Plenty of room on top: assertive in Almora

by Dianne Sharma-Winter - Heart of India
( April 22nd, 2010 )

I took a break from long hours hunched over my laptop the other day when I heard there were panthers in these here hills, anyway apart from visiting the nice lady who encouraged me here my email, I have been totally solitary in my little cottage in the woods.

At the local shop I met a couple of British tourist who had been coming here for a few years, they were enthusiastic about the bird watching and the floral delights of the Kumaon Valley. They agreed that panthers had been sighted on the ridge above my house and told me of a zoo further down the hill where the “man eaters’ were held. So I scurried down the hill in search of the poor caged beasts so that I could feast my eyes on their beauty. But the place was locked and anyway I continued into the bustling little township just to check it out.

It’s cute and bustling in the way that Himalayan Hill Stations are but the noise of the traffic, the heat and the crowds were enough for me to decide to head back to the hills pronto! I remembered where the taxi stand was from my early morning bleary eyed arrival and headed there. My arrival caused great excitement amongst the taxi wallah gathered there. “You want taxi? Taxi to Karsa Devi?” four of five men shouted at once. “No, I want to go to Papasali” Same road, but a little down the hill from Karsa Devi where obviously a lot of foreigners are staying. “Ok take this car, one hundred and pipty rupees, special taxi.” Special taxis are no different to share taxis except you pay a premium rate NOT to share with the locals. Share taxis charge the same but the fare is split between the people who can jam themselves inside the jeep, and on the roof.

I jumped in a share jeep and waited for it to fill. It wasn’t long before the jeep was jammed to bursting with locals, their shopping, bits of steel were strapped to the roof along with drums of goodness knows what and eventually the driver turned the thing on and we were off. There were possibly eleven people in the jeep, so it was cosy to say the least. But it’s possible I know to share a jeep without invading any boundaries since I have enjoyed this mode of transport in other mountain stations in India.

Which is why I noticed that there was no reason for the old guy next to be to be resting his hand on my knee. Hmmm, I thought. What to do? My elbow was positioned nicely enough so that I could have smartly bought it up to his eyeball in a self defense kind of way. But it wasn’t that kind of day. And the situation didn’t seem to require it.

So I drew back and lifted the old guys hand away from my knee and waved my finger under his nose like a school marm. “Uncle!” I said very clearly, “No touching.” The guy seemed not to understand me and starting moving his shopping bags around which were on my feet, giving him an opportunity to stroke my leg in the meantime. The man beside him sensed the problem and started helping the man move his bags.
It was one of those situations where they didn’t want the foreigner to make a fuss and embarrass the guy, also they didn’t want the guy to be upsetting the foreigner in the first place. But the whole time the guy is fussing with his bags he is also copping a feel of my calves,

So this time very clearly and in Hindi so that everyone understood I said. “The problem is not the bag, the problem is YOUR HAND ON MY KNEE.” Well that sorted him out in a hurry and made everyone shift uncomfortably. Better it made the old guy stop trying to grope me. The man beside him drew his arm around him and pulled him closer to him and away from me. “Don’t mind,” he said to me in English.” He is just…..”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “No problem.”

And we rattled on up the hill.

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