Sunday, April 20, 2014

Stop and Stare

I've been driving for about 6 months in India. Every day I drive myself to school in the morning. My commute takes me about 25 minutes from the parking spot at my apartment to the spot, that's covered in some mystery water, in the basement garage at school. On my commute, I navigate around children pouring out of rickshaw school buses, men playing chicken as they cross the street to use the public restrooms and red buses who I honk at as I speed up to pass them by in the hope that they'll stay in their lane and not move into mine.

When I started driving in Mumbai, I noticed people staring at me as I signaled and sped and honked my way to school. It was the taxi driver next to me who didn't turn when he could because I distracted him. It was the mother wearing a burka walking her two sons across the street to Catholic school who caused me to quickly shift back into first from second. It was a motorcycle passenger whose head swiveled, almost to the same degree as a barn owl, as they passed me by.

I don't notice it so much anymore. The stares. Well I hadn't until this week.

For the first time I drove home from work too. My driver had the day off so I decided rather than bum a ride from a friend, to instead just do both legs of the commute.

Before I left school, I felt a little nervous. How much traffic would there be?  How much today at 4:18?  What's funny is that I thought it'd bother me. After a busy school day I thought a drive would stress me out but instead I loved the freedom. I loved being alone in the car and in control of the music. I was in control of the temperature and which gear we used along the American-like open road stretch in BKC. It kinda surprised me.
Light traffic in BKC on the way home.
Even with these feelings and truly enjoying the ride, I noticed the stares again. The man and woman in the back of the taxi who didn't take their eyes off of me the entire time we waited at the stoplight. The man in all whites in the rickshaw behind them who did the same. A taxi driver who nearly hit the car in front of us because he was looking at me.

I've gotten used to them. They don't bother me anymore. I just keep doing whatever I was doing. Singing, looking around, waiting patiently for it to be my turn to zoom to the next signal and wait again.

What I wonder about is why. Why the stares? Is it because I'm a woman? A western woman? Is it because I'm alone?  I just wonder. I hadn't wondered in a while but I did again this week. No need for answers but just something I noticed. Funny how one small change, like the time of day you do something, reacquaints you with something old again.