Indian Friend – Is it Possible to make a true one?
Making a true friend in India, what a touchy subject. I am sincerely hoping that I do not come off as too negative in this post, for it is not my intention.
Arriving at the Pushkar Camel Fair is a lot to take in. As the tourists have beaten you here by many years, and Indians of all sides of life have come as well, it is probably not the best place to make a true Indian friend.
A you walk down the street, following the throngs of people… you will have many people putting out their hands whenever they pass you. Unfortunately you know that giving them money doesn’t fix the problem. So you push on and learn to say ‘no’ or ‘nay, nay’ to anyone who approaches you.
As you walk past the street barrier and the crowd thickens, someone puts a flower in your hand and says that you have to throw it in the lake…
“Holy festival” he says “must do it for respect”. It sounds like some sort of ploy you so you try to give it back, but no go… he won’t take it. He insists on explaining the ritual to you as you walk. Finally you’ve had enough, and forcefully put it back in his hand.
“No sir, respect festival sir” he says, refusing to take it.
“I don’t want it” you’ll say…
“Why no, sir?”
“I don’t want you to keep beside me” you’ll spit out, and feel a little piece of you die as the words echo in your ears.
“No problem sir, you walk to lake alone sir” he’ll say, undaunted, un-fazed and certainly not hurt by your words… and he walks off. Maybe he was just your Indian friend.
You see him lurking, and watching your every step. He passes off to another guy, who follows you and passes to another guy and another. Finally you get near the lake and the last guy tells you where to go. You go down, he shows you some blessing to do. You see many other people doing it and it calms your nerves… perhaps this is legit.
At the end, he asks you how much you will donate and tells you that many people donate 10,000 rupees ($200)… You call bullshit.
“How much will you give sir?”
“I don’t know… not much”
“You must give something to the gods sir”
“The gods have no use for money”
“Yes sir, your donation, shows that you love the gods, you give your money to them, you get good luck for you and family”
“At least 1000, sir”
“100” you say, unwilling to believe that you’ve entered negotiations to appease someone who pushed his appeasement of the gods upon you… damn appeasers!
“500, sir…. for your family”
“No more than 100” you say sternly… giving it to him “take it, or nothing”
“100 for you, 100 for family”
“100 for my family, my life is blessed enough” you say as he takes the coconut out of your hand clearly quite upset with your ‘lack of respect’.
Guess that wasn’t your Indian friend. You walk away not quite sure if you have indeed disrespected the gods or just gotten away cheap from a scam… oh well, continuing on.
You see the fair grounds, and take a sharp left away from it. Who needs to see Ferris Wheels? Let’s go find the camels. A ‘self-proclaimed’ gypsy starts talking to you. You keep walking, but damn this one is persistent. Before you know it, she’s putting some sort of mud on your hands in the shape of a flower.
“I’m not paying you” you say
“No problem sir, just for luck”
Eventually you sit down, she paints on both hands… you realize it’s henna and curse yourself for not figuring out this ploy earlier. You start crunching some numbers… she’s playing the harp strings, showing you her sick family and telling you how difficult her life is as a Gypsy… Finally she’s done. Enter the negotiations… you think about just running. After all, you didn’t ask her to do this. You were just looking for an Indian friend.
“How much you give sir?” She asks like it’s a donation to a charity. “Normally 1000 for each side… normal 2000 for you sir”“No way I’m giving you 2000 for that” you say appalled with her first price. You put 200 rupees in her hand.
“Not possible sir”
“That’s all you’re getting” you insist… these negotiations go on for awhile without much headway, she won’t come below 500 and you won’t go above 200. Of course you know that you shouldn’t start bargaining with your final price, but you didn’t think you were in a bargaining situation… damn! Finally, she asks you to buy her flour for chapatti saying it’s only 300. You agree. It turns out being 400 and she walks away with it in her hand after saying that you’ll pay. Guess that wasn’t your Indian Friend.
Some guy gives you a tour of the camels “god will pay me” he says… he takes you around
for a couple of hours showing you everything. Seems like a good Indian friend. In the end he only wants money as well. You give him $1 american as you have no Indian rupees left. He does seem fairly genuine anyway. Walking away after you’ve paid him he shouts out to you that he misses you already. Maybe that was your indian friend??
Now a new guy comes up to you, asks you to sit and talk to him… so you do, but show him that you have no money.
“No problem,” he says, “I no need money”. You call bullshit, but sit and talk with him anyway. He tells you that he’s ‘desert person’ and lives in poor village. You heart goes out to him and you sincerely wish you could help. He says that a long time ago, a few Spaniards come to his village,
“They live for three months and teach me English.” Now he can make a little bit of money by selling his instruments to tourists. He seems like a genuine Indian friend.
You talk with him for awhile, and he asks if you would like to see his house… you say sure and walk away for a half hour trek into the desert. You discuss to much extent the benefit of having a white person in the village so that the ‘poor desert people’ can have a way to learn English.
