Entry #28: Sean, the white
One word to describe India: Iinsane.
From the airport, I jumped in a cab, with some Americans who were there for a wedding, to head for
the train station. The rules of the road are vague in India and apparently
it is not uncommon to drive in the wrong direction on the highway...at
60 MPH no less. My heart was pounding at the end of that trip. As I boarded
the train to Agara, I was able to observe a freak show of different medical ailments .
I think I saw a guy with elephantitis of the feet...it was weird.
But what is even weirder is that people were staring at ME and not
at that guy.
If you ever wanted to know what it is like to be
Michael Jackson with a swarm of adoring fans (and you are pale like
me), then go to India to achieve instant celebrity status. Upon departing
from the train I made a pact with Kelly (an attractive white girl)
that we should make our way to the hotel together because, you know,
safety in numbers (I was worried about gypsies and pick-pockets.)
I thought at first people were gawking at her, but as you will see
later, any white person is reason enough to start a frenzy in India.
Kelly and I hung out for the two days in Agra visiting
the Taj Mahal. Kelly had only planned to stay one day, but the Taj Mahal was
closed when we arrived, so she stayed longer. When we first arrived at the Taj to find out it was closed we decided to walk the perimeter of the complex to see what we could see.
We were soon hounded by a 10 year old kid who kept repeating "Give me a dollar." I kept repeating"No". Eventually after about 20 minutes we had a little heart to heart and he explained that he had nothing else to do for the rest of the day, so to follow me, a white westerner for the next 4 hours and ask for a dollar every 10 seconds is a sort of entertainment for him. And if I break, which most tourist do after about 20 minutes, he'll get a dollar. I explained my situation where I felt that if I gave him a dollar, then he would tell his friends and soon all the kids would be asking for dollars. This would spoil many peoples experience of visiting the Taj Mahal and many would not tell their friends to visit. Thus killing the jobs associated with tourism and also reducing the number of people to ask a dollar from. He was 10. He didn't get it. He wanted his dollar. He didn't get it.
The Taj Mahal was best described by my father (who
has never been there) as, "an Island of opulence in a sea of
filth." It is a perfect description. I never suspected that there
could be such things as stray cows and pigs. You walk down the street
and the dogs, cats, pigs and cows are all eating from the same pile
of trash. Not to mention that one of my first sights was seeing
3 kids carrying piles of cow
manure on their heads!
Once we were in the Taj Mahal, we were swarmed
by people who wanted to have their photo taken with us. They also
wanted to shake our hands. It was overwhelming, but I figured they
really just wanted a picture of Kelly and didn't want to offend me.
We must have taken some 100 photos with
other people. Luckily, Kelly got tired and didn't want to have
any more photos taken. It was exhausting.
The next day Kelly and I took the train to Delhi, where we shared the nastiest hotel room on my whole trip. We were hounded by hotel touts from the moment we left teh train and couldn't shake them, so we just took the next hotel we walked into. It was a bad choice. I think the guy next door had Typhoid and was hours from death the way he coughed all night. At 5 AM the dogs started fighting outside, that was followed by consturction in the next room. By 7 AM, Kelly and I parted
ways, as she was scheduled to take a train to Goa. I made my way to the Red Fort, which hadn't opened yet. As I
stood there waiting at the entrance, people stopped and stared at
me. Soon the crowd grew to about 60 people...all men...silently staring.
At me. I tried to keep my cool, because I thought I was about to get
knocked down by this silent, watchful mob and have all my stuff stolen.
But then one guy says,
The crowd sways forward to hear me respond, "USA"
"My name is Sean."
The crowd then proceeds to slaughter the pronunciation
of my name as they all try to repeat it. One guy extends his hand
for a handshake. I shake it, and immediately the rest of the crowd extends their hands for
me to shake too. As I began shaking each and every mans hand,
the crowd starts pushing and shoving into shaking grasp, or in an
attempt to just touch me. Meanwhile, I kept a firm grasp on my wallet
and remained conscious of the whereabouts of my bag, expecting at
any moment for things to turn ugly. Soon, the crowd grew large and
frenzied enough for security to take notice. The Red Fort police took
me under protective custody from the rabid crowd by shooing me into
their fortress to keep me safe. The crowd surrounded the
booth to continue staring at me through the windows. Eventually, a
few of them were able to pull open the windows, and one by one they
reached through the window to shake hands (see photo.)
MANY EVEN ASKED ME TO AUTOGRAPH THEIR SKIN! No joke. It was crazy
to have that kind of celebrity just because I was white. Eventually
the Red Fort opened (I was given a special police escort and allowed
to enter through a special non-peasant entrance) only to have my fan
base follow me around for the next hour.
I am glad to leave India for Tanzania where I hope
I won't attract as much attention.
FYI We stayed at Hotel Shelly in Agra and thought it was very nice...just in case you are thinking of going. And the Taj is closed on Fridays for cleaning