This piece was written by Megha Mehta (Batch of 2019).
Neither traditional culture nor the pop variety teaches women how to be alone. Most, if not all, organized religions are pretty explicit in their disapproval of single/widowed/divorced women (or women of any sort really, but that’s another discussion). Even in literary/cinematic imagination, the Sexy Lone Male WolfTM is a much more popular trope than the Batshit Cat LadyTM .
To be a woman and to be alone is to be a failure, for our primary worth is supposed to be defined by our relationships and the caring labour we perform within them. You’re not allowed to ‘take time out for yourself’, because somebody always needs your time more than you do. There is always the ‘women’s safety card’ to chain you down if that doesn’t work. Which is why it is so important for young women to go solo-tripping, even if it be just to Gopalan to catch the latest shitty rom-com, to know and to experience the reality of being alone and surviving it. I toured a European city by myself, and what do you know I’m still alive, as alive as you can be in the middle of 4 th year and two legit electives anyway.
What was I doing in Europe, anyway? I was just, you know, participating in Student of the Year, as part of the fancy curriculum at Pindal Professional Global Law School with my best friends Shanaya and Raj. Raj has failed exams twice and is adept at playing the banjo. His catchphrase is ‘Palat’. I was doing all my travelling in Raj’s Italian sports car. The competition involved a treasure hunt in Paris followed by a swimming marathon in the river Danube…
…Yes, I was travelling on FAP, for an international competition. Admittedly, being a LFT requires privilege. None of this, including the delicious scrumptilicious rose-shaped chocolate- raspberry icecream at Gelato Rosa, Szent István tér 3, would have happened if it hadn’t been for the generous dole handed out by the college in exchange for a display of my semi-competent sabzi mandi bargaining skills.
LFT-ing in Europe is a lot more convenient than in India for many reasons. First, Free Walking Tours. You have the advantage of being with a large crowd and covering all the major tourist spots, even if you don’t have a companion or a personal tour guide. Obviously they aren’t really free; you’re supposed to give a nominal fee at your discretion at the end of the tour, as a token of your appreciation. But I didn’t mind paying the money. Did guys twice my age hit on me randomly while walking? Um, yes. Did I clutch my purse to me the entire time like it was my baby? I protected Bagwati more than I ever will my own flesh and blood during a holiday.
Would I ever have learnt that Austria and Hungary are jigri dost, and the Hungarian palace has been perennially bombed, and the miseries suffered by the Hungarian people due to *gasp* communism? Maybe. But man, they ripped a large one in that palace, those British airplanes. Second, most European cities have free Wifi everywhere, which means even if you can’t catch a Walking Tour, you can just pull out Google Maps and do a self-Walking Tour instead. Almost every major tourist attraction will be around the city square, so you won’t have to wander too much. I won’t lie though, there were at least one or two moments when I had to look deeply into the ice-blue eyes of a handsome Slavic hulk and give a seductive hairflip, to which he would reply, ‘Ich wib kein englis’ which means ‘I will love you passionately and till the end of my time’ in German. Just kidding.
LFT-ing while on a budget means that no Raj or Rahul is going to come in his BMW to ferry you around Europe. Raj and Rahul certainly ain’t gonna help you lug your suitcase on the convoluted route you have to take via bus, tram and metro line to your AirBnB so as to avoid being looted by hyperinflated cab prices. I have never been as regretful of packing 20 sets of fancy clothes in Nagarbhavi Circle. I know now that I truly am a strong independent woman who needs no man to carry her bags. I also know that I will possibly be forever haunted, given the number of curses everyone else who wanted to get on that tram gave me.
Speaking of hyper-inflation, a particularly enlightening, blissful LFT moment was when, after walking for 2 hours to reach a bathhouse in Budapest, I discovered that they required at least 10,000 HUF to be paid in cash-no cards or any other form of transaction accepted. I guess the whole demonetization thing is still to catch on there. So I walked back to the tram station where I came from, as for some strange reason no bank had thought of putting an ATM nearby this evidently cash-hungry place. No wonder they’re having an economic crisis!!
Another lesson for aspiring LFT’s-don’t expect your trip to be flowers and daisies. There will be blood, sweat and tears involved, in addition to cracked soles and pernicious growths on the underside of your toes. Needless to say, by the time I finally got into the spa, it was no longer just another tickbox on my tourist checklist.
