There I was, soaking in the setting sun and the pristine, expansive beauty of the Indian Ocean paradise that is the Maldives, ignoring the phone and switched off from social media. It was sheer bliss, till my reverie was interrupted by… could it be? No, surely not. Not here in a luxurious resort in this high-end tourist country. But, yes, it was unmistakably so. The sounds of Kaala-chashma, the pulsating Bollywood song, were thumping through the air. The stingrays in front of me darted, and large reef sharks zipped through the waves, as if it beat to the music.
I craned my neck to see what was going on. Keen observer that I am, I hadn’t seen hordes of Indians milling around the resort. My journalistic sleuthing had clearly been on the back burner because a few quick enquiries of the wait staff later, I learned that it was an OTT celebration by an Indian couple to commemorate their 25th wedding anniversary. They had flown in friends and family from South India and were having a big bash on another end of the island. “We are very popular with Indians now, madam,” said the helpful and rather talkative Maldivian waiter. “Indians make money, they like to spend it. Just two weeks ago, we had a big Indian wedding. You Indians really take dancing very seriously.”
I tried to channel back some of that inner Zen I had been focussed on cultivating during this holiday, although it was hard when Hyderabad seemed to be in my backyard. Eventually, I gave up, stuck in some earplugs and went to bed. Blissfully, all was calm the next morning. When I enquired about the partying group, I was told they had checked out early.
Even though India seems to be having some political hiccups with the Maldives, and we are weary about the growing Chinese presence here, it doesn’t seem to have affected tourism from our parts to these slowly sinking islands. Wealthy Indians have invested in a big name, luxurious resorts across myriad atolls, buying islands and forming joint ventures with plush hotel chains. The country is a popular destination for a tiny subset of our rich. The number of Indians visiting has risen 24% between 2016 and 2017, according to the Maldivian Tourism Ministry, which estimates that about 1,00,000 Indians are expected to visit by the end of this year. A few months ago, one couple friend of mine visited the Maldives twice in three weeks. But our numbers pale next to the Chinese — who also love to visit this sun-kissed Utopia.
One aspect of the growing number of Chinese tourists everywhere is that suddenly we Indians, with our bizarre swimwear attire, seem not so out of place. Anyone who has cringed at seeing a pot-bellied Indian man in his banyan and very tiny swim bottoms should stop feeling embarrassed immediately. The Chinese are more afraid of the sun than we are. They wear full-fledged top-to-bottom body suits and facekinis, a sort of ski mask with holes cut out for the ears, nose and mouth. The first time I spotted one on the beach, I was petrified and wondered if thieves had set upon the island. Then I realised there were little kids frolicking about. It was a sight to behold. What would the French authorities, who have banned burkinis — the full body swimsuit — on the beach and fined women for wearing them, have made of this outfit?
It got me thinking — how come these burkinis and facekinis haven’t caught on in India in a big way? They are perfect for our modest way of dressing and our fear of getting tanned. Forget working out to get a bikini ready body. A full body suit is a liberating relief. It’s also so much better than seeing uncles in undies and aunties in salwars and saris wading into the water. This is one neighbour-inspired fashion item we can definitely embrace. Hindi-Cheeni bhai bhai.
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