Essays
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A Walk Through India

The train stopped in the Southern part of India’s capital, Saket. I arrived after coming from a long day of adventures, meeting and exploring all of New Delhi. As I walked outside the train station, I found myself on the opposite side of the busiest street I had ever known. The chaos of India never seemed to bother me. In fact, I liked it, but right now, I was feeling a little concerned. Reluctant to cross traffic, I scanned all around me for the safest option to get across the street. I had already concluded that my best bet was to walk with a large crowd — traffic would have to stop for all of us. So, I scanned for eager eyes looking to get across the street too. India does not have any traffic laws, so I was not excited to be walking so vulnerably into so much traffic. However, I soon spotted an overpass down the street and started my way towards the bridge of hope.

New Delhi is filled with many people. In fact, India is one of the most populated countries in the world, and it was obvious. However, that night seemed to be a little more crowded, as if the city had reached its capacity. A group of teenage boys, ranging from ages 14 to 16 years old, were walking alongside the road — just as I was. Their navy-blue slacks, baby blue button-up shirts, and backpacks suggested they were coming from school. They spoke Hindi way too fast for me to understand, but I appreciated their jovial spirits anyway. I noticed them because I always notice people, but I also noticed that they were noticing me. Well, if I think about it, I am clearly the only black woman amongst a nation of Indians — despite the fact that some Indians are darker than me, it was still apparent that I was not Indian. Maybe my undertone gave me away. I thought, Could it be my mannerisms — the way my eyes wonder with curiosity? Do I look as if

“WHORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREEEE!!”

It happened. The grand finale of being black — the inevitable level of disparagement attached to every black person’s life. The group of immature teenagers publicly belittled me — the only black woman in sight. Their limited minds decided to succumb to ignorant humor, and here I was, flustered with feelings of hurt, embarrassment, anger, and a few more emotions that I could not identify at the moment.

Heat filled my body faster than fire could spread, and I blurted out, “Actually, I am a very educated woman!” in the most American accent that I could produce. It was all I had. They laughed and joked and patted each other on the back as if they had just accomplished something good.

I felt everyone’s eyes on me. I walked swiftly — as if I could escape the attention. I walked as fast as I could because I felt my emotions crawling out of me. My tears wanted to fall, my cries wanted to be heard, and most of all, my hysteria wanted to be felt. Why don’t I just run? I thought. Not only would I attract more attention to myself, but that will also give the boys the amusement of watching me run from their words. Plus, running would cause my boobs to bounce, and the last thing I wanted right then was to be sexually objectified. 

For the first time in three months, I wanted the comfort of my friends and family. Not only was everyone I valued across the world, but the time difference meant that they were also sound asleep. My emotions ran high, and I needed a form of expression, so I walked as quickly as my thin sandals would allow. I finally arrived at my hostel, opened my journal, and I wrote:

The first time I was reduced to my vagina was November 17th, 2016. I was coming back from the club with Gianni, who was a multiracial man from France. We met on the hostel’s rooftop one morning when he saw me having breakfast alone. On the night of the 17th, it was about 1:30am, and our rickshaw dropped us off on the main street that led to our hostel. Because the government recently discontinued 500 rupee bills, everyone is always out of cash, and therefore, always at the ATMs. This, of course, caused the ATMs to constantly run out of money. Having said that, whenever you see an ATM, try that bitch. Anyway, back to the story: so, Gianni and I saw an ATM, and he decided to try and withdraw some cash. 

We walked past a group of Indian men, who seemed to be talking and peacefully enjoying each other’s company. One man was wearing a navy blue sweatsuit; he was about 5’10 with deeply curly hair. He seemed to be trying to get my attention. Gianni and I walked into the glass box of the ATM — all ATMs were in a glass box to avoid pickpocketing — and I said, “this man in the navy blue sweatsuit is staring at me, and he keeps gesturing me to come out to talk to him.” Gianni replied so calmly and casually, “he probably thinks you’re a prostitute,” without turning his back from me or using an influx in his voice. My eyes silently bulged out of my head behind him. 

“Whatttttt? Why would he assume that I am a prostitute?”

“Because you’re a Black woman in India. A lot of women from Nigeria come here for prostitution. So, because you’re Black, they assume that you are here selling your body. Plus, I could pass for an Indian man. They are probably assuming that I am one of your clients and that we are trying to get money so that I could pay you and send you on your way.” I think that Gianni was saying all of this in the most nonchalant tone ever is what startled me the most because all of this was very jarring to me. 