“Rich Indians don’t see the poor,” he tells you… and you know that he’s speaking the truth as you’ve been watching how badly Indians treat each other over the last few weeks. Finally you get to his ‘village’ and realize just exactly how poor it is. It is made up of a few houses which are constructed from sticks, using a tarp to cover the roof. Everyone sleeps on the floor, and electricity is not to be seen. You hope you can help… but aren’t sure just what you can do here. You spend all night with him, and he never mentions money. He is a true Indian friend… and you most certainly will come back and spend a couple of weeks… if only you can think of a way to be useful. His talking to you snaps you out of your daydream.
“You know, very cold here at night” He says, as his wife just stares at you, unable to communicate in English.
“What is your age difference?” You ask, hoping that it’s not a rude question.
“She 20, me 32” he responds.
“You know her before you get married?”
“No, never” he responds, “You married, my friend?”
“Not really… it’s complicated”
“Oh, I think you can get married very quickly my friend?”
“I’m not looking to get married thanks”
“God like you, you very kind, god see true heart, you marry very quickly… good wife”
“Okay,” you respond… and attempt to switch the focus back to him, “So you meet your wife at marriage?”
“Yes… she good wife”
“Does she feel the same?” You ask unsure if you’re pushing your boundaries.
“She know she good wife” he reponds, not quite understanding your meaning.
“How does your system work?”
“I meet her father, he like me, promise her to me”
“How old were you?”
“15 when I meet her father”
You know that it’s part of the traveller’s creed to not hold judgement of another culture… but you find it hard to not see inherent flaws in a system where a girl of 3 years old is promised to a man for marriage. But after all, are you willing to say that the Western world really has the answers regarding marriage? You don’t like this system… it’s not just… but with a divorce rate well over 50% the whole marriage system in the west needs to be rethought as well…
“My tent very bad” he says again snapping you out of your thoughts.
“Yes, I imagine very cold at night”
“But new tent very expensive” ….. son-of-a-bitch… you know exactly where this is going. Don’t do it friend… don’t do it! You’re my only true Indian friend. Don’t make this about money! Make it about my labour, make it about my contacts, make it about my ability to build you a new house… just don’t make it about money!
“Can you help buy new tent?” … and you did it. were you ever my Indian Friend??? Was this ever about a real connection or did you manipulate every word, every interaction in order to appear worse off?
“How much is new tent?” You say trying to buy time and you consider your options… You’re in the middle of the desert, a good half hour walk away from the city and it’s dark. Even if you can find the right route, there’s no telling if you’ll get there in one piece. The one thing you have going for you is that you showed your ‘Indian friend’ that you have no money on you… keep that up!
“15000 for best one” you hear him say
“How much was the cheapest one?”
“6000, but it not very good”
“I have no money with me”
“I know friend, I don’t need now… but when we go back to your hotel, you go in and get it” …and the plot thickens. In the very least, you can get back to your hotel.
“I can’t give you 6000”
“What can you give me?”
“I don’t know” and you go into a long narrative about how you would’ve loved to stay with him for a couple of weeks and leave money if he never asked… but now that he’s asked you don’t want to give anything… you’ll pay for the food. Eventually you settle on 500.
“Thank you” he says without going into negotiations.
“I borrow bike to get you back to town” and apparently this is a new negotiation. He speaks to his neighbour who owns the bike, who will lend it to him for 200… he asks you for it and you say no. Finally you end up saying you’ll pay 100 of it. 600 total… just around $10… ridiculously expensive for India, but this is your own fault, so you’ll have to let it go.
Finally you get back to the city, and just say ‘screw it’… you take out the american cash you have hidden away in your bag, give him a $10 and bid adieu… crushed.
A very, very expensive day in India. How did you let yourself get into this?
The question is how to grow a thick skin without allowing it to harden your heart.
You’re convinced that you can make some real friendships with Indians while you’re here. How are you going to go about figuring this out though? Clearly your system today didn’t work… you ended up paying 3 days budget for things you didn’t need/want.
You know that there’s another side to this story. In fact, you’re pretty sure that you’re only looking at the symptoms and aren’t even remotely getting to the causes or the root of the issue. It is unfair to leave it as such a one-sided view… are you not just adding to the problem? You’ll have to revisit this issue shortly, and attempt to articulate to the best of your abilities the manner in which cultures get adversely affected due to tourism and the exploitation from the western world.
You decide you’ll go back to an old trick that you learned a while ago. Volunteer and learn the language. You’re certain that if you get into a proper volunteering position, you’ll meet locals that will interact with you on a different level… and of course you know that you have to speak the language if you ever want to change the manner in which you are viewed.
Maybe you will find a true Indian Friend yet.
You might find that in a couple of weeks you have almost the exact opposite problem with too many Indian friends as part of the hazards of being a small town traveler, or that life in a giant sandcastle is a great way to make true Indian friends.