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Lord of the Lie does not discriminate and other seasonal warnings

The season is just round the corner

“Any travel tips?” A friend from Hawaii asked me before she embarked on her first trip to India.

“Do not carry anything in your pockets and do not accept any food or drink from strangers.” Even my house-bound mama could have handed her these gems. Nevertheless she took it with the beautiful aloha-grace of the island.

“Mahalo.” She said.

But my friend’s first stop was the milling Mumbai from where she was craving for a pav bhaji on the ever-more-milling Chowpatty beach. The typical backpacker that she was, she would be using local transport only. Hence my wisdom vignettes on pickpockets and spiky co-travellers.

Save for scuba diving off Karnataka’s beaches in full length tee shirts – remember, she is from Hawaii – she was back in Kauai after a month with lots of happy photographs and memories. But all is not so honky dory with everybody who comes to India. Then all isn’t over with just happy memories and photographs for even the domestic traveller. When it comes to scamming a few rupees, or a few hundred rupees, there is no desi-videsi divide. We are all equal in the eyes of the Lord of the Lie. After all, ‘pocket friendliness’ can be redefined on anybody with pockets. Tourist-thuggish is not always blue-collar as you would find with a throbbing head in Rome or London or shaking uncontrollably in that dark alley in Paris, but it can also be quite white-collar with lots of edgy camaraderie and even risqué romance thrown in for good measure.
For all my pals visiting India – the season is just another month away – here are a list of the tried and tested tourist traps that we have laid for you.

The cabbie who knows nothing

Which way, madam?

Once you get inside the cab, he turns around with his best Sunday-smile to inform you that not only he does not know the way to your hotel but today is his first day behind the wheels. Depending on how lovely you look, he will also tell you more about how he graduated just the previous day and decided to take up driving for he had to feed, well, many mouths. Now, you must be really hard-hearted not to make his first day at work a smooth-sail and inform him – with a tap on his shoulders – that you two will conquer together. Depending on how lucky you are, he might also even know a place where you will be better off – a place run by his own brother, where you will get anything (wink) you want. Sold? Please don’t be mad at yourself as you stow away money in those secret patches and pockets that night only to see how much you have overshot the budget – and it’s only the first day!

What you see if not always what you get

Actual view might change a little bit

On the website the property had squeaky-clean bed linens and the windows opened to a vast expanse of green. The copy assured you that despite all these, it was right in the middle of the town; within walking distance to the railway station, airport, bazaar, bars and a dozen marvels of the land. Well for one you should realise that the airport and the railway station cannot be that close – it is potentially dangerous. Another thing you would do well to remember is that there is nothing which is not within ‘walking distance’ – well, probably we take the terminology a tad too light as the father of our nation used to walk great distances. Once you check in, you neither find clean linens nor are you able to even open the windows – it is jammed against the wall of the adjacent building. You complain to the management who apologises profusely and offer you a ‘much better room but a slightly higher price’. Here the windows do open, but to a heat-spewing air conditioner. We count on you to be sufficiently fagged out by lugging your luggage around to whine anymore.

The government closed the reservation counter

Platform antics

Put me at a railway reservation counter today and I will think of my first day in school – all the billowing, berating and the glowing hatred, the absolute lack of any direction, or space and the unnerving absence of a kindred soul are all here too. Boy, I cannot even imagine if you are one of those ever-smiling, bowing Japanese! The tout – well dressed with passable English – will inform you that the reservation counter has been shut down and the trains are all full and the only way to reach the Pushkar Festival starting tomorrow is to come with him, right now. At a paan-strewn seedy corner, you are introduced to the ticket inspector (you won’t miss him – he will have his black coat on for credentials) who will give you a ticket for which you pay thrice the printed price. “Bed, bathroom, all there,” he assures you. The camels beckon you and you pay. Please remember to regale your co-passengers – you will find plenty of others, it is the season – with your story as you spend the night sitting on the wet floor outside the train toilet whose door will not shut.

Sir, what’s the exchange rate? Or the CP hustle

I also accept dollar and euro

A fool is born every hour, they say. A fool is made every hour, is how we would like to put it. However innocuous you try to look, we know that you have that hidden patch where you carry your documents and a wad of dollar bills for emergency. No, we will not pry it off you like our brothers in Los Angeles, but make you part with some on your own. After all, can you resist a neat-looking chap asking you in correct English what the exchange rates are to the dollar? You have to be dumb for not knowing. So you tell him what you learnt at the airport – lower than those on the streets. He, incidentally, can get you a higher rupee for your dollar but please make the transaction fast as it is illegal to be exchanging money on the streets. You take out your wad and he digs out his own bundles, at the exact moment of exchange, there are cop whistles and lathi-thuds on the concrete sidewalk. As you both scram, he will scream at you that you can meet him there same time tomorrow as today just got busy. But back in the hotel room you will know that he won’t be coming as the rupee notes in your hand are all fake. The manoeuvre is called the ‘CP hustle’ as the Connaught Place in Delhi has one of these on a daily basis.

Yours forever. And yours. And yours

Meet my mama

Will the girls ever learn!

A lot of guys from Gaya in Bihar have Japanese fiancées. And it’s really got nothing much to do with Buddhism, at least after the tourists have landed. What happens here are a little bit of Mills & Boon and a whole lot of Harold Robbins. You are a pretty lady, alone or in a group don’t matter, but would help if you are lonely. Better if you have a good heart. We could be your ever-attentive driver or guide or translator or the guy you just-met-at-the-curio-shop. It also helps that we are good to look at and virile and are good listeners. Oh, we also weave a good yarn: Did you know that my father left my mother when I was a kid and I am the only breadwinner in my family? Did I tell you that my only sister is studying to be a doctor paying a sky-high fee? Have I shared with you my mother’s kebabs which are very famous? Would you like to come home to try some? Surely, my mom would also love to meet my new friend. No girl can ever say ‘no’ to a mother and off you go to a night of some quiet family dinner. You wonder aloud at how young and pretty the mother is; all fears buried when we share some wonderful weed we have set aside exclusively for such lovely moments. What is the meaning of love unless you go back and cut me a cheque – regularly – which will cover my sister’s fee? Or propose marriage and take me with you – a proposition I may not really prefer as the woman you met was actually my mother. And there is also a small issue of a few others like you sending me money too.

Will you ever learn? No, We guess not. We hope not.

Despite all these listings if you still manage to part with a few dollars to some new exemplary device, please try and understand that though we did invent the zero, we hate being empty-handed. And hey, don’t forget to send me the fantastic tale – I will be compiling a new list next year.

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