- This is a post I wrote for my first travel blog, back in 2008, which I created to share my trip to India with family and friends. I’ve cleaned up the writing a little, but it’s mostly as I wrote it from an internet cafe on the Subcontinent. -
I’m sitting in a mall food court shopping bag in hand, waiting for my fast food order to be ready. I’ve just finished watching a movie in a megaplex with stadium seating, cupholders in the armrests, and capuccino at the snack bar.
What country am I in, again?
Aunt Flo’s in town, and my tampon supply is dwindling. Why does this require a trip to the mall?
Northern India is a man’s world. There are very few women even out on the streets here in Lucknow, let alone staffing the counters at corner shops and pharmacies. Added to that, India in general is not really a self-serve culture – every shop is based on the idea that you walk into the store and ask for what you want, compare several options, and basically develop a relationship with a sales clerk. A sales clerk who is invariably male. Men’s men in the worst way. Crotch grabbing. Leering. Not the sort of person I want to have an intimate discussion with about my flow, wings or no wings, pearlized cardboard applicators, the merits of the phonebook vs. a slim pantyliner.
Making the whole thing worse, as the only white person in a two mile radius, I’m treated as a minor celebrity anywhere I go. Not only am I going to have to have girltalk with some tobacco-spitting patriarch, he’s going to want to know everything about me, ask me if I know his cousin in Ohio, trade email addresses, and invite me to his daughter’s wedding. And forty people on the street are going to crowd around to watch the white girl buy tampons. And they’re all going to want personal interviews, too, possibly regarding intimate details of my girly bits, because NOTHING is off limits in Indian conversation.
I was feeling a little stressed out.
Then I noticed the huge billboard for Big Bazaar, which is sort of the Indian answer to Target. Conveniently located a mere two blocks from my hotel. They were sure to have a toiletry section, and I was confident that there would be shelves of options I could access myself, an impersonal checkout lane, and all the things I hate about shopping in America. So I walked over and confronted India’s third-largest shopping mall, Sahara Ganj. Named after a desert, of course.
Big Bazaar was everything I’d hoped for. I grabbed some maxi pads and extra mosquito repellent, and headed for the checkout, where I simply paid and left with my new stash of toiletries. No intimate chats with strange men who seem to think my face is located between my breasts, and only about 30 entire families gaped in my general direction.
On the way out I realized the mall’s movie theater was showing the epic period piece about the Mughal emperor Akbar that I’d wanted to see. It was starting in 20 minutes, which gave me just enough time to get through security, buy a ticket and a coke, and find my seat.
Yes, I said “get through security.” Movies are THE mainstream form of media here in India, which makes them great political targets. And just like America, Indian filmmakers tend to be slightly liberal. Anytime some conservative political party gets a bug up its ass about the latest blockbuster (too positive towards Muslims! too sexy! X movie star supposedly made Y comment about Z ethnic group!) they send goons to bust up the cinema. Flashy western-style megaplexes are expensive to keep repairing all the time, and the middle class families that patronize them frown upon unsightly displays of terrorism. Thus it’s harder to get into a fancy movie theater in India than it is to get into some American airports.
After 4 hours of Braveheart meets Sholay meets Pride And Prejudice meets West Side Story (I know!!!), I had worked up an appetite. So I went up to the top floor food court and ordered an Idli and Sambar combo meal at a South Indian stall run by North Indian Sikhs, complete with a huge picture of Guru Nanak on the wall between the soda fountain and the fry-o-lator. It was outstanding.