My story in the EXILES anthology is “Midnight Train to Delhi.” Unlike most of my stories, this one is based on a specific experience. My wife, Melanie, and I have lived in India for the last two years. (This is the first story I’ve written that’s set here.)
We traveled around the country in the winter of 2012. One of our favorite cities was Jodhpur. There’s an incredible fort on a hill there, a relic from the Maharaja era. The entire city is a maze of alleys lined with blue houses. The food’s great. We stayed at a wonderful guest house with a very welcoming family. We were there for about a week and got a good feel for the place. We wandered around the city frequently.
One day we got lost in the alleyways and a bunch of kids began pelting us with rocks. Not really sure why they did this. In any event, we left on a very early morning train back to Delhi. We took an auto-rickshaw to the station and the city was empty. I remember it vividly because the narrow streets always bustled with all matter of traffic–pedestrian, car, scooter, goat, cow–and it was silent and quiet on the way to the station.
We arrived at the station exhausted and mildly confused about which train to take. We were standing at a platform when a group of high school boys on a school trip came up and started talking to us. There are very few white people in India, so we tend to attract a lot of attention–usually people just want to take a photo with us, for some reason. A couple of these high schoolers wanted to practice their English with us, which was fine. But before we knew it, there was a group of about thirty boys crowded around us. One of them asked if we spoke Hindi. We said we didn’t. (This was a rookie mistake.) He started saying dirty things in Hindi to my wife. All his friends laughed. They started crowding in closer. We tried ignoring them. They surrounded us–the one guy egging the rest of them on. It was the only time while I’ve been in India that I was scared. Their teacher just walked by like nothing was happening–that guy is a spineless piece of shit.
Then a train station security guard–a woman–blew a whistle and waved a cricket bat around. The high schoolers scattered, and we took a long, relieved breath. Most of the time being a foreigner here means you’re privileged. But the status can be a double-edged sword.
The story I wrote is a composite–in part it’s this experience, in part it’s based on the stories foreigner women have told me. Single women (or women who happen to be traveling without a guy) are frequently harassed–lewd comments, groping, constant unwanted attention. It’s a real problem. And a good subject for a crime story.
Bio: Chris Rhatigan is the editor of All Due Respect. He is the author of more than fifty published short stories and the book The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other.