It is only be apt that when I was in India I ran into a man intent on kissing me at the Taj Mahal. Actually, it was while I was walking there, in the city of Agra. The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century as a memorial of love after the death of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died in childbirth with their fourteenth child. (That would be enough to kill most people.)
The Taj Mahal houses the bodies and sarcophagi of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal and is considered one of the best examples of Mughal architecture as well as being a monument to love. Lovers and scads of tourists visit it every year. I did the same, getting up early one morning in Agra and walking to the Taj. I had dysentery at this point and while ill, this particular day left me with a little more strength and a calmer stomach than on other days.
India is so polluted that often the day begins hazy or cloudy and an orangey-gray cast fires up the sky. It turns out to look quite pretty in pictures and the day started like this. As I walked along a Sikh guy on his scooter puttered up beside me and asked the three ubiquitous questions given to every woman traveller: what’s your name, where are you from, are you married? So it went and then he asked if I’d like a ride. I said no thanks; I had got up early so that I could actually walk to the monument.
A little while later, as he kept pace with my walking, he said, “I love you.” Startled I said, “Uh, thanks.” Then he asked, “Don’t you love me?” Put on the spot, somehow not wanting to be rude, I finally came up with, “I love you like I love all my fellow human beings.” This pacified him a bit or gave him something to chew on.
The problem is in India (or was at that time) they only had American movies to go on as to what North American women were like. India is a culture (or the parts I was in anyways) where men and women do not touch in public. It’s common to see men holding hands but you’ll never see this between the genders. A titillating Indian movie often has the wet sari scene that shows off the woman’s curves while still keeping her modestly dress, and kissing just doesn’t happen in their movies. So then you see a North American movie and all women are wearing form fitting clothes, kissing and touching men and often disrobing after some James Bond caper or the moment, in the movie, when the guy says I love you.
It was a naiveté in which I never felt threatened but was kinda cute and sometimes irritating. As I continued to the Taj Mahal, the Sikh man then said, “Won’t you kiss?” I answered, “No, I will not.”
“But why? I love you.” To which I responded, “I don’t just kiss anyone who says they love me.” Eventually he puttered off and I continued to the Taj Mahal, unkissed and happy.
It was unusual to hear of many rapes in India but then I don’t know the frequency of those that were reported. I have heard these days that there are more happening. I never felt threatened ever in India and there were a few other times that the men tried to come on to me or kiss me. But that naiveté has probably warn off and with the advent of computers in to one of the world’s most populated countries, it is definitely opening the eyes of many.