Monday, February 06, 2006


**Back to Trip Stories**

"Excuse me ma'am!" Hello!" "Yes, hello!" "Would you like...?" "Hello!" "Excuse me!" "No charge for looking!" "Hello!" "Hello!" "Hello!"

Traveling in India is exhausting because you must constantly have your guard up against the never-ending tidal wave of human interaction. Between the street-side touts selling their trinkets and the heart-breaking beggars looking for charity, any trip outside brings with it an inevitable barrage of people. And it wears you out.

The touts are mainly annoying. I come from a world where, for the most part, "No" means "No." (After all, we've all had middle school sex-ed talks). Here, "No" means anything from "Perhaps later" to "Why yes, please show me more of your worthless crap, and while you're at it, please ask your friends to show me their junk too." Postcards. "Genuine" garnet necklaces. Chess sets. Wallets. Paintings. Bracelets. Carved elephants.

You name it, they sell it, and they give new meaning to the word "persistent." Being polite is futile. Being anything but a stone wall is futile. So much as a careless glance in the direction of the merchandise is taken as a sign of intense interest and the level of hassling increases exponentially. Grrrr.

While the street vendors drive you crazy, the beggars shred your soul a thousand times a day. Dirty mothers with dirtier children tap at the window of the taxis, holding their hands out in supplication or touching their fingers to their lips, repeating "bread." They all wear matching expressions of weary resolve and have all mastered the exact same vocal inflection for their requests, so that one slides into another in a seamless flow.

Then there are the cripples. Missing arms and legs, or possessing them but disfigured beyond recognition. They hobble and crawl along the side of the road, sometimes with a cup, sometimes simply with hands upraised. They don't say much. They don't have to. And there's nothing you can do. Rationally, your mind knows that--you can't help everyone; your money might not even be a help; if you give to one tortured face, there will be fifty more when you turn around. The only way to avoid going catatonic when the press of helpless suffering gets too much is to steel yourself against it. Look past it and keep moving, ignoring the hands grasping at your sleeve. Eventually you break away, but you are left with a deep feeling of sadness, mingled with shame.


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