India: A Survivor's Guide
My American friends, Fussball and Zealot (names changed to convey personality traits) had just returned from a long vacation to India so I invited them over for dinner to hear about it.
They'd spent 8 weeks mostly traveling through hard-to-reach spots, everything from Leh to Gangtok to Andaman Islands. Fussball looked five shades darker, quite a deviation from his ultra pale complexion, which meant one could spot him in pictures now. Zealot looked happy with a deep inner glow, which meant her dream of hanging with Lamas on monastery porches had probably come true.
After the initial download of 'in awe' stories about the “breathtaking beauty, unique history, incredible architecture, scrumptious cuisine and hospitable culture” came the fun ones.
Fussball spared no details about all the conclusions he had drawn which he now wants to pass on as wisdom to other fellow travelers to India:
Male passengers on overnight trains have mastered the art of synchronized snoring. It's deafening and frustrating but at least it's well choreographed. Carrying popcorn to toss in their open mouths can help momentarily. Use ‘Kumar’ as your last name while keeping your American first name intact and you’re guaranteed exceptional service in hotels, restaurants and public transport. In metros you’re just one of them but in rural areas, if they try to touch you, take your picture with their phone or run behind you, don’t fret. Return the favor and you'll either amuse them or scare them away. Inquisitiveness runs deep in the country so be prepared to divulge details anytime anywhere on everything from current relationship status to what you gain out of chewing on gum all day. Queues aren’t all that hard to figure out. Abandon all courtesies, “actively queue” and defend your position lest someone and his entire clan get ahead of you. If you lack horns and a tail, get real and don’t expect traffic to flow around you. Shout or get your vehicle to shout. Loudest one gets the right of way. Get your facts right. Ask someone if they speak Hindu and you might hear "I also speak Jewish, Islam and Christianity." There are times when “excuse me” may not work but “arrey bhaisaab” almost always does. You just gotta emote and say it right. Never question the inexplicable kick some guys get out of urinating on monuments. Dark corners of palaces, monuments and even temples across the country unmistakably smell of ammoniac. Move on. They are surprisingly empathetic to your digestive problems which you will have soon as you land. Blame your low immunity and food gluttony for that one.
Zealot had a rather sweet set of conclusions that included phrases like ‘joy in her heart' and ‘song on her lips' and was mesmerized by the exotic nature of it all.
Needless to mention, despite all the entertaining anecdotes, Fussball got served no dessert that night and Zealot got more than her share of it.