The last time I was traveling in a very conservative place was in Istanbul in July 2011, and it was so hot that I let go of my desires to be respectful and just exposed my cleavage, arms, and legs. The heat was killing me. I figured that since I was a tourist, I could feign ignorance and get away with it. Notably, I got stared at a lot, but I didn’t really care. Occasionally, I will admit I did feel a little bad, though.
This time traveling in India, I made a mental note to stick with covering my shoulders and legs above my knees as much as possible since I read that exposing these body parts would be frowned upon. I packed five different shawls for this trip to cover my shoulders, and I even bought two pairs of loose linen pants so that I could wear pants that were breathable that wouldn’t stick to my legs. Chris hates those pants; he calls them paper bags. But I didn’t care since they were comfortable, and it would mean I wouldn’t garner attention.
Given that we were traveling to five different cities, I read that Mumbai was considered one of the most progressive Indian cities, so if I wanted to bear my shoulders and legs in any city, I could get away with it there. People, even locals, were more likely to push things to the edge there. So I packed one dress that ended above my knees and a pair of (very short…) shorts for this segment of the trip. And… walking along Marine Drive in Mumbai, and in the Muslim district of the city, I got stared at constantly, by men and women alike. Men stared because they just stared… and I could feel the eyes of the Muslim women staring through their burkas. The staring — I honestly wasn’t quite sure how to read it. Were they staring at me disapprovingly or in admiration? Did they think I had beautiful, sexy legs, or short and stumpy ones? And Chris lapped it all up, looking excitedly around as he noticed countless pairs of eyes running up and down my legs. This completely thrilled him. It did not thrill me.
“They want to wear what you are wearing,” Chris declared, proud of his wife for exposing some skin on this trip. “Someone has to show them and lead the way. They need to stop being so prudish and just show some skin and kiss in public. Do what they want! Screw what the old farts say! We need progress and change here!”
During our walk along the beach on Marine Drive, we noticed countless couples, all seemingly trying to restrain their public displays of affection as passersby like us glanced at them. Some held hands. Some actually nuzzled and kissed. Others hugged openly. Chris was so impressed; he said that he never saw this twenty years ago when he was here, and that India certainly has made some social progress during this time. One couple had their arms around each other, and as we approached, the man quickly looked up at us, then took one arm of the woman off him, then the other, almost mechanically, and then inserted about a foot’s distance between them. Chris laughed out loud at this. Another couple was sitting with their arms around each other, and as we approached, they immediately removed their arms from each other and separated themselves from touching at all.
Chris, always wanting to be an inspiration, made sure to give me far more public affection than he normally does by constantly putting his arm around my shoulders and waist, and occasionally even slapping me on my butt to be playful (and annoying). And it was ridiculous the amount of attention that drew. Men stared constantly whenever this happened. Some even turned around to watch us. “They’re staring because they want to do what I am doing,” Chris said, gleefully. “I’m going to teach them.”
Now, Chris thinks he’s like a savior, preaching the gospel of open sexuality and love to the people of India, slowly taking away the conservative restrictions that have so plagued the country for decades, if not centuries.