Lessons I Learnt in India and Sri Lanka (Part 2)

Lesson 2: I’m a celebrity in India.

I am a celebrity in India. I’m famous. The people love me…I think. You see, as a white-haired fair skinned teenage Australian, I was quite a rarity in India. Frequently, people would stop me in the streets (inner Mumbai especially) and ask for a photo or autograph.

I don’t know why. Maybe they thought I was actually a real celebrity, because they can think of no other reason for me to visit the depths of Bombay.

Either way, Sri Lankans and Indians alike enjoyed the spectacle.

As one local me and my dad met in a bar put it: “A lot of Indians have never seen someone with bright white hair, and so, naturally, they stare at something (or someone) they have never seen before”. And this was what was most noticeable. They would stare.

Though I didn’t mind it. It made me feel special, unique, exciting, but it was about to get a whole lot more uncomfortable.

Definitely the craziest thing that happened whilst on this trip was when we were in Goa, India. We travelled south on a crowded train to a cove just south of Palolem Beach. This area of the country was full of Indian tourists, but no Australians.

Mum sat down on one of the bars on the beach, and my sister, Dad and I, jumped in the water for a splash. We had been in the ocean just about every day for the last week, and by this time we were quite skilled body-surfers. The waves over there are certainly nothing to get excited about, which meant they were the perfect height to bodysurf on. The thing is, at home, we do it all the time, but we had never seen anyone else attempt it yet.

We jumped in the water and started to body surf. It was just us and a couple of Indians 20 metres away.

They slowly got closer, and started watching me.

I gave them a thumbs up.

They kept looking at us. I didn’t know why.

I went about business as usual and surfed another wave in.

It caught their eye.

They rushed over to me and started speaking in a different tongue.

I caught another wave in.

The couple had called some more friends over.

Before long a modest gathering started to creep around the three of us.

We kept surfing the waves in, and as we returned to the deep, they laughed and whistled.

They seemed amazed. I don’t know why.

I felt that I wanted to try and teach these Indians how I did this, so I demonstrated how I ducked my head under the oncoming waves.

They couldn’t understand English or follow my instructions, so their attempt was poor to say the least.

I tried to show them again, but this time I thought I’d show them how to do an underwater handstand.

I did, and as I rose out of the water I was met with crazed cheering and whistles of approval.

I did it again to note whether I was the source of celebration.

I was.

And as I rose out of the water, about 50 or so Indians had surrounded me, all applauding wildly.

It was incredible.

I called my dad and sister over to do the same thing.

As a trio, we stuck our legs high into the sky, simultaneously, and received the craziest of celebrations upon our resurface.

The crowd was growing.

I caught another wave in to see their reaction.

It was mental. I don’t know why.

They were slapping me on the back and giving me high fives hysterically.

I was trying to talk to some of them, and as I looked over my shoulder, I saw Dad and Cassie walking along the beach.

I was alone amongst these Indians.

Yet they still cheered me on, for no real reason.

I pictured myself as some ‘white-haired-surfing-deity’.

I surfed another one in for fun.

One of the young boys grabbed a hold of my wrist.

I shook hard to break the lock.

He chased after me, I don’t know why.

They circled me.

I was a little nervous, I was unsure of what they wanted, but they were all laughing and had huge smiles on their faces.

I thought I had better head back into shore.

But not before they had all closed in on me.

An older man, pulled me in close.

He whispered something incoherent in my ear, and everyone laughed.

I went to pull away again, and he landed a huge sloppy kiss right on my cheek.

I jumped and ran away into shore away from the laughter and cheering.

I ran all the way into the bar, grabbed my towel and collected myself.

I looked back to the water where I had just been.

And just like in a movie, all the Indians had dispersed and disappeared.

I am a celebrity in India, and I don’t really know why.

About John Harms

John Harms is a writer, broadcaster, publisher, historian, speaker and teacher. He loves stories.

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