As I was contemplating on eternal philosophical mysteries such as what is the purpose my existence on earth, what goal was I born to achieve, is NLS actually just a psychological experiment run by a certain Dr. Padma to study the effects of sleeplessness, multiple deadlines and bureaucratic trauma on young adults, and so on, I was joined by a Turkish political scientist in the Jacuzzi. Before your imagination turns, ahem, steamy, we had a perfectly platonic conversation about our different cultures and educational backgrounds.
Yes I was in a public bathhouse with a heterosexual man and he did not molest me. Yes I was in a swimsuit and he did ask me out on a date and I said no because I am the heartless friendzoning bitch your favourite Dank Shitty Meme Page TM always warned you about. Yet, we continued having a polite conversation. Yes it is possible for men and women to be in intimate spaces wearing close to nothing and not you know, ravage each other in mindless lust like on the covers of 18 th century bodice rippers. Before I hurt anyone’s sentiments, I’m not trying to suggest that foreign men are somehow more adept at understanding consent women. My point is that these instances do pop up in life every now and then, like the rats in the Women’s Hostel water coolers.
I know what’s on your mind now. No, apart from what a gigantic slut/idiot I am for hanging out in a Jacuzzi with a guy who’s not my boyfriend/husband/whatever. Didn’t I face racism? Wait, or were you thinking about food? I missed Atithi and Maneruchi more than I missed my mom. At one point I even felt a hint of emotion towards mess food. European restaurants are tremendously expensive, and to make up for that, they have tremendously cheap street food. A pepperoni slice costs half or one-third the amount it would at home, and is twice as filling. As you can see, I’m an ardent believer in the high carbs, high protein diet.
It is scientifically established that women love seeking attention. I am no exception. Which is why when the pizza stall guy recommended I take a slice with jalapenos because I’m a ‘spicy Indian girl’ I was totally flattered. There is nothing more I wanted to hear than have the shopkeeper leer ‘Mirchi Mirchi’ at me while handing over the pizza. My DDLJ dream was complete. He even knew Hindi! Some memories are to be cherished forever. So you need not worry about racism or any sort of cultural stereotyping.
To wash down Mr. Spicy’s flirtatious zingers, I decided to get a drink. Budapest is famous for its ruin bars, pubs set up in the Old Jewish Quarter, in buildings/lots abandoned after World War II. The dark history of the exodus that took place then aside, if you want to experience European nightlife, there was no way you would miss out on Szimpla Kert. You know a place is meant for getting intoxicated if one of its distinctive features is a used car hanging down in the middle of the ceiling.
Except that there was a slight problem. I identify as a woman. Notwithstanding my supposed resemblance to a certain SBA office bearer, I look like a woman. I sure as hell was an alone woman, unless I was wrong about the Turkish dude being a gentleman and he decided to stalk me because according to Bollywood logic that’s the best way to get a Spicy Indian GirlTM . So any sane, rational woman would have obviously turned back and gone back to the AirBnB. If you haven’t already figured this out, I’m clearly bonkers. Screw Kirron Kher logic, the Palinka was calling out to me. To my surprise, I found an elderly Indian couple sitting next to me at the bar. I guess it was the Doing Unindian Things festival that day. Even after this little sojourn I did not go back to the hotel. I spent the rest of the evening at the Schezenyi Bridge, looking at the stars, in the backdrop of violin music. It was quite romantic. If only Spicy Guy had been there to share the moment with me.
Maybe I got lucky. Maybe if I had taken a different tram, or gone to a different bathhouse, or to a different bar, I would have been kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring. Maybe I was really stupid in the way I went about all of this. God knows I should have withdrawn more cash before going to that bathhouse. Where’s PayTM when you need it damnit? I’ll be honest and recommend that maybe you shouldn’t take it as an authoritative guide on how to travel in Europe. But remember that happy endings are overrated. Sometimes a fairytale is about taking the most mundane, frustrating, weird and possibly sweaty experience you have and making the most out of it. So stop waiting for Prince Charming/Raj/Dil Chahta Hai/Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara/Hangover/Generic Road Trip Movie GangTM . Be a LFT. And if you ever have the pleasure of meeting Spicy Guy, tell him I miss him!