Having travelled a fair bit across India, I tend to get asked to describe the country quite often. Especially by those who haven’t been there but it’s on their “bucket list”. Clearly, I have nothing but good things to say about the country. I rave about the generosity and kindness of the people, the culture, the landscape, the diversity, the mountains, the beaches… and then I always find myself adding “but it’s completely crazy”. There’s no other word to describe it.
What I meant was that India is a place where everything is contrary to what we Westerners would find typical. Every day I would experience something big or small, which would make me think “Wow, did that really just happen??”
Here are a couple of short examples:
1) Sweet Change-
Everywhere in India, you’ll find little makeshift “shops” at the side of the road. Basically a wooden shack with enough space to display some items and have a “shopkeeper” behind the “counter”. Naturally, I pondered over to one of these “shops” in Munnar looking for some mundane item (I think it was matches). I handed over a note of some denomination and held out my hand to receive the change. I was handed a few sweets in colourful wrapping. I began to question it…. and was basically told with a shrug and smile “wouldn’t you prefer sweets to carrying lots of coins?” Fair enough. And I was on my way. It’s important to note that I was only owed small change, maybe 5 rupees which is the equivalent to approximately 4 pence. But still, can you imagine being given sweets instead of coins for change the next time you buy something from your local newsagent?! Over time, this became such a regular occurrence that when I was given actual change, I gave a funny look and stomped off with a bitter taste in my mouth (literally due to the lack of sweets).
2) Honest Con-
We got off the train in Hampi (in South India) after an 18 hour journey, and the usual chaos of being swarmed by tuk-tuk drivers ensued. I was pretty used to this by now and the key is to just get off the train, head down, ignore all the flapping hands and cries of “YOU NEED RICKSHAW SIR?! I HAVE BEST RICKSHAW, CHEAP PRICE”, put down your bag and wait for a bit. It’s too much to try and listen to every driver who is promising to take you for the lowest rate to the best hotel. After getting my breath back (and making it known that I’m in charge here), the youngest looking driver quotes a price which undercuts everyone by about 50%. For arguments sake, let’s say he charged 50 rupees instead of 100 rupees. Obviously, I said yes (I’m Indian too remember). Once we got to the guest house, I gave him 50 rupees, as agreed. He looked at me with wide eyes and said “but sir, give me 100 rupees”. I said “but you said it was 50!?”. The next response was one of my favourite moments in India. The kid was probably around 16 at most. He put on his biggest cheesy smile, held out his hand and with a little head wobble said “CHEATING, SIR”. Basically translates to “yeah, but that was a lie just to get your business, common mate don’t you know anything?!” Just for the sheer cheek (and honesty), I paid him full price.
That’s India… you gotta love it.