I have been reflecting on what it means to be a tourist, especially a tourist in India. When I think of visiting Europe, different feelings enter my head than what comes to mind when traveling to parts of Asia, Africa, or even South America. Why?
Is it the difference in culture? Language? People? Clothes? I’m not sure if I fully understand, but I know there is a divide between the western world and the rest. I know because of people’s faces when I tell them I’m visiting Peru, Ghana or India compared to when I say I’m going to Spain, Greece or Italy. “Don’t walk alone,” they say, and I don’t. (Don’t worry Mom!) But that’s the difference. There are larger populations in these areas that have decreasing resources available. The stratification between the classes is heightened, making these developing countries more dangerous destinations. I know what that means for me, but how will I affect the people I encounter when traveling? How is my tourism influencing India?
I read the following quotation in an article my professor assigned on tourism.
“That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere else. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives– most natives in the world– cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go– so when the native sees you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.” Jamaica Kincaid
This idea that the native envies the tourist is one that I subconsciously knew to be true, but I never thought of it much. I began to reflect upon its meaning. I thought about how tourists visit Washington DC, my home. I thought about my feelings towards them. Some of the time I would be annoyed or confused by their fascination with a monument or a cupcake, but, more often than not, I would understand. I understood because I have been a tourist. I have felt the same ways. I have marveled at structures and street art and traffic. I have had that feeling of fresh air fill my lungs, air from a place I had never experienced.
I have am a native, but I am a native that is often also a tourist. How would I feel towards tourists if I had never left DC? How do people feel that have never left India? How do they feel towards me?
I need to keep this in mind while traveling in India. There are some very elite people that I will encounter who are able to become tourists from time to time, but there are also people who can’t. I must remember to keep an open mind about my own country and India.
“A limited vision about a foreign country is a limited vision about one’s own.” – Oindrila Mukherjee
In order to fully appreciate and understand India, I have to contextualize it in reference to my home. I need to see the flaws and benefits of the United States in order to completely view India for what it is. No one is unbiased; I have to make sure my bias is truthful. In addition, I must ethically and truthfully represent my encounters in India to the best of my ability.
Tourism isn’t always bad, but reflecting and being aware of your actions as a tourist is crucial.