By the end of the day yesterday, both Caleb and I were sick to death of the tourist hustle. We had hired a driver to take us to the Taj Mahal (more on that later), whose accelerate-hard-and-brake-fast method of driving made us both nauseous. To combat the motion sickness, Caleb took his belt off, and strapped his head to the headrest of his seat.
Given that we were unaccompanied and white, our driver had seen an opportunity to take advantage of us. When we arrived in Agra—the shit hole of a city where the Taj is located—his “friend” hopped in the front seat, and proceeded to guide us around the monument, uninvited. We were grateful for the help until he took us to a tourist scam inlay marble store. The owner there wore diamond rings on each of his fingers. We didn’t buy anything, and the “friend,” infuriated, hopped out of the car at the next opportunity.
On the way home, our driver, without warning us, stopped to treat himself to lunch at a famous Indian restaurant. We sat and waited for him for 20 minutes, our bourgeois manners preventing us from asking where he was going, before he returned, and told us we might want to eat there as well. All the while, vendors, road side beggars, and children swarmed around the car.
It sounds terrible to say this, but the experience of sitting in a car in India, out on the open road, is akin to what I imagine it must be like to be accosted by hungry zombies. People approach the windows with dead eyes, plaster themselves against the glass, and start methodically (and violently) tapping as you sit there, trying not to make eye contact.
Yesterday, I lost my temper, and began shouting at them to go away. “No!” I shouted at a man with a starving looking monkey on a chain. “Get away!” I screamed at a man selling colored beads. “Stop!” I screamed at a teenage boy with a cobra snake.
Eventually, a young boy, about 7-years-old, approached us solo. He began tapping on the window, in a ritualized, bored manner. He affected starving and destitute, rubbing his belly, and looking forlorn. It was a well-worn show.
“Let’s give him some fruit,” I said to Caleb, sitting next to me. “And see if he takes it.”
There’s a lot of shitty things to be said about how disillusioned you become in India. You stop feeling bad for people, and start feeling disdainful of them, even if they’re little kids.
So I held up an apple, and held it up to the window. “Do you want it?” I asked him non-verbally.
He nodded his head. I rolled down the window, and handed it to him. I smiled. He smiled. Then he turned around, and threw the apple into the road.
“Little fucker,” I said. But I already knew exactly what he was going to do. Caleb and I started laughing, and the kid smirked, shrugged his shoulders, and moved into the shade to wait for the next car.
“I can’t believe that!” Caleb said, sarcastically. Then he started taking the kid’s picture, so we could illustrate the story when we came back home.
He shot two photographs, and then I got uncomfortable. “This isn’t funny,” I said. “This is a shithead thing to do.”
”I know,” Caleb said.
I fumed for a while afterwards, not at Caleb or the kid, but at India as a whole. I thought about ways to put everything that I’m feeling. But I still haven’t come up with anything intelligent.
Caleb said something insightful today, when we were walking around our beautiful, immaculate, bourgeois neighborhood in Brooklyn. “Here, when someone says, make a 90 degree angle, workers make a 90 degree angle,” he said, looking at a building being erected at the end of his street.
“In India, they make it 91 degrees, or 92 degrees, and no one gives a shit,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if the building lasts. It just matters that it stands up until no one is looking.”
“I’m just happy to be home,” I said, enjoying the feeling of walking on the sidewalk without worrying about getting animal shit all over my lily white and freshly scrubbed feet. Here, people are conscious of their actions. They have the luxury of time. There, people just survive. They live only for the next rupee.