Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shake Your Head, Your Eyeballs are Stuck

There are a few hazards to life on the beach in Varkala.  For some of the girls I've been hanging out with, it's the shopping -- they can no more pass by a shop without going in that I can, um, say no to triple chocolate brownie Haagen Daz ice cream.  (Fortunately there's not a lot of the latter on offer in this country.)

For others, it's an addiction to ayurvedic massage, as they go for one or two a day.  The cheap and tasty Kingfisher beer offered discreetly along the clifftop (restaurants aren't all licensed, but that doesn't stop them serving) can also send a siren song your way.

On the beach itself, the water can be a hazard, with pounding surf that can, quite literally, bowl you over and sweep you off your feet.  I've tasted a few mouthfuls of salt water that way, and had one or two panic-stricken moments as I somersaulted out of control underwater, slammed in the back by a monster wave.

But the biggest hazard?  The gawkers.

They're not even subtle about it.  All along the main beach in Varkala, groups of fully-clothed Indian men stand about, staring quite openly as the many bikini-clad attractions to be found worshipping the sun.  Now, I have a pretty healthy sense of self-esteem, but even I have to admit that the sight of my pasty white body on the sand is nothing to write home about ... but it doesn't seem to matter to the gawkers.  Young, old, fat, thin, pale, tanned, it doesn't seem to matter; the sight of exposed foreign flesh seems to be enough to draw the crowds.

There are lifeguards on the beach who will, occasionally, blow their whistles and hustle the leering men down the beach away from the scantily-clad Westerners.  One harmless Indian fellow was caught in the crossfire this way; out for an innocent swim with his wife and daughter, he was shuffled down the beach away from the "white people" when he tried to go in the water.

He was harmless; actually, the rest of them probably are, too (I don't think they're out to do anything more than just look), but it's a little creepy nonetheless.  Get your rocks off elsewhere, boys:  go stare at some porn like normal men and let us lounge on the sand in peace.  And don't tell us that we ought to cover up if we don't want to be stared at; it's too damn hot to have on more clothes than necessary.  And it's much too uncomfortable to brave the whitecaps along the beach in long sleeves and pants.

I'm fine with dressing modestly most places I go; in places where that is the cultural norm I'll take my cue from local women and keep my shoulders and knees under wraps.  But once in a while, can't you cut us foreign chicks and break, and let us get a little more comfortable on a touristy beach?  I realize you, oh gawkers on the beach, don't get to see much female flesh in your regular lives, as Indian women stay covered up from head to toe. 

But I reject the notion outright that it's women's responsibility to stay covered up if they don't want stares; where is the accountability for men, to control themselves and behave like sensible human beings?

Don't put it all on us, please.  Grow up and put your eyeballs back in your head.

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