Here we are, Friday at last, and it HAILED earlier. What on earth, Ireland? I know, small potatoes when you compare it to weather happening in other parts of the world, but still! It’s only September! Let’s stay lukewarm for another couple of months, at least!
But we don’t have time for idle chit chat, because it’s almost half eight and I haven’t had any dinner yet. I need nutrients in the form of something delicious (chocolate?), so let’s get straight to question numero dos:
Would you like to be famous? In what way?
On our first day in Delhi, a tall, rangy teenager approached us with a mobile phone in his hand. He giddily asked something of Scrubs, who shook his head in an awkwardly terse movement, and then the boy bounded away, melting back into the crowd.
“What did he want?” I asked, curious.
“He wanted to take a photo with me.”
“I don’t know. I said no, anyway.”
“Why did I say no?”
“Yeah, why did you say no? It wouldn’t have cost you anything and it would have made him happy!”
Scrubs looked at me as if I had suggested we join a commune and live as goat herders for a year.
“Because it’s weird, that’s why.”
I shrugged and let it go. Scrubs is tall and blonde and blue-eyed and obviously foreign, and this is more than enough for people to want a photograph of you in India. It happened again, and then again, and each time I teased Scrubs for not being willing to get in a photo.
Then it finally happened.
We were sitting in a palace museum, heads together, poring over a guidebook, when a teenage girl shyly shuffled over with her camera dangling from her wrist.
“Excuse me,” she said timidly. “Can I get a picture with you?”
I immediately glanced at Scrubs before realising that she was actually speaking to me. I puffed up. THIS WAS IT, I thought. THIS WAS THE MOMENT I GOT TO DO THE GOOD DEED AND MAKE THIS GIRL’S DAY.
“Of course!” I said graciously, only barely restraining myself from surreptitiously elbowing Scrubs.
The girl gave me a crooked smile, and then dashed down the corridor.
She returned just as speedily with a dozen classmates, obviously on their school tour, all delighted to have caught sight of two tourists in the wild. I suddenly felt like an animal spotted during a safari.
She flapped her hands at us to stand, and we did. She gestured for them to all crowd into a photo with us, and they did. She asked us to smile, snapped a couple of photographs, thanked us profusely, and then the horde of teens disappeared around the corner, never to be seen again.
I sat back down on the marble bench, dazed.
“That was weird.” I said, deflated.
“I told you.”
“Well I thought she meant just her, not her entire class!”
“It would still have been weird if it had just been her.”
Since I had already dug my heels in on the subject, I stubbornly refused to change my position. For another week or so, I consented to every photograph with a stranger no matter how uncomfortable. As time passed I realised it barely mattered either way; the vast majority of people simply stuck their phones in our faces as we walked past, photographing or videoing us without asking. I started to feel like I owed the more polite people a photo just for treating us as fellow human beings.
And then I visited the Taj Mahal.
The day I visited Agra, it was extremely hot. After exploring the inside of the Taj Mahal (very nice, I’m sure you’ve seen it in photos, it’s very white and gleaming and cold and intricate), I sat out on the marble flagstones overlooking the river. Next to me, a family of Americans sat eating their lunch. I watched them as they were interrupted over and over and over again by middle-aged Indian men asking to take photos with their blonde, rosy-cheeked children. The parents, obviously flustered but afraid to be rude, kept acquiescing and shunting the children (a six year old boy and a girl of about eight) into photographs with these strangers, who would put an arm around them or lay a hand on their shoulder. After the seventh such photograph the little boy burst into tears. The parents allowed him to sit down and eat his sandwich while his sister continued to stand, her expression mutinous, for photograph after photograph. I felt so sorry for them… and at the same time a small, snakey part of me was relieved that this family were unwittingly acting as a lightning rod for all the attention.
Who wants a photo of a dark-haired foreigner when there are little children who look like actual cherubs about?
That changed my mind and sapped all my good will. It was clear that the children didn’t want to be in the photos. It was even pretty clear that the parents felt cornered into forcing the children into these photos. And yet a steady stream of photograph-seekers approached them without pause. They were still being pestered when I left the steps.
The last week that I was in India I worked hard on my RBF and turned down every request for a photograph. We still got snapped, but by now Scrubs and I were definitely on the same page. We didn’t owe anyone a photo. The idea of strangers having photographs of us for no reason that made any sense was unnerving. We kept our heads down and learned to dodge the people who pointed their lenses at us.
After this experience – this tiny sliver of a taste of what it would be like to be famous in today’s world of social media – I look at this question, ‘Would you like to be famous?’ and I think no. A thousand nos. No thank you. No gracias. Not ever.
Unless I could be Banksy, and be anonymously famous.
Hey, maybe I AM Banksy!
I’ll never tell.
*I’m trying to get over it and join the 21st century but looking at my instagram I can tell you that out of the last five selfies, all of them have involved some amount of alcohol. Make of that what you will…