Home > inequality, racism / white privilege, travel > Buddha cafe, Mamallapuram. Western travellers with the world at our feet

Buddha cafe, Mamallapuram. Western travellers with the world at our feet

My previous post, on how I don’t feel guilty, just deeply aware, about my privilege hopefully frames this post.

In Buddha cafe, Mamallapuram eating scrambled eggs on buttered toast, in a nice hippy setting, watching Otthavadai Street below me. We really do have this part of India (/most of the planet) well set up for us Westerners :/ Everybody is trying to cater to our wants and needs. Trying their hardest to tempt us to part with our over valued hard currency with seductive consumerist offerings.

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We are in luxury here. Tropical setting. The best locations are converted into hotels for us, rooftop restaurants styled and catering for us along the seafront. Whatever goods or postcards or trinkets might suit our Western tastes for that exotic flavour of India (with questionable authenticity. Guys you’re in Tamil Nadu not Tibet!) are endlessly brought before us by locals to whom what is mere pennies to us, is life sustaining rupees to them. We irritably say No, if we acknowledge them at all, until we need something at which time it is effortlessly there for us. These endless pretty “ethnic” trinkets that we can casually wear in trendy bars back home as nonchalant evidence that we are in the ranks of the sophisticated and have travelled, have floated around exotic places: “Oh this? I picked it up for pennies from a local in a saree on a beach in Mamallapuram. Isn’t it darling!”

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And me? Here I sit drinking coffee made to suit my western tastes at 5x (£0.50) what I pay when I sit in a local cafe, but instead of a whitewalled, metal tabled place on the street, I have a wooden table, yellow half walls, framed with bamboo and thatching so its bright and airy, pretty lights, gentle music, cushions on the floor if I want to sit at one of the floor tables, and, if I choose, fellow travellers around to share smug tales of where we’ve been and what you really must do, see, experience in the next place.

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My scrambled eggs and buttered toast were 3x what I paid for yesterday’s breakfast of idli (steamed rice cakes) and omelette in a cafe otherwise entirely filled with Indians. But the eggs were done (more or less) to my Western tastes and instead of constant curious stares from locals* making me feel a self conscious novelty item as I eat alien food, I’m in a Western environment eating comfort food from my childhood, looking down on Othavadai St and its UK festival or Brighton style colourful hippy shops. Today I’m leaving the Indian and international tourist hub of Mamallapuram and so I’m treating myself to the easy comfort of a place much like one I’d hang out in Glasgow (imagine mono in the tropics) and not feel too challenged about my place in the world.

* Polite greetings in the local language together with smiling connections with local women relaxes the subject, and object, of their staring.

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  1. red
    February 6, 2014 at 7:10 am

    I wish I was with you.

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