Sitting under a tree by India Gate

From: Tommy Hermansen
Date: Sat Apr 21, 2001 10:23am
Subject: Sitting under a tree by India Gate

Next to me on the bench is a local guy who doesn’t speak much English. I guess that in a big metropolis like this people have other sources of income, which don’t require them to communicate with us tourists. I noticed the Norwegian flags all over the park and asked him if he knew why they were there. He had no idea what I was talking about, so I pointed out the red pieces of cloth with white and blue cross, hanging from all the light posts – waving in the wind. He didn’t know. We kept on chatting for a while, during which a beggar came crawling up to us. I shook my head and told the beggar I didn’t have any coins – and my new friend on the bench made it very clear to him by yelling something in Hindi. The beggar crawled further on his way. Some monkeyboys came running to us as well. I don’t know whatever their deal is; but these assholes were all over the park, keeping monkeys in a tight leash and dressing them up as people. My best guess is some kind of freak entertainment and torture show. I don’t really support animal cruelty so I waved them away too. The man on the bench assisted me in translating the following words to Hindi: bike, tree, water and fountain. I’ve forgotten all about it now of course. I bid him goodbye on his own language (something resembling the ultra imperial “cheerio”) and went walking down the path towards the monument.

India Gate has a striking resemblance to the Arc de Triumph in Paris; and is situated at the far end of the Rajpath Parade Street, the street leading down from the Presidential Palace. Seeing it gave me a sudden craving for freshly baked croissants. I walked over to the nearby stalls to see if they had anything to eat, but of course they only had the usual plastic knickknacks and other useless crap the Indians love and cherish so much. “Can I help you, Sir”; a man peered out from his auto-ricksaw. By then I’d been walking around in the scorching sun all morning, and started to get quite hungry. “Yes” I replied, “How much to New Delhi Railway Station?” “Where’s your hotel, Sir? In the Main Bazaar?” He had me pegged within 10 seconds of meeting me. “Yes, the Vivek” I replied. “I know it” he said, and demanded “Pipty rupees!” Way to much of course, “What, fifty rupees? -No way my friend, I’ll walk It.” – “Excuse me Sir, I thought you meant going there then back” Why ever would I want to go to my hotel and then come back out here, I briefly pondered. “Thirty” he said. “OK, let’s go”, I was getting hungry. About a hundred meters down the street he stopped the ricksaw, and turned around and offered to show the governmental buildings in the area – for free – provided I’d accompany him to a shop he knew, and then maybe buy something. He obviously had a percentage deal with them. I had no special plans for the next half-hour – other than getting something for lunch. And he looked nice enough, so I went along with his proposal. We drove past the Military Buildings, Prime Minister’s office, Presidential Palace, and what not. A good tourist guide, actually. He told me he’d been driving for the last 21 years and he was still a poor man. He stopped the ricksaw in a back alley somewhere, and guided me down a flight of stairs.

The white bearded Kashmiri owner of the store greeted me welcome as I reached the bottom of the stairs, and wanted to know whether I was interested in carpets or other handicrafts. I told him handicrafts, as the notion of lugging a big Arabian style carpet around for the next who knows how many months, didn’t appeal to me that much. “OK, just follow the boy” he said and nodded in the direction of a man of about my age. “Please make yourself comfortable” this new guy offered, and held his open palm towards a small stool by the counter. I sat down, and another guy appeared with a cup of Kashmir tea, which he handed to me. I had a few sips, and suddenly remembered a story about a hotel here in India that ran a scam during several years. They deliberately gave their guests severe food poisoning – and as a friendly complementary gesture signed them into a cooperating private clinic which put the poor victim on an overpriced drip, while dipping into their credit card and travelers insurance. The professional salesman laid his well-rehearsed sales pitch onto me. The general idea, I soon figured out, was to trick me into leaving his store with one of his Pashmina shawls, deprived of a fat wad of my hard-earned cash. He presented me with some embroidered ones, some very nice double side embroidered ones, some single color ones, and some multicolor ones. All in various mixed percentages of cashmere wool – and other materials like silk. Some in a 70/30 per cent blend, some “pipty/pipty”. All kinds of shit and all of them just for women. “Gifts” he said, for my wife, my mother, my girlfriend, my aunt, or my sister – any woman in my life. He went on about how marvelously the light was shining off the fabric, when I started to get lightheaded. “Hold it, hold it!” I yelled, “What are the prices please?” I was thinking about the possible drugs in that tea. Maybe I was just overheating because of the 35 centigrade outside, or was I overwhelmed by this asshole’s fast talk? All good questions in that particular time and space. Who knows? “Well, we accept all major credit cards, Sir.” I was not about to hand over my Visa card to this thief, so I snapped back at him: “No! Cash only! And the PRICE please!” “How many do you need, Sir?” I had no idea; “How about those two?” randomly singling out a couple of blue ones. “In this shop, Sir. We don’t sell our stuff. We actually GIVE it away in return for a nominal fee.” “Whatever do you mean?” I said, “and please name your FEE!” “Well Sir, for those two SIMPLE ones – together: 3000 rupees only, Sir.” “WHAT? I’m a backpacker! I can’t afford fucking 3000 rupe’s on gifts!” I was quickly backing out of the deal. “Okay, give me your best price” he shot back with the cheap standard hawker question. “Look, at a hypothetical TOTAL maximum, I could only manage to pay you about two thirds of that. How does 2000 sound?” He reached out and grabbed my hand – “Deal!” he grinned, and snapped his fingers. All kinds of activity started going on in that cellar. “Pack up these two MARVELOUS items for this gentleman please!” Some obscure guys in a dark corner scrambled. “Wait a minute” I said, “I don’t have that kind of cash on me right now.” “No problem,” apperantly ” I’ll just accompany you to the bank” the sales bastard uttered.

My next and carnal primitive instinct was to gnaw my wounded leg out of their trap – SOON and FAST! I freaked out and went totally paranoid over the possible drugging scenario. “Fuck you, fuck you, FUCK YOU!” I yelled, backed out and ran back up the stairs. I ran away not knowing where the hell I was going, other than fleeing. I stopped halfway down the street remembering the ricksaw driver who was waiting for me at the store. I turned around and saw him storming out onto the street after me. I waved for him to come down the street to pick me up. He was at a complete loss looking like a question mark, as he pulled over by my sidewalk refuge. “Get me out of here, quick!” I screamed at him. “What happened?” he asked as we came around the bend and onto another dirty smelly downtown street. My heart was still racing, and my paranoid thoughts kept on ripping through my brain. I was on the edge of my seat. “Calm down” he said, “I’m on your side.” Yeah right, I thought. I wanted to cover my tracks, and demanded that he’d drive me straight down to the train station. “I have all my luggage there.” I lied, I’d already told this guy which hotel I was staying at – goddamn it, so I wanted to give the impression I had figured them out, that I was going to leave town right away, and not falling for their hospital insurance scam. As we came up by the station, I told him I’d changed my mind. “Drive me to the German Bakery in the Bazaar instead, I have friends there.” He obeyed.

“I think Delhi is getting to me” I told my backpacker friends as I chewed down a croissant with my Masala Chai. Smiling because of the action I’d just been through.

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