“A country where everyone is in a hurry but no one is ever on time”
I’ve come to realise that the India I’ve visited twice now, the India I’ve come to acknowledge with a hint of an eye roll, a sudden dose of heightened anxiety, and a rapidly increasing heart rate, is not the true India at all. Coming here with locals has been the greatest privilege.
In the past my experiences here have been an assault on base logic, a perversion of the tourism trade, an obstruction of all levels of western manners. But this was when I came as a tourist. This is when I was fair game in what is pretty much a game of thrones. Basically I was Sansa Stark. It didn’t come across as a land of people who are welcoming you to come back, like Bali for example – where it’s a group effort to keep nourishing their tourist trade. In India it seemed to be about getting everything from you in the immediate, out of desperate opportunism, in a once only transaction, with no concern for repeat business or sustainability of trade.
But as I sit here, on the balcony of my friend Abhimanyu’s parents beautiful house in Udaipur, the sun is shining down on me and I’m truly relaxed. There’s some pleasant drum and bell style music performing live at a temple a block away, I’m sipping on Chai and enjoying this moment. It’s a contrast to the dirty India of my previous trips, the lies and dishonesty that turn a price equivalent to a week’s salary into three months by overvaluing their trade to my disadvantage, the men living dark moments with me through their lengthy imaginative stares.
When you’re not a tourist in India, the way you see their world changes. Abhi’s family are the warmest, most loving people. I was woken this morning with a kiss on the forehead from his mother, and then an all over body tuck, fussing over me to make sure I wouldn’t get cold. This is the second time she’s met me, and the first was only for a moment. I speak a handful of Hindi, and she speaks only words of English. But the love she’s showing me is so welcoming.
Of course, not everyone is going to kiss me, and most are not welcome to. Last night, for example, on arrival into Udaipur, Abhi arranged a prepaid taxi from the airport to his home. With three of us, and enough luggage to clothe a small Indian village, we’d hoped for a people mover, but would have settled for a sedan. However. Opportunism seems to preside over logic in this country. We were met by the Indian equivalent of Ron Jeremy. A man with a head of Indian hair, a giant hairy caterpillar across his face, inappropriately tight jeans and a pleather jacket. I’ll call him Pornstache.
Pornstache didn’t help us with our luggage. He walked twenty metres ahead while Ela struggled with a suitcase that was actually twice her size and more than half her weight. His vehicle was a tamagotchi on wheels, upon whose roof he threw our suitcase with such force and zero care. Referring to his claptrap vehicle as a tamagotchi is being polite. This was a less attractive vehicle of tamagotchi size. Certainly not as shiny, and badly maintained. If the car were a tamagotchi, this virtual pet was near dead with little chance of revival.
Almost as soon as we were on the road, we veered off again, because Indian logic says one should definitely take time for vehicle maintenance once customers are on board – not before or after. This was not a matter of petrol. No – more importantly this, ladies and gentlemen, was a perfect time to add some air to Pornstache’s little tamagotchi tyres – worn though they were.
As we travelled along in our freshly pumped tires with little tread, we were dedicated participants in the standard Indian style honking – not through frustration or anger with other drivers, but more “I’m here”. Not a delighted tooting announcement of “I’m here! What a wonderful world and I’m so happy to be here alive in it!”. No. More like “I’m here. I’m honking without reason. I’m simply contributing to the noise pollution in this country. I don’t even know why I’m honking, but everyone else is. Because logic doesn’t apply here”. I’m not joking about this. I’ve had many a conversation with locals about when to use the horn and why. It’s not threatening. It’s not a warning. Not cautionary. No rhyme, no reason. Literally – I’m here, and everyone else is doing it. As it says on the rear of all vehicles: Horn OK please. Your standard Hinglish, which by definition means “toot me”. It’s the vehicle equivalent of call me maybe.
So as Pornstache tooted, drove up fearfully close to trucks in front of us, and braked suddenly in an alarming count of moments, I imagined my heavy black suitcase jerked from its precarious position perching on the roof rails, overtaking our claptrap tamagotchi, and flying at rapid speed into the car in front of us. Almost like a Mario cart game, my luggage would become weaponry to take out anyone in our way. Fortunately, in the world that was not my imagination, Pornstache, in his lacklustre tamagotchi, got us safely to Abhi’s parents place – roof suitcases in tact.
For many, this experience would already send the anxiety levels through the roof (where, untied and perched precariously on the roof rack, it would no doubt be sent flying into several other vehicles). Now imagine that I wasn’t with Abhi and Ela. Without them, we have me, my precariously placed suitcase operating as Mario cart ammo, and my new Indian mate Pornstache travelling at high, but jerky velocity, in pitch black darkness, with nothing around us but the dark outskirts of Udaipur. So many horror story possibilities as he likely would be learing at me in the rearview mirror and contemplating how best to get away with all kinds of dark mischief. You now start to understand why I’m feeling so relaxed, so taken care of, and so safe. It’s all relative you see. Sansa Stark thrived most when she had protection. The dangers were still present, but she had a great haulking man-lady bodyguard, and life was practically Khaleesi for a moment there. So… House Stark (or in this case Singh) all the way!