It’s hard for people from this country to understand it, but it takes guts for an American to come to India. For those of us accustomed to supermarkets spanning acres and a Starbucks at every turn, India is the undiscovered country. As such, an American in India wants to believe he’s on a grand adventure (never mind the billion people who are here living our grand adventure every day). And this desire for grandeur creates a behavior among our fellow travelers that we call Gora Evasion.
“Gora” is what gringos are called here. They’re rare enough that even Jenny and I, after a few months in the country, began staring at them as much as everyone else. “Whoa — Goras!” we say, poking each other. “How the hell did they find their way to GK II?”
But while we may stare, we don’t say hi. We don’t make eye contact. They don’t want to acknowledge us, and we don’t want to acknowledge them. Because the last thing you want when you’re off seeing unseen sights is to meet someone who was in your rival high school’s marching band back home.
So when two Goras converge on a road, there are no pleasantries. No acknowledgments. If our eyes meet, it’s only by accident, and we both quickly look away. It happens in our main market and it happens in Chandni Chowk; it even happens walking past the Reebok Store in Saket Select Citywalk Mall.
A few weeks ago, we visited Mumbai. We were walking down a long, desolate road on the way down from Malabar Hill. It was twilight, the road was wooded, and the few people we saw were outnumbered by the bats: giant beasts with two-foot wingspans studiously swooping from tree to tree in search of the perfect perch to begin the evening’s hunt. And then, down the road, we saw them coming up: two Goras, a guy and a girl, coming our way, on the same sidewalk. They were returning from the trail we’d hoped to blaze, and we were ruining the same trail for them.
“They’ll pretend not to notice us,” I told Jenny. We had been discussing our theory of Gora Evasion for months; this was the time to test it. As we grew closer, Jenny and I looked pleasantly ahead while the other two looked this way and that. And then, just at the point where two pairs of polite people would smile and nod in every circumstance back home, that’s when the guy elaborately pointed out, with wildly exaggerated finger motions, something above and behind and to the left of Jenny and I. And they both studiously contemplated this point in space as the four of us passed each other, greetings not exchanged, illusion of adventure unbroken. They were still the only Goras in Mumbai, and so were we.