An Open Letter to the Smug Foreign Tourister

Okay, like all other posts where I am about to “address” a particular group of people (who deserve it, by the way, every comma and exclamation point of it), here is the mandatory disclaimer so I am not put in jail because a lazy phoren tourist sitting somewhere just happens to read this post (highly unlikely) and decides to sue me for the heck of it (highly likely). So here it goes…

Disclaimer: The aim of this post is not to ridicule, make fun of, poke fun at, make irresponsible remarks about anybody. Those who are offended may contact me via my personal mobile phone number, which will never be given out and, even if given out, will never be answered and if answered, it won’t be me.

Woo hoo, so now I can get started.

Every year, a number of tourists stumble upon an “Incredible India” campaign at the back of a bus or in the murky depths of a shady travel website and visit the country. Well, let me just say one thing. We Indians are clever (well, completely disregarding the handful of politicians perennially suffering from foot-in-the-mouth disease, we really are). We practically invented zero, that’s how smart we are. And the only reason why we invented zero was, well, let’s just say it is a national secret. Nobody knows.
Clever why? So, here’s my question: have you ever wondered, of all adjectives, the word “Incredible” was used in the ad campaign? No, not because it’s an alliteration. It is because “incredible” can be construed to be many things, not necessarily positive, or negative. That’s what we call gully (street) smart…

I don’t mind. It’s a free world after all (barring North Korea, China, Cuba and the US), so as long as it is not my money, you are free to come.
But oh no, you don’t stop with the temples or the backwaters of Kerala. Oh how I wish you would, but you don’t. It all starts from landing at the airport, right? The sudden humidity that throws you off-balance? Yes, of course. The faint stench that emanates from a dumpyard near the airport? It is practically a ritual. You always cover your mouth and nose every time you step out of your fancy overexpensive and, face it, underwhelming, hotel. So all the other people in the same street as you, breathing with their mouth and nostrils wide open are what…? I leave it to you, to complete the blanks with the word that is going on in your mind. Which, by the way, is exactly what I think of you.

Then there are the pointed references to the “unpunctuality” of everything that runs, swims or flies in India. I once had the wonderful opportunity to meet a guy in a train whose opening salvo was ” do trains ‘reaaally’ (emphasis attributed to the speaker) run on time in India?” He was the only foreigner in our compartment, and guess what? I said yes, and he stood for an hour near the train exit, waiting for his station (oh, and by the way, the train was running late.) Too bad eh?

Hmm… then what? I know! The mandatory enigmatic smile and shake of the head at the disorganized traffic that is an unasked-for, free upgrade to the India experience. The “Oh, how do you do it, crossing streets like that”? And then the “You must be really adept at jumping lanes like that”. If there’s one thing we Indians can see through, dear Smug Foreign Tourister, it is sarcasm coated with a tinge of whatever it is you call it. You know, sarcasm is a national pastime of India. You only have to look at the people we voted to power to see how seriously we take it. So please, enough with your terms of “wonderments” and your pseudo-admiration, yes, that’s the word.

How can I ever skip the part where “the whole of India is your plain canvas, and your ridiculously expensive digicam (that weighs more than I do) is your paintbrush, and you are the painter” part of it? Autorickshaw ride? Photo. Cows in the middle of the road? Photo. Beggar asking for alms? Photo. Crow flying in the sky? Photo. What are you really going to do with all these photos? Display them at a museum? Oh, I can almost envision the name of the photography exhibition “Crow, Alms and traffic”, or something intriguing like that… But I know, and have experienced first hand, how you treat your photography subjects. It is all a play to you, right? Of course it is. After all, the whole of India is your unfinished canvas. So please, be my guest, digicam your way through the country.

Well, you may say it is because you are what you are, a tourist in a developing country. Of course, I entirely agree. You practically came to the country to take pictures of cows in the middle of busy roads. But know what? We don’t wear bullet proof jackets when we tour the “free world” (God knows we should). It’s the same basic respect we expect, which is not much, by the way. You know, if you just put aside the smugness in you a little bit, you might get a chance to explore the incredible in India.
And I assure you, it will be all worth it in the end.


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