I’ve had a few stressful drives in my life and this was definitely on the list. I’m jammed into a jeep with 11 other people barreling down the mountain side from Darjeeling. This is not a ride for those who get car sick. But we’re ok. We arrive in Siliguri well in time to catch out train to Kolkata. But how to get to the train station? Timed perfectly, as usual, a motor rickshaw pulls up.
“20 rupees (40 cents)”
Shit. He just drove off. I guess 20 is a fair price. And so we start walking in the direction of the station, but one of my friend’s has found a cycle rickshaw who will take us for 20 rupees total. We can’t fit all on one rickshaw and once again, as if they can sense it, a 2nd rickshaw pulls up.
“Whole rickshaw to the train station 20 rupees?”
He bobbles his head.
“He bobbled his head.”
“What does that mean??”
“I think it means yes. Let’s go.”
“Does it though? I mean it looks like yes and no…”
We pile into both rickshaws, backpacks and all, and begin what turns out to be a very long and uncomfortable 20 minute cycle rickshaw ride to NJP Junction. We dismount awkwardly.
“200 rupees ($4).”
“Did he just say 200 rps? is he out of his mind?”
“That fucking bobble head.”
And so the argument begins. You said 20. But that was to the market. We took you to the station. Yes, we only wanted to go to the station. We never said market.
And now crowd is forming. Suddenly there are 10 people standing around us. In India, disputes are a type of sport. Everyone puts their 2 cents worth in and in this case, many had an opinion.
We offer both drivers 50 rupees ($1). They’ve dropped their fee to 100 rps, but even then, it’s highway robbery. The spectators have also begun to chime in agreeing with us. The fact of the matter is, you can’t agree to 20 and then ask for 200. “Give them each 50 and walk away” We thank the spectators and start heading inside, but oddly enough the crowd doesn’t dissipate. There’s a moral issue on the table. How do we treat tourists? For many, tourists are viewed as rich so what’s the big deal if you extort them a little? It’s only a couple of dollars to them. But like everything else it’s relative. My supposed wealth has to last me quite a long time and it’s not being replenished. But after visiting Kolkata, our state of poverty and wealth is astronomically different in comparison. 3000 people live in the city landfill. They spend their days digging thru the mounds of trash searching for the ever valuable plastic. If they are lucky, they’ll find the thicker variety which will yield them a higher selling price. In a small village on an island in the Bay of Bengal, women in saris drag nets behind them during the cooler hours searching for baby shrimp. They empty their nets into bowls and watch for movement as the shrimp are thread-like and barely visible.One lady brought over a bowl and showed us the shrimp. She only had two. Each will only earn her 2 rupees a piece and those took her an hour to catch. Four rupees per hour. 7 cents. If she collects a full kilo, she will get 150 rupees. IF.
In the end, can you blame them for trying to get a little extra? It’s not right, but if God forgot about you, would you care about right and wrong?