Agoraphobia or self-preservation?

11:52 AM

Recently, fellow blogger Gori Rajkumari wrote a post about the things to consider before moving to India, which I encourage you to read as they give a very good insight of what things are around here if you are aiming at the expat life. But the topic of my blog post is not going to be what to consider when moving to India, what stroke me the most was her mention of having become slightly agoraphobic in her years in India.
And that is a feeling I can relate oh too well, and I know many other foreigners living in the country have been through.
Though in my case at least, I am not sure agoraphobia is the exact term I would use for my staying inside my home more than I would have back in Switzerland.
I am by default a private person that generally hates being singled out in a crowd, and well India isn’t the best place for a pale faced girl to do that, whether you like it or not, you are going to stand out. But then anticipating a trip by myself outside my four walls has at times proven to give me a little anxiety, especially in places where I had to rely on auto rickshaws to go places, in Bangalore the auto driver community has become a giant pain in the butt to foreigners and local alike, from not wanting to go some places at certain time, to trying to extort more money out of your fare pretending there is traffic jams ahead, you are never sure if you are going to a) arrive where you want on time and b) how much it is going to cost you thanks to their more and more commonly practiced bargaining in lieu of turning their meter on. It reached a point I was actually in favour of walking as much as I could rather than deal with their lot, simply because I value my sanity more than anything else. Luckily we lived in an area that was fairly central, for 5 years, very close to Koramangala and all it’s shops and restaurants, meaning it wasn’t too much of a hassle on most days. The second time around we lived IN Koramangala itself, 5 minutes away by walk from the Forum Mall, which was the most ideal scenario for me considering DH was travelling a lot and could leave me having to deal with things on my own for over a week at a time sometimes more. The area was also fairly cosmopolitan and I stood out a bit less, which made me feel much better personally. But the Instant I had to go outside my area and the slight anxiety at having to deal with auto drivers was back, so yup since agoraphobia is actually a fear of unfamiliar places I guess it would fit the bill to call it just that.

After years of living in Bangalore and now living in Mumbai, one thing I am now really starting to appreciate is the relative honesty of drivers around here, they tend to refuse going places at peak hour but otherwise are happy to take you where you want without much discussion at all, and they turn the meter without you having to ask them to do it, they rarely cheat on the conversion table, and never ask extra money pretending they got stuck in the rain or in a traffic jam, but years of dread don’t just go away that fast, and yes even though I know I won’t have to deal with the unpleasant the thought is always on my mind and I tend to brace myself for an argument that end up never taking place, I’ll have to learn to let go while we live here, there are enough other things that can stress a person out in Mumbai without adding phantom stress factors.
Mumbai is presenting me with a new challenge though, I feel freer and less stressed out to go out in my neighbourhood beyond the walkable distance (which are shorter thanks to a overly humid and hot climate), but there are places I like to go, but learned that they are taxing and draining to face without DH by my side, and that includes area like Juhu beach and Bandra bandstand promenade. I like the ocean view, but Juhu in particular become less than peaceful if you are a foreigner strolling without an Indian bodyguard or husband. I did it with my mom the first time she came to Mumbai, we lasted 15 minutes of being constantly harassed by hawkers selling all kind of crap, suspicious red dye mehendi, monkey dance, filmy photographs taking cheesy pictures of you in the waves, candy floss man, bamboo flute man, balloon guy, popcorn guy…they all come swarming like bees onto some honey toward you, and while I understand they are here to make a living and I have nothing wrong with that, they are just immune to the word NO. They keep harassing you, stalking, shadowing you and yelling stuff like “It’s just one dollar” refusing to understand that you live here and your income is like theirs in rupees. You chase them away, they come back with friends selling the same things as them and they all ask you, again and again, if you will buy their goods, your increasingly angry “NO” fall to deaf ears. And it ended up with me lifting Ishi out of the water and trying to find an isolated corner to just change her wet clothes, which of course never happened as we suddenly had two beggars on us, almost trying to put their hands in my bag and threatening to touch my daughter with their filthy hands (which had me threaten a few nasty kicks) and as I struggled to get her into dry shorts it’s the chai vendor that came right in my face begging me to buy tea…at this point both my mom and I reached the breaking point and shouted like possessed women that had all the begging crowd retreat in shock, and all the other Indian watching suddenly stare at us and offer stare of contempt for some (spoiled selfish firangi not give charity…boooohooo) and other glance of sympathy (been there done that, hang in there). These hawker harassment session are enough to keep me away from places that would otherwise be fun to be especially with a kiddo, when we go it’s with DH who just need to tell them NO once to have them disappear and leave us alone. In other places it’s even fairly well travelled middle class Indian wanting to take your picture for no other reason than you being non-indian, which is puzzling because around the Gateway of India, you would think people would not find such a sight a rarity to begin with, when it is just one family doing it fine, but they usually end up all coming your way and you end up stranded in one spot for ages posing for them, which end up attracting…yep you guessed it…hawkers, and has you flee the place and retreat in a by lane cafe away from the touristic crowd.

Feeling anxious at visiting these places in my opinion is not necessarily agoraphobia, but simple self preservation. When you come from a culture that value privacy so much more than in India, it’s understandable that a not necessarily courteous and nosy crowd is going to slowly push you to a breaking point whether you want it or not. So avoiding the triggers that could turn you into the incredible hulk seems sensible enough.
More than in any other places I have travelled to in my life, it is a necessity to stick to places where you will be among peers. Especially if you are going to live there.
Malls and supermarkets are not evil and so not “typical” and no you aren’t going to be a “tourist” or “looser” for preferring to stick to these shopping arrangement for a majority of your daily need. They have fixed price, decent crowd, language barrier isn’t an issue and they will keep you functional without putting tensions on you.
And as I am now done writing, I lean toward self preservation as a reason why many foreigners I know don’t go out as much as they would have back home rather than agoraphobia, the result is pretty much the same, too much stress leads to anxiety, but a phobia is usually based on an irrational fear. And in the present scenario, the “fear” isn’t irrational, the trigger to the tension is real and easy to pinpoint in most cases.


  1. Charity in India10:12 PM

    Nice Article! Thanks for sharing with us


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