Continued from Part I
Except of course when you find yourself confronted by an overenthusiastic expatriate. “I have now lived in Italy for 14 years. I’m originally from Kerala, and you? From North eh?” he volleyed.
“Where are you from?”
“Enakku Tamizh Theriyum (I can speak Tamil)”
I am furious that he won’t stop the conversation but he ignores the look on my face and goes “Your family is not with you?”
“They are at the hotel?”
“Where are they then?”
“What!? You are travelling alone?”
If this had been a train journey on one of those express long distance trains that didn’t stop everywhere, this would have been the first major stop. I looked at Vesuvius never disappearing from the window. There was no choice but to endure this.
“Yes. I am used to travelling alone.”
“And your husband allows you to do that?”
I wanted to scream. I wanted to shake this person sitting in front of me and ask if during his 14 years in Italy he had never seen a woman travelling alone. And if it was ok for women in Italy to travel alone why was it not ok for women in India to travel alone. I was infuriated that sometimes people never changed. That even life, with all its myriad experiences – especially that of living in a foreign country, had to accept defeat with these people when it came to changing their perspectives. Women could not and ought not to travel alone.
I don’t answer the question and keep looking through the window. I am desperately wishing that a fellow passenger would butt in and ask if this man was bothering me. Not that I would say yes, but any respite from the inquisition would be welcome. But the train trundles on and Torre Anunziata is as far away as ever.
“What does your husband do?”
If there had been an award for persistent curiosity, this man would have been the worldwide champion. I mumbled that I was not married.
“And your parents are not looking out for a husband?”
On hindsight I should have at some point, pointed out to the man in front of me that this was none of his business. I didn’t of course. I normally didn’t react violently unless someone harmed me physically or emotionally and this was just an overcurious Indian dealing with what in his opinion must have been a variant to the species of ‘Women from India’.
On not getting a reply from me, he branched off into a less offensive subject.
“Where are you going now? To Pompeii?”
I should have said yes and ended the subject but I guessed there was something perverse in me as well. There was a part of me that wanted to see the shocked reaction on his face as I mentioned the name of the locality that was well outside of what he considered to be the normal tourist circuit.
“Torre Anunziata” I announced quite pompously.
“What?! Why are you going there? There is nothing there? You want to go sight-seeing? You should go to Pompeii. Do you want me to guide you?”
In my head at this point I imagine myself standing up, growing in stature, pointing a mocking finger at him saying “Nothing there? Nothing? Have you never heard of the ruins of Oplontis? What have you done in all the years that you have lived here?”
In reality I just say “I know where I’m going. Thanks”
Just as I am beginning to think that this conversation will never end, the man gets up almost apologetically.
“This is where I get off” he says, looking at me as though expecting something from my end.
The famous lolcat “kthxby” expression comes to my mind but in the relief I give him a big smile and say “Bye, have a nice day”. Life would get back to normal once again.
A part of me feels guilty after the man leaves. Maybe I was extremely rude. This was just a curious person who meant no harm. Why did I react the way I did?
I guess I was annoyed that having travelled all the way from home I expected to leave behind all the annoying personal questions that people throw around all the time. That I could travel all the way to remote Torre Anunziata in Italy and still find someone haunting me with the same queries was probably too much to bear.
With a heavy sigh, I gather my things from the seat next to me and get off the Circumvesuviana train at Torre Anunziata.