I left last night on the 9:30 Pandian Express, and contrary to what I was told, the train left right on time.
I was sitting alone in my 2A/C berth when two young guys came in to be my berth mates. They looked to be in their 20s. When they saw me, the looks on their faces were as if I had lifted up my kurti to flash them. Both their mouths dropped open in unison. Not a word was said, and I thought their reaction was strange. “Hello, boys,” I felt like saying, “you’ve never seen a woman before?” I said hello in Tamil and flashed them a big smile. As they sat across from me, and as I sat across from them with a half smile on my face, they tried to look everywhere but at me – they stared at each other, they looked at the floor, they looked in their bags, they looked at their hands, they tried to look out the window. Again, I thought this was a little strange considering they looked “modern”. How I wished I could understand Tamil!
But from what I learned in India, this is common behavior for some Indian men when confronted by a woman, especially one as strange as me — western, hippie-looking, dressed in Indian-style clothes, and bold enough to look them in the eye. I’ve been told that most “boys” in the 15-25 age group are starved for any kind of normal interaction with women — usually there is no sex before marriage, and there is hardly any communication between boys and girls at school. Growing up like this culturally there will be lots of illusions about women, and therefore, men will be clueless as to how to behave when confronted with an “outside the box” man-woman situation.
Thirty seconds before the train left, an older Sikh man came to sit next to me. As he sat down I said, “now we’re all going to be just cozy, aren’t we?” The young dudes again looked like I not only just flashed them, but blew them a kiss while doing it. At least the older man had manners and was friendlier, he said hello. These young dudes looked so disconcerted I really felt like playing with them for 9 hours but thought better of it — I did not want to scar the poor babies for life….
The train ride to Madurai was very comfortable and my berth mates did not say a word to me. The young guys probably had trouble sleeping thinking about the western woman of a certain age sleeping in such close proximity to them.
As the train pulled into Madurai, the Sikh gentleman wished me a nice day, and the two young guys could not wait to leave — it was comical watching them trip all over themselves in a rush to get out. Might have been the first time in their lives that they’ve slept so close to a woman…
In the station I paid 2rs to use the very clean Indian toilet (using an Indian squat toilet is like doing malasana in yoga, no problem!). The rupee collector made me smile when he told me that he liked the OM tattoo on my wrist and then asked what my “sweet name” was — in these two trips to India, that’s the first time a man had ever asked me what my sweet name was — and he happens to be a rupee collector sitting outside a train station toilet. Oh well…it was a nice change from the boys on the train….