Monday, August 1, 2011

Lesson Learnt at the Bali Airport ...

In November 2008, I attended a sociology conference in Indonesia. On way back, I had complete three hours to spend on the airport. So I searched for a comfortable seat and lazily occupied it. I was dog-tired and so I decided to sleep for some time. I set an alarm and tried to sleep, but sleep kept evading me. I kept feeling anxious about the luggage so I gave up the idea of sleeping.

I started passively viewing things which came in the range of my vision. My mind was unoccupied and was too tired to even register what I was observing. It was afternoon time and the airport was pretty crowded. It was full of eager children, bustling travelers, and decked up crew.

Soon later, I could see a foreign couple entering the airport. I was passively looking at them but there was something about them which grabbed my attention. I liked the way they were engrossed with each other, the way they were enjoying each other’s company and the peaceful aura around them. The girl was wearing shorts and tee shirt. She was carrying a ladies purse and a sack on her back. The man wore long jeans and tea shirt. He too was carrying a huge sack and a long jean on a hanger in his hand.

As they neared me I understood from their gestures that the guy was asking the girl to change the shorts. Suddenly they stopped, the girl gave her handpurse in his hand, she removed her shorts, and wore the long jeans the man was carrying on his hanger and they walked out as quietly as they entered.

Here was I, a 29 year old Indian lady, always fuzzy about covering ‘parts’ of the body with right type of garments, obsessive about maintaining a ‘good girl tag’. For me, the ease with which the girl had removed her shorts and changed to a long jean in front of all on the airport, and who was literally on her inner garment for few seconds, forced me to take note of this phenomenon. My eyes had grown wider and I struggled to understand and give meaning to the phenomenon that has just happened.

For me this was the most illuminating experience of my life. The ease with the girl had come to terms with sexuality and her body was noteworthy. She had accepted her body the way it is, and had overcome shame and fear associated with it. Neither the onlookers nor the couple had felt anything odd about it.

For me the lesson learnt on the Indonesian airport remains engraved in the mind.


  1. This is eye-opening to me as my experience in India is quite different. I have found people to be extremely open with changing in front of others or wearing things that I might consider inappropriate for their body and/or age. I guess it depends on perspective and how each individual grew up and learned things that makes things 'shocking' to each of us.

  2. Nice post.. I liked it ..
    Well, after reading I recalled my one favourite sher by Shaharyar (the poet who wrote the songs of Gaman and Umarao Jaan),

    मै अकेला सही मगर कैसे
    नंगी परछाईयों के बीच रहू?

    (Though I am home alone but how can I stay undress?)

    --This is tahjeeb (सभ्यता / संस्कृती) and Shaharyaar had put it exactly in words. Ahead Shaharyaar had also gave individuality to Shadows.

    However, what u see and ur approach is different but I think it might b coz u were far away from ur mother-land.. but like one earlier comment on this post, changing the clothes in public place is common in india, reasons may be varied..

    Above all, Even blind person wears the clothes.
    -I consider this habit is the richness of behavior, manners.

  3. Yes I agree with Erica, in India especially at pilgrim places people very easily bathe in common and change the clothes. How do we see that?

    Indian urban middle classes have very puritan view on nudity and we all are conditioned in it. Therefore I fully agree with your reaction.