Thursday, February 23, 2006

Death and problems

Woke up at 5AM. Two thoughts went through my head:

1. It's way too early to be up.
2. I'm going to see my first ever dead body in the next two hours.

The sunrise boat-trip of the ganges was very nice - people praying, bathing, and lots and lots of tourists taking indian-rowed boats up and down the river. At times, it seemed like the tourists were taking more photos of each other than of the proper Varanasi sites.

While I didn't see any floating limbs, I did see:

1. A funeral pyre, with a burning body in it. Not too much of the body was exposed, except for two feet sticking out of the side of the fire.
2. A dead goat (with a orange scarf wrapped around its throat) floating/bleeding into the river.
3. A dead cow, against the side of the road.

Later on in the afternoon, I saw 4 people carrying a dead body (wrapped in fabric) above their heads on a makeshift stretcher, as they walked to the ghats to burn it.

Not having too much to do, today was a day for errands.

I caught a cycle-rickshaw the 10km to the fancy part of town, and confirmed my ticket to Thailand. It took a good half hour for the poor man to peddle all the way there. I felt pretty bad for him, but, well, I did give him a 10 rupee tip.

On the way back, I didn't want to sit in the heat for another 30 mins, so I opted for an auto-rickshaw. In the process of haggling, one rickshaw driver suddenly went from 40 rupees to free.

Now. The thing is, I know there is no such thing as a free lunch. I really do know this.

However, I was bored, and I wanted to see what would happen. So I agreed.

Big mistake.

I confirm, multiple times, that I will not have to pay a thing. I'm expecting some kind of shop scam - where he takes you to his friend's silk shop, you're forced to look at clothes for a while, and then you get on your way.

But no. It's a direct (or as direct as Indian traffic will allow) journey to the assi ghat area where I'm hanging out.

Once we arrive, I thank him, step off the rickshaw, and start walking.... 10 seconds later, he drives by, and casually asks, "No money?"...

And this, is the beginning of the balegan (big mess).

For me, this is a moral issue now. He said over and over it was a free trip, and now he was asking for money. In terms of sophisticated scams, this one is not likely to win him a Nobel prize.

For some reason, I really really want to stick my ground.

A crowd gathers, of mostly other rickshaw drivers. They all plead his case, citing communication problems, ignorance and poverty on his part, and least of all, the high price of petrol... At some point, a latino foreigner wanders over, listens for a bit, and proceeds to attempt to give me a right old bollocking - saying that I should know better, and that the money for the fare is nothing in dollars (true)...

The rickshaw driver threatens to call the police, which I happily welcome.. but after calling his bluff, he relents, releasing that they will not take kindly... then one of his friends tells me to continue the discussion in a side alley - where we can fight in peace.

The crowd continues to grow, with maybe 15-20 Indian onlookers.. all nodding and smiling when I attempt to lay out my case... I even figure out the indian word for liar, which gets a big smile....

At this moment, I realize that I'm never going to prove my point, I won't get my free trip without running away from a crazy mob... and so, I accept the rickshaw man's apologly, and his half-assed promise never to lie to a tourist again.. and give him the 40 rupees. End of conflict.

I knew getting into his rickshaw that it'd end in some form of stress... Who knows why I actually followed through.

I suppose I learned my lesson....

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