Indian: so where are you from?
Me: England, and I’m Punjabi, so yes British and Indian
Indian: are you travelling alone?
Me: Yes Indian: [look of shock and eyes widen]
How old are you?
Me: Almost 36
Indian [look of shock and eyes widen] You look about 23-25
Me: [smiling gleefully] I know
Indian: So you’re not married?
Indian: [look of shock and wide eyes becomes permanent] Why not, don’t your parents say anything?
Me: Not really, no.
Indian: Are you planning to get married?
Me: What does that mean? I don’t have a plan as such….
Man I’d be a millionaire if I made a rupee each time someone asked me if I was married, freaked out at my age and lack of children, and for being a solo traveller. Recently a local friend of a friend aged 25 told me I should sort something out quickly as soon my skin would get worn out and my complexion would change, and then no man would want me. He said I was running out of time if I wanted children. He also added later that I was really hot and that he wouldn’t mind going out with me. I met an art teacher whilst checking out the biennale in Kochi, a very friendly kind man. He was absolutely confused at my single status and age, and asked me what it was I was looking for. He could not understand why I was in India alone and why on earth I had not found a suitable match by now. I remember on my visit to India in 2010 my auntie in Punjab told me she thought it was great I had an education and was seeing the world, but at the end of the day a woman was nothing without a man next to her, so she said.
I know I’m not the only one getting these questions, men and women from all over repeatedly get asked the same thing in India (and other countries I am sure) daily. For the average Indian in India or the diaspora all over the world if you’re not hitched by around age 28 you’re over the hill and might get left on the shelf; you’re in trouble. I meet a 24 year old guy engaged to be married and has known his fiancé for a while already. He’s great fun, loves to travel and loves hanging out with his guy friends and just loves to party. He says his fiancé is not really like that and would probably not enjoy travelling with him or happy for him to be with other people and want his full attention. He seems far too young to me to be settling down in this way, with so much energy and curiosity for life. But then what would I know, I’m a loser right?
Being thirty-something and single is common, so common, and when I travel I meet so many women from all over the place and we always have similar conversations. I spend an afternoon in Pondicherry with Kirstie from Canada who is 35, has a stable career, is financially sound and travels a lot. A male friend she travelled with recently from Germany told her she was not girlie enough. What? When you get to my age (turning 36 in May) things get increasingly interesting. Lots of people your age will be married, maybe with 1 or two children. Some of them are utterly exhausted, some no longer having sex, and there are many affairs. Some of these same people are telling their single counter parts to get a move on and get married quick sharp or else. It’s insane. People in their 20s think wow, you look so hot for your age and you do so much cool stuff. Many guys that hit on me are in their mid-twenties – you calling me a cougar? Some of the married or coupled up friends want you to join their club as from their perspective your life hasn’t started yet. Many of these so called happily married men will hit on you and want you for intellectual conversations, affairs and sex-oh yes they do. The older guys like your independence and find you attractive, but some have too much baggage and you run not wanting to turn into their mother. And within all of the above there will be many people that find you somehow intimidating and sometimes threatening. Oh yes they do and its just the way it is. You will usually have some brilliant male friends that love you just the way you are; of the gay variety.
I love being single, its bloody brilliant, but I also love being in a relationship. I’ve been on my own now for almost 7 years, and to be totally honest it’s only in the last year that I’ve felt like I wouldn’t mind a relationship again, and sometimes felt that lonely feeling. I have no idea how I managed to stay single for such a long time. I’ve moved around a lot and met some fantastic guys, artists and musicians are what I tend to attract the most, for some reason. But then I love them too! Some people tell me that perhaps I don’t have the ingredients the average guy is looking for, and that subconsciously I don’t want to settle yet either so attract the same energy….makes sense. Because I’m definitely not the needy type, no way. Even Bridget Jones found her lover when she was younger than me, is my Mr Darcy even out there?
I’ve been meeting a lot of travellers from the UK recently that are in India to attend a friend’s wedding. So far 100% of these marriages have been between an Indian girl and a White British boy. I’m about to attend one of these myself on Valentines Day – how sweet, seriously so sweet. My family often tells me they can’t see me settling with an Indian, let’s see.
Kirstie my new Canadian friend shares with me her experience of being stared at, having her bum pinched, and being stalked and hassled by Indian guys since she has been here for two months-the same period as me. In Goa I made the foolish mistake of giving my number to a young Indian guy who then called me all night, repeatedly the next day, and then started texted me to tell me he could see me and where I was. You don’t see many Indian girls lying on the beach in a bikini, he must have thought he was definitely in with a chance with such a laid back chick. My phone was literally ringing non-stop until I got an Indian guy friend to answer it. I don’t know what he said but it worked.
In Kerala I walked out from a film screening to meet a friend in a local restaurant. As I left a man who had been flirting with me all day at the venue asked me where I was going and what I was doing, and started to get up to join me. I somehow got away from him and as soon as I hit the street a car stopped next to me with two guys asking me where I was going, saying they saw me in the cinema as they also watched the film, telling me to get in the car so they could take me where I need to go. I felt a bit more relaxed as I was less than 100 metres from where my local male friend was waiting for me, so I told them the place and that I would meet them there. Of course I didn’t get in the car. Once I arrived I introduced them to my guy friend who is local, and I wondered if they were disappointed as I wouldn’t be surprised if they were expecting to meet one of my female friends for a fun night with the easy going Western girls, ha!
I’m now in Pondicherry and felt naughty but satisfied after having dinner at KFC with a German guy Dominic and Indian girl Kim staying at the same ashram as me. It doesn’t really feel like an Ashram. I can’t eat Indian food 3 times a day for months, I just can’t do it so some spicy fried chicken goes down a treat. Then I’m horrified when Kim starts to cry and shares how the ashram manager who earlier offered to take me to a Punjabi restaurant and local gallery on his motorbike, has been harassing her, and touched her during the night. She is staying in a mixed dorm on the ground floor and sometimes the manager sleeps in that room when it’s busy. She is terrified of going back to the ashram and says she has had many bad experiences on trains, buses and in accommodation in India. We get back and I spend an hour talking to a guy from Delhi about his work and travel experiences. He leaves so I also get up but the manager urges me to stay and sit with him. Of course I’m out of there in a flash.
I don’t want to put any woman off from travelling alone in India, because it’s brilliant. But being single, attractive and travelling solo can bring some challenges and surprises. You just gotta be bold, confident and unfortunately not too friendly with the opposite sex.