you are split up, separated, divorced?”
“Why don’t you have children?” [I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked this on my many trips to different parts of India; trying to keep a tally is like trying to count grains of sand or bicycles in Amsterdam – an impossible and infinite task].
“Children are good and a blessing; you are not a woman without children. It is a big shame that you are now being too old for children. I feel much sorrow for your husband.”
“This is a very nice photo of you, but now you are much fatter.” *
“Who is teaching you Hindi? Your accent is very bad.”
“How old are you?
“I am thinking you were maybe very beautiful when you were younger.”
“Every time I am seeing you madam, you are reading a different book. Perhaps this is why Husband is not coming to Goa with you, is it – you are reading too much?”
On the plus side, I use this in my favour to ask my own questions of the woman I meet; I figure what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. So I abandon all British sense of privacy and get nosy with the best of ‘em: how old are you, how many children do you have, are they boys or girls, do they go to school (and if not, why not?), how old were you when you got married, what is your husband’s job, where are you from, and so on.