As a freelance writer who works from home, I'm accused by friends of having “too much free time”. They, of course, have no idea about the dedication it takes to slave away in solitude, trying to come up with the perfect Twitter updates.
However, working alone can get mind-numbingly boring. So recently, when a friend asked me to play tour guide to an American friend of hers, I was only too happy to oblige. My job was simple — I was to take her to a few of Mumbai's ‘touristy’ places, while making sure she didn’t try anything daft, such as crossing a road without local supervision.
We started with Haji Ali, on a day so hot it could melt the nose off Shilpa Shetty’s face. Now I’m not religious at all, but as I walked towards the shrine, shoulder to shoulder with a crowd of believers, I could feel something — something different.
It was the gaze of hundreds of men passing us, eyeing the white woman next to me, with faces I can only describe as borderline Shakti Kapoor.
Now as a man, I’m not used to being stared at, unless my fly is open. But just by virtue of being with a woman, and a foreigner at that, I was suddenly subject to looks that said, ‘Hey, if this idiot can get her, why can’t we?’ And so they ogled — young men, old men, boys who looked like they still wet their beds — all radiating a brazen Obama-like confidence that said ‘Yes, We Can!’
See, this is why Indians never seem to score with women abroad. Years of leering at tourists have earned us a reputation as creatures that will hump anything female, including the Statue of Liberty.
After the staring match at Haji Ali, we moved on to Jehangir Art Gallery. A few visitors milled around, occasionally stopping to ask artists about their work. I would’ve done so too, except the only question I could think of was, “Did you throw up on this canvas?”
Our next stop was The Prince of Wales Museum. A banner at the entrance announced that the museum was promoting Russian culture with an exhibition of — hold your breath — photographic reproductions of a portrait of some 19th century Russian artist whose name I forget, so we’ll just call him Boris. Honestly, I prefer other aspects of Russian culture, such as vodka, and limber ladies who can be found behind the Taj.
Nevertheless, we went in and checked out artefacts from the glory days, wondering if we could flick a few. Also on display were some Maratha weapons, including the famous Tiger Claw, which would be really handy while boarding local trains.
We topped off the day by hopping aboard a Victoria (why haven't these been renamed?) for a canter along Marine Drive. Sitting high above the traffic, I felt regal, or as regal as one can feel while riding what is essentially a giant horse-drawn vibrator.
I’ve now realised that playing tour guide is a good way to spend time, as opposed to stalking people on Facebook, not that I’m suggesting anything. I’d happily do it again, so feel free to send your pretty tourist friends my way. I promise not to ogle.
Ashish Shakya co-writes the satire show, The Week That Wasn’t. Sometimes he’s even sober while doing so.