“But India is such a conservative country! How could prostitution be acceptable in such a conservative country? They literally do not have any strip clubs, but prostitution is legal here!?”

“Well, it’s about the public display of sexual immorality that’s bad — not necessarily being sexually immoral. A strip club is public, but having sex with a prostitute can be done privately. So, prostitution isn’t legal in America?” (Still extremely nonchalant).

“Absolutely not” I blurted out.

Once we left the glass box of the ATM, the man in the blue sweatsuit approached us. He was very assertive in his stance, and he immediately began talking at us. I wasn’t sure if Gianni understood what he was saying, but before I knew it, he was grabbing my arm. I began resisting and yelling at him in Hindi to let me go. We began arguing when Gianni calmly said, “She’s not a prostitute; she’s with me.” And just like that, the man walked away. I was flabbergasted. For one, I was shocked at the level of entitlement this man thought he could have over me. I was even more in shock that the man did not hear or value anything I was expressing. The yelling and fighting I was doing did not derail him from his agenda to take me home or wherever he planned. He only heard Gianni. I thought about all the social constructs of being a woman, being Black, and being a Black woman that Gianni was exempt from, even though we shared the same Haitian blood and left the womb of a black woman. I thought about how his gender and his skin tone exempted him from a world of racism, sexism, and colorism.

The second time I was reduced to my sexual body parts was on November 23rd, 2016. I was walking home from the metro like I did any other day. Since I began my internship, I was always exhausted. Today I sat in on a live six-hour open-heart surgery at the hospital, which is why I was coming home two hours later than I normally had. I walked past groups of men playing card games, getting haircuts, selling what they could, and hanging with their friends. It was just like any other typical day. When I passed a group of men talking, one man was trying to get my attention. He pulled out money, no more than 500 rupees, which was about $7 at the time, and waved it in my face. I don’t know of any Indian men willing to freely give money away to a black woman or to anyone for that matter. Indians are notoriously cheap. So, I understood his gesture. I gave him the middle finger and continued to walk home. I could hear his friends laughing at his failed attempt; I’m sure many of them doubted him anyway because most of them saw me walk past almost every day. I didn’t care so much this time. I was too tired to care. But I found it interesting how even though I wore a backpack as big as me, he still assumed I was a prostitute. Even though I always dressed in a kurtii that covered my body, my skin still defined me as a sexual being and nothing more. 

Though I have encountered this ignorance before, nothing could have prepared me for the level of humiliation I experienced today. Not only did it strip me of my pride, but it broke my heart to see the youth corrupted. These teenage boys have already learned to racially profile people and to outwardly diminish another human being. I have never experienced racial profiling so blatantly in my life. I lost a little hope in humanity tonight.

The next day I began my morning routine like I did any other day: get dressed, pack my backpack, and head up to the rooftop for breakfast. I was in deep thought all morning about post-operative arrhythmias in the heart, which I was working on during my internship. As I walked down the street towards the metro, I noticed the scents of okra and chapati that I must have gone nose-blind to. Saket was a little more vibrant and alive that morning. 

I saw the man with the navy-blue sweatsuit. His curly hair looked as if he never slept on a pillow — still shiny and curly without one frizz in sight. Though he had on the same exact outfit from the night before, he looked different. Maybe it was the changed demeanor he carried around his wife and three children. He had two daughters and a son; none of his children seemed to be over the age of ten, but they wore backpacks, so they must be enrolled in school. His wife, a short and curvy lady, seemed to be a devoted Hindu. You could tell she was religious by her henna, bindi, and coordinated bangles. He gave all four of them kisses on the forehead as they crossed the street and waved goodbye. She scurried through the pedestrian traffic with lunchboxes occupying her hands. At that exact moment, we made eye contact. He stared without blinking, showing undertones of shock, eagerness, and curiosity. I thought about the duality of a man, how he could be a staple of security, love, and protection to his family and have the complete opposite effect on me just twelve hours earlier. I shook my head in disgust and disappeared down the metro steps. 

This entry was posted in: Essays

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Tamara Solange Das is a literary artist and spoken word performer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is best known for her page poetry, having developed a unique combination of sharp and rhythmic language. Das initially emerged on the college scene at the University of Pittsburgh, where she majored in English Writing with tracks in Poetry and Pre-Med. In 2019, Das was the poet and spoken-word artist of Pittsburgh’s Creative Arts Ensemble, hosted by flutist Nicole Mitchell Gantt, where she gained most of her recognition. Today, she is working as an editor at Autumn House Press before returning to graduate school in 2022.

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