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12 November 2005

a lone traveler but never alone

last night was another late reading night. i'd picked up two books from a street vendor in bangalore using some expert haggling skills.

'how much is this book?'

'100 rupees.'

'and do you have the tower of physics?'

'the _tao_ of physics? yes. 120 rupees.'

'would you take 250 rupees for both?'

[confused look and then one sideways head bobble to signify 'yes, you foolish tourist. allow me to relieve you of the burden of your money.'.]

i'd been caught up in the intensity of the moment and my mind had misregistered the prices as rs150 and rs120. it was only when i was walking away with the books in hand that i replayed the conversation and distinctly heard the man say rs100 and rs120. i wasn't concerned about the rs30; i felt that i'd done tourists everywhere a disservice.

this morning i ran into afrosh after breakfast. it appeared he'd been waiting specifically for me; when he saw me he jumped up eagerly and asked if we were going to kanchipuram today. i felt he'd been a part of the atm deception and replied coldly that no, we would not be going to kanchipuram today. i explained to him that i didn't appreciate that yesterday he and raghu had told me that the closest atm was 10km from town when in fact the closest atm was only a 10 minute walk away from my hotel.

'but you can't use that one! that's only for indians!' he appeared genuinely upset that i'd accused him of lying to me.

'my card has worked in every atm that i've tried in india. i doubt what you're saying is true.'

'no... no... you can't use that atm.'

but i was already walking away, sure that he was trying to cover up his deception. 11 minutes later i felt horrible; i'd walked to the atm and sure enough, it wouldn't accept either of my cards. i walked back to apologize to him but he was gone. i'm sorry afrosh.

that afternoon i did some shopping (yes, willfully) and then revisited the stone caves and temples. i stealthily passed through the gauntlet of guides and found myself alone on the rocks as the sun set. during the tour with kani the day before, i hadn't realized the size of the monument park. massive. and goats, and temples, and a lighthouse. and then the bats. it was nice to wander and climb alone, away from those who seek to relieve me of my burden. the isolations of india. a lone traveler but never alone.

i feel like all i've been doing lately is complaining. i very much wish sarah or another friend were here so we could exchange feelings and ideas about all of the differences, and there are many. every day the strange sights appear less strange... cows walking the streets, families sleeping on the sidewalks, the ubiquitous heaps of trash... i no longer look twice. but every day brings new strangers and i never quite feel comfortable. i am still desperately trying to absorb and process and adapt to all that is india.

posted by paul on Sat 12 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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