India Lesson #8: The Selfie

I’m standing outside the Amber Fort in Jaipur, regaled with my sun protection – wide brimmed hat, dark glasses and long sleeves. I’m just about to pay my entrance fee as this bearded Indian man with a bright blue turquoise turban steps up to pay as well.

We look at each other, and a familiar feeling runs through me – the one that folds together a slew of assessments in a second’s time – curiosity, a pinch of fear, desire to know. A multitude of instantaneous quivers run through the body evaluating “this is ok, or no, this is not ok.”

He feels friendly. I feel out of place, a bit awkward, not sure if I’m crossing any gender or cultural boundary, but I take the chanceand say, "Nice color,” referring to his turban. Which I mean sincerely.

He smiles and wags his head from side to side. He’s about to step off the curb towards a car, but turns to me and says, “Selfie?”

I smile. “Absolutely!”

He  whips out his cell phone, puts his arm around my shoulder and snaps a selfie. “Oh, me too,” I say, grabbing my phone from my purse, and we take another one. We both laugh, smile again and I can feel my heart open a crack more.

Throughout this trip I’ve had many people approach me for a selfie – young women, groups of young men, families. And each time I’m delighted to take a selfie with them – my only request is that I get a snap too. There’s often a lot of giggling when we look at the pictures and some unspoken awkward understanding that we are all curious about each other and are trying to bridge some cultural gap without knowing it.

Those who’ve asked for a selfie have taught me a great lesson, which is to just go ahead and ask to take a photo. Then we all have a choice. There are many pictures over the years I have not taken of people because I felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to invade someone’s personal space with a camera. 

Now I am practicing my new lesson and ask people to take their picture either with me or solo. It’s been so liberating.