It’s interesting how when you are vacationing outside India, current issues like the petrol price hike, the Bharat Bandh and Mr. Aamir Khan’s one-sided tirade on doctors and healthcare seem so distant…and from the perspective of this column, irrelevant. And when for 48 hours (the longest in recent memory), we were without Internet access and cellphone reception in Kruger National Park…it was heaven…just the bush, the animals, the lodge and the family.
One reason for traveling outside the country once in a while is just this! To get away from it all! And though I may seem like a snob, this includes getting away from all things Indian, especially our behavior…something that is becoming increasingly impossible to avoid these days in most parts of the world, especially during vacation time.
In a unique reversal, we Indians are now “invading” other countries. And yet, when the places we visit, start sounding, looking and behaving like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune, Delhi and Jaipur, you wonder whether it would have been better to have just stayed back in India! My niece who was in Interlaken last week had a Facebook status update saying, “Switzerland is full of Indians”, to which one of her friends, truthfully commented, “Interlaken station is like Ghatkopar station”.
In Kruger for example, our first safari was with an all-knowing, complaining, Hindi-speaking Indian family that believed that a safari was a complete waste if you didn’t get to see at least one of the Big Five. The next morning they were gone and we heaved a sigh of relief. However, an hour into the morning safari, when all the jeeps converged to a tree where a female leopard had been sighted, we again heard “aa to kevo saras leopard che”.
Throughout the previous week, whether it was Cape Town or Knysna or Sun City, the only other tourists were fellow Indians, mostly traveling in large tour groups. If you happened to be in close proximity, the conversations you heard were predominantly food-centric…about the breakfast that had already happened and the dinner that was about to happen or the quality of the previous day’s dal and the over-spicy batata bhaji! I still remember an evening at home when two of my relatives (and they are dear to me despite this episode) realized that both of them had been on guided Europe tours around the same time. The main topic of conversation and comparison thereafter was the quality of the Indian food served by the “Maharaj” accompanying their tours. Honestly, why travel to South Africa, if you are not going to sample the “Bunny Chow”!
I was initially going to title this piece, “The Idiot, Rude Indian Traveler”, but decided that it made no sense to harp on the obvious. If we are rude, loud and racist in our own country, why would we be any different in South Africa, or for that matter Switzerland?
If you do get a chance to talk to the locals, whether it is in South Africa or Switzerland, it is clear that they don’t like us, but can’t do without us, because they need the money that we bring in. We don’t tip, we don’t say “Please” and “Thank You” and worst of all, we don’t follow rules. Each time we met a new guide, the first thing we were told and then reminded three times the previous evening, despairingly, was “Please, please be on time”. And until we actually were, they refused to believe that we would be!