A few days ago, a friend and I went up to Maharishi’s old ashram near Rishikesh and then to the cave/ashram of Tatwala Baba, a saint who lived there nearly 40 years ago. The highlight of the day was that we saw a wild elephant up quite close, though from the relative safety of a balcony above the forest. It is, incidentally, generally not safe to get anywhere near a wild elephant. If this one had noticed us and decided to come our way, we might have had real problems in spite of the location, but we were quiet and he didn’t notice us. It’s rare to see an elephant so close to Rishikesh, though they are common enough in RajaJi National Park.
And this is Swami Ram Das, who invited us into his cave at Tatwala Baba’s ashram. Traditionally, sannyasis don’t use fire, but like many modern sannyasis, this one does. Anyway, he seemed to be a really sincere sadhu and had a serene air about him.
We had hired a jeep for the trip as we didn’t feel like walking up in the heat of the day. It happened that there was a policeman on the road ahead examining permits and our driver didn’t have one, so we reversed the order of our visits to accommodate the problem, as the driver seemed unwilling to find us a jeep that did have the right permit. No problem, though it made the trip rather longer than it would have been, and instead of getting dropped where we had planned, we came all the way back with the driver.
When we got out, we gave the driver an extra 100 rupees, which we felt was fair, as it took more time and more driving than the original plan, even though it certainly wasn’t our fault. He grumbled a little, but accepted it. However, as we were walking away the taxi boss came marching over and started yelling at us. He made the mistake of grabbing me aggressively by the arm, something that is not acceptable in India at all. Who knows what he was thinking? Anyway, this kind of aggressive behavior tends to make me really stubborn (not a tendency I’m particularly proud of, mind you) and I wasn’t about to give in or back down. He kept yelling and looked like he was going to make another grab, so I whipped out my can of pepper spray and held it in his face and told him I wouldn’t hesitate to use it if he dared to touch me again. I doubt that he knew what I was threatening him with, but he finally got the idea that I wasn’t going to be intimidated and gave up. The irony is that if he had been soft and reasonable instead of aggressive, he could have convinced us to give a little more, but that’s obviously not his style.
For all that, it was a delightful day and we quickly put that incident behind us.
Oh, about the pepper spray. I bought it when I lived in Delhi, and I always keep it with me in an easily accessible pocket of my bag because I’m a single woman and am prone to wandering around all sorts of places by myself, sometimes even at night. This is the first time I’ve ever come close to using it, though. Given the increase in crimes against women everywhere, I feel it’s a good idea. There have been some attacks against foreign women in India, though I’d say we are probably safer here than most places, especially if we are respectful of the culture. I repeat, especially if we are respectful of the culture. Dressing and behaving in a manner that is respectful and modest by Indian standards, which are very conservative, is the number one safety tip for women when it comes to avoiding sexual harassment and assault. (See my book for detailed information about this.) India is not as safe for local women, unfortunately.