Lesson #1: The Price is Never Fixed
You can haggle for literally everything in India — even when there are signs saying “Price is fixed.” The process is like interpretive dance: prices hang in limbo while unresolved arms sway and strike poses to the rhythms of sari fabrics brushing through sultry dust. The choreography ends only when one partner promenades away or both acquiesce with side-to-side nods of the head, like metronomes syncing to the tempo.
On my way back from Elephanta Island, a land of tiny, very buff monkeys and ancient carved-out caves, I saw an elephant statue I knew my mother would love. It was my last full day in India and I hadn’t experienced a good haggle yet, so, driven with Jewish prudence and a new found love for the game, I decided that this would be my time of great barter.
“500 rupees!” the seller yelled with a hungry accent.
“100 rupees!” I quacked back, receiving a humiliating laugh from my opponent.
Lesson #2: Delhi Belly is Inevitable
You’ll opt for ice-less drinks and spend all of your rupees on bottled water to brush your teeth, wash your hands, and cleanse the crust from your touristy eyes. You’ll even choose to skip out on all those beautiful platters of watermelon they sell in the market just because they have the word water in the them. Still, you’ll positively, without fail, get a case of the super gross “loose motions,” also known as extreme diarrhea.
Luckily, “Delhi Belly,” as it’s also called, only affected the last two days of my trip. I remember how quickly I ran from the Gateway of India to that one McDonald’s many kilometers away when my loose motions decided to strike. How I wish I could remember the Victorian architectural exploits that I ran past, holding inside whatever I could with whatever strength I still had as I ran, ran, ran, trying in earnest to keep my bottom intact.
I made it to the toilet, if that’s what you’re wondering. And I kept making it to the toilet for three weeks back home in Brooklyn.
Lesson #3: Forget the Puppies
I was going to write something about how awesome it was to have cute street puppies follow me around everywhere ‘cause I had cookies in my pockets and was eager to feed them all the time — IT WAGGED ITS LITTLE TAIL AT ME — but I have changed my mind because they actually didn’t want my cookies. So, instead, let’s talk about the goat.
The goat: poor, sweet, simple-minded, wispy-bearded, round-eyed; allowed to frolic around for a bit and believe in independence, but oh, how that knife strikes close and the basmati rice is really begging for a kebabed friend. Destiny for a goat is a sharp spear, but man, it really rocks to be a cow ‘cause no one will ever eat you — even though your caboose always blocks traffic and your poop’s all over the street.
Lesson #4: Hitler is Everywhere
For serious, he’s everywhere: in commercials for a sitcom about a cranky woman who goes by the nickname “Auntie Hitler”; showcased in every bookstore in Mumbai that’s selling his classic right next to copies of Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.”
Aside from Hitler popping up all over the place, swastikas are everywhere too. I understand that it’s a symbol of good luck in the Hindu religion and how it was co-opted by the Nazis. I also understand that Indian people aren’t Nazis, but even so, it’s weird. It was especially weird when the lady doing my henna for the wedding decided to draw a fat swastika on my forearm.
P.S. I’m Jewish.
P.S.S. She covered it up with a clumsy potted plant.
Lesson #5: Shahrukh Khan is God
Before I knew anything about India, I knew about Shahrukh Khan. He’s the Indian version of Brad Pitt but better, with killer dance moves and hot Indian lady co-stars. His fine looks fill the dream spaces of men and women in his native country and overseas.
Advertisements for his then new movie, Ra.One, had been splattered on every second billboard and the music video promoting it featured the musical capabilities of Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam, better known as Akon. Yeah, that Akon.