A reader name Gayatri recently emailed us this pointed question:
Had a question for you guys. Have you ever been out clubbing in Delhi or to a pub in the evening. Would they let you guys cut the queue and let you enter even if to the rest of the people waiting they’d say the club is full?? It kind of co-incides with the privileges to white-folk in India. If you guys have a story regarding – think it could be funny, especially with the humor you two have. Hope to see both of you in September!
We’d be lying if we didn’t admit skin-based advantages are bestowed on foreigners in India. Auto drivers, for instance, would hone in on us at the expense of everyone else waving their arms at them. (And they’d give us choice grumbles when we’d refuse to cut ahead of those who’d been bypassed their rightful ride.) The sidewalk chaiwallah near my office would always boil a fresh batch for me, even as he poured from a premade kettle for the factory workers who arrived the same time as I did. And while the guards at Saket Citywalk would grope us for poorly-hidden bombs just like every Indian shopper — as if Al Qaeda’s training manuals advised keeping their explosives in their front pockets — their hands always seemed to linger more tenderly with us.
Wait, that’s not a good thing.
Also, Al Qaeda always obeys signs. Image by Flickr user 3_second_memory.
So we don’t deny that white people are given deference in India. But Jenny and I will insist that we never actively took advantage of it. Especially when it came to queues.
In fact, there were many times when our foreign-ness made us easy beacons for queue abuse. Our American standards of personal space always meant three or four fellows could slip into queue in front of us between the moment our eyes began to blink and the moment the blink was completed. If we weren’t constantly crotch-checking the people ahead of us, we learned, we might as well be moving backwards.
Image by Flickr user Loulou H.
And there was certainly no advantage for us at tourist sites — we’d have to elbow our way up to the ticket counter just like everyone else, jamming our fistful of bills under the metal grating along with all the others, waving the sweet scent of sweaty rupees under the ticket taker’s nose until his eyes met ours and our transaction was complete.
We certainly could have bulldozed queues and hopped unrightful autos like the worst of the tourists. Such modern expressions of the Imperialist mindset are impassively tolerated by the citizens of our host country; Indians are far more polite to Western rudeness than we Westerners would be to such behavior back home. But Jenny and I saw ourselves as ambassadors, and we fashioned our queuing behavior accordingly.
In fact, we recall a time when our fellow back-of-the-queuers tried to invoke our “white privilege” for us. This was at the conclusion of our birdwatching trip to Bhatarpur, when we decided to catch the late afternoon train back to Delhi rather stay another night and leave as scheduled in the morning. Arriving at the train station, we dutifully joined the 20-person queue; but, being off the tourist track as we were (Bharatpur gets its share of Westerners, but most have arranged their tickets in advance), we were quickly noticed.
“Ticket Queue – Bharatpur Junction Railway Station – India” by Flickr user string_bass_dave. (Who isn’t me.)
“You please go,” said the man directly in front of us, gesturing to the head of the line. Other nearby members of the queue signaled their agreement. But Jenny and I shook our heads and smiled in polite refusal. They insisted again. We refused again. They gestured more adamantly, insisting that our ticketing needs outweighed theirs; we refused more theatrically, insisting that progressive values can be no better illustrated than via a multiracial ticket queue.
Our egalitarian insistence won the day. Although twenty minutes later, when we reached the window and discovered we’d been in the wrong line the whole time, we kinda wished it hadn’t.
Incidentally, when Gayatri said, “Hope to see both of you in September!”, she was talking about our book release party. She knows about it because she’s on our mailing list (and following us on Twitter).
We’re expecting the big event about a month before the Commonwealth Games. We already know the official title, which we’ll reveal, along with the cover design, soon. (The title of our book is NOT “Our Delhi Struggle” — as we’ve mentioned before, we regret that name, and we’re not going to make the same mistake.)
Beyond Delhi, we’re hoping for release events in Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, and so on. You, dear reader, have direct influence in the matter: email us to join our mailing list, and then pledge in the comments below that you’ll attend an event in your city. Our publisher will surely take note.