After spending the morning in Old Delhi checking out an old 17th century Muslim mosque (Jami Masjid) and a Sikh temple, I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around central Delhi and discovering anew one of the hazards of a female traveling alone. It is bad enough to be pestered by street touts and tuk tuk drivers, but something altogether more unpleasant to be targeted by young men trying to “practice their English.” I know, it sounds harmless enough, but it’s not like I just fell off the chapati cart. So, on this particular day, a very persistent young man named Raj decided I was the person with whom he wanted to practice his English. He welcomed me to his country with what appeared to be actual sincerity and proceeded to prattle on about the local sights. Several times I tried to give him the brush off, but this being my first day in India and still trying to get the ‘lay of the land,’ I didn’t want to be too rude. Instead, I politely said “I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t follow me.” This didn’t work. Just as politely, he replied that “there are a lot of bad people in India, but I am not one of them. I just want to practice my English.” For a microsecond, I actually felt a pang of guilt. But only for a microsecond.
Anyhow, Raj continued his chatter and followed me around for the better part of 90 minutes as I resolutely ignored him and went about my business. I ducked into shops, crossed streets, and asked him several times to leave me be. At one point I thought I had succeeded in losing him when I went into a busy shop and exited with him nowhere in sight. Just as I silently congratulated myself on giving him the slip, he came jogging up behind me.
Finally, his chatter took a very seedy turn as he bluntly questioned me on the sexual habits of Western women. Umm…yeah. Apparently, the look of pure death and my quick 180 degree turn was lost in translation, because he jogged up behind me and went on to suggest that I discover for myself the “strength” of Indian men…(the sentence included something else I can’t repeat here). I guess this is what it finally took for me to lose it completely. I raised up my hand and in a very loud, threatening voice said “Stop. This ends right here!” That was the trick. The English lesson was over.
I have to say, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me while I was traveling alone, but it was the first time I encountered someone so persistent. It was a good reminder of what I should have done from the very beginning if I am to avoid the scenario in the future.