It soon became clear that the harassment of my first day was fairly uncommon in Anjuna. Locals were generally relaxed and pleasant to deal with, and if there were Indians visiting from other states, as my two friends had been, they kept to themselves. Although I was careful to walk in the company of others at night, I continued my solitary walks in the day and was left alone.
The only harassment I experienced, if I can loosely call it that, came from two Canadians at my hostel. The first was a guy in his forties who quickly grew unpopular with the other backpackers for being antagonistic with the guys and sleazy with the girls. If it hadn’t been for one drunken conversation, in which he euphemistically asked me if I would “date” him, he would not have been particularly noteworthy – all the other girls felt uncomfortable around him.
The second guy was decidedly more selective. From the moment we met over dinner, he made his interest in me very clear when he persisted in having a stilted conversation with me from across the table.
As I came to realise over the next few days, in many ways, he embodied the worst qualities of a veteran traveller. Just as travel can make a person more open minded and easy going, I firmly believe it can also make someone a bit of a wanker.
Like other travellers of his ilk, Canadian #2 had a tendency to relate everything, no matter how mundane or innocuous, back to his travels. Several times I tried to turn the conversation around to other topics but without much success.
I should stress – it’s not that he wasn’t a pleasant enough person. He had altruistic desires (as he told me multiple times, he had plans to start a charity in Asia) and I didn’t mind short conversations with him.
But I think the considerable length of time he had spent in South America had rubbed off him in the wrong way. A very serious person, he lacked the laid back charisma I had found endearing in South American men, but on the other hand, I was often disconcerted by his very forward approach.
Although I tried to keep things between us strictly platonic, he was heavy handed in his early interactions with me, coming out with some cringeworthy lines that I won’t repeat.
Realising he would only become more intense under the influence of alcohol, I left with the first taxi from the hostel the following night, hoping we would end up at different bars.
However, he appeared at our bar an hour later. The first thing he did when he spotted me was stroke my hair and ask where I had been. Using as few words as possible, I told him and walked away.
Shortly afterwards, he sat down next to me while I was in the middle of a conversation with another girl and started stroking my waist. I immediately froze, before deciding not to react in the hopes the girl I was speaking to would not notice.
A third person joined our conversation and Canadian #2 seized this opportunity to take my hand and kiss it.
“Did you like that?” he asked, as though there was a possibility that I would actually say yes.
“No,” I said. “I don’t like public displays of affection.”
“No one saw.” Unfazed, he continued, “I’m interested in you, are you interested in me?”
If he was drunk, I would have laughed it off but I could tell he was quite sobre and very serious. I refused to answer his questions, telling him he was being too forward. In retrospect, I was probably a little blunt but I felt it was important someone was honest with him so he wouldn’t be too out of touch with women if he ever went back to a Western country.
I spent the next hour going between different groups. I wished the English guys in my dorm hadn’t checked out. Ever since they had left, there wasn’t anyone at the hostel who I really clicked with.
My mood gradually soured as the night wore on. Getting very drunk didn’t help. I’m not sure why but the tipping point came when a smug fedora-wearing Canadian (hereafter referred to as Canadian #3) told me I should smile more. I decided it was time to leave and loathe to ask someone to accompany me back to the hostel, I went out the front to look for a taxi.
Without giving it any thought, I got into the closest cab and took the front seat, as I usually do when taking taxis. The driver was a young man wearing a turban. He asked me the usual questions, where I was from, what I was doing in India. His voice matched his appearance; benign and unimposing.
I was monosyllabic with my answers and we fell silent. He placed a hand on my thigh. Everything I had ever read about calling Indian men out on lecherous advances suddenly flashed through my mind but having walked back from the bar the night before, I knew we were only a block away from the hostel and decided against saying anything.
As soon as we pulled up at the hostel, I leapt out of the taxi and sprinted away, announcing I had to go inside to get some money (which was the truth). This particular hostel had non-existent security but I was just relieved that he had brought me to the right place.
After I had carefully counted out my money in my room, I returned with the exact change and passed it to him through the window. He took the money and then for what seemed like a very long time, took my hand and kissed it.
I pulled away and went to bed.
Afterwards, I couldn’t help but wonder whether my time in India would change me and if so, in what way.