I’m a Celebrity, (Don’t) Get Me Out of Here!
By Charlotte Borland
In a city of 20 million people, it’s uncanny how a small group of university students from Australia still manage to stand out like sore, intensely uncomfortable thumbs. And yet, that’s what our second day in Mumbai entailed.
We embarked on a bus tour, keen to observe and explore the city for the first time. Throughout the day, as we hopped from one attraction to another, it began to feel as if thousands of sets of eyes were trained fixedly on our every move. Whether it was from the window of our bus or as we brushed against them in the melee of Mumbai’s busy alleys, people were determined to figure us out, a pursuit they furthered by staring.
A stark contrast against the vibrant colours and storied faces of Mumbai’s residents, our presence at the Gateway of India caused a veritable stir – a ruckus, even. As we joined the crowds swarming around this gargantuan 90-year-old structure, Mumbai locals boldly stared in our direction. Capturing our gazes with resolute determination, they began to snap photo after photo of our group. Before long, the more audacious began to ask and signal for us to pose alongside them in a selfie. We all either felt like movie stars or India’s most wanted criminals, depending on whom you ask.
Along with the majority of our group, I became a frequent subject of their photographs. Comforted by the bright-eyed smiles I received from sari-clad women and playful children, however, my unease slowly melted away and gave way to curiosity.
“Can I take a photo of you?” I began to ask them, albeit tentatively. I was met with a sea of responses, from simple nods to confused expressions. Yet, I didn’t encounter a single negative reaction. Everyone willingly posed, each in their own distinctive way.
This fascination with tourists may appear as borne of a fear of the unknown or some unknowable ulterior motive. The sheer excitement of taking a photo with a stranger is overwhelming from the perspective of said bewildered subject, but sometimes unbridled curiosity can be a virtue. One woman clasped my hands, wordlessly imparting all of her joy. A small boy met my gaze with a cheeky grin, still grasping his mother’s hand.
These experiences wouldn’t have occurred without a dose of the healthy curiosity that made them choose to stare at the gaggle of Aussies in the first place. The smiles and stories of the Indian people have already had an impact on me, and undoubtedly will continue to do so throughout my stay in Mumbai.