Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Bangalore - Kindness of Strangers Three Times Over
It had been a long day and I was getting worn out from Bangalore's hustle. For a change, I didn't feel like dealing with autorickshaw drivers. But I didn't have much choice. This was a tour of Bangalore's "newer sites" (so there's no Tipu's Palace here). The KTSDC tourist bus was once again filled with local tourists, and I was its lone foreigner.
I was seated beside a gentleman from "Andhra Pradesh," he'd inform me. "Hyderabad" - the capital city? Ah, Charminar! How can I forget my scary encounter with an autorickshaw driver who (after agreeing on a 150 rupee ride - when it should be a mere 50 rupees), hiked the amount to 250 when we got to the site). This post isn't really about the day's itinerary. It's about the people who made a difference today.
I hailed my first autorickshaw at 7AM to get to Badami House (Tour was to start at 7:15). I asked the driver how much I'd have to pay to Badami, and without flinching an eyelid, he readily said, "50 rupees". Yesterday, I was asked for 150 from exactly the same spot in the morning, and upon my return from Mysore, the amount escalated to 180 rupees from another driver. Need more proof on the exponential degree of greed among rickshaw drivers? But this particular driver didn't even think twice. "Fifty rupees," he repeated. That started my day - with a huge smile. These days, people have to be commended for little acts of honesty.
Later in the day, while joining an Animal Safari at the Bannerghata Zoological Park, I got a window seat somewhere in the middle of the bus filled with local tourists. Before entering the Bear Sanctuary, the driver's assistant - a tall and lanky young man - waved his hand at me, then he lead me to the lone front seat opposite the driver. This, obviously, is the bus' best seat, with a clear view from up front as well as to my side. Whenever bears or white tigers would appear to the right side of the bus, the assistant would grab my camera and take amazing photos for me. It was embarrassing getting singled out from a throng of people. My only explanation would be, I was the only foreigner. And this particular foreigner is awash with gratitude for this act of kindness and hospitality.
Finally, while the same group alighted from our bus, this time to visit the National Gallery of Modern Arts (NGMA), we learned from the guide's annotation that the entrance fee for everyone would be 10 rupees, but I had to pay 150 rupees (being a foreigner). While queuing for the ticket, the guide whispered, "Just tell them you're from Dili (or is that Delhi?)". I have been in a similar situation before while traveling in Kathmandu and I didn't like the feeling at all. It was scary and I wasn't thrilled to experience that again. Before my turn came at the ticket booth, the guide (sensing I was gonna pay 150 rupees anyway) collected everyone's 10 rupees - then he shooed all of us outside.
I was frozen stiff! I wouldn't be able to enter that museum that way. In fact, i didn't want to go. But like angels sent from heaven, all my Indian tourmates cordoned themselves around me, their multi-colored sarees shielding me from view, and we moved into the entrance "in a pack". They wanted me to get inside the museum - with them, like I did earlier in some 10 other tourist sites. Heck, I've only spoken to one of them during this whole tour! Yet they were willing to cover for a stranger like me.
Now tell me aren't these Indians the sweetest? I would walk around from one room to the next conscious of the fact that I suddenly acquired 60 new friends. I have to say though that the NGMA has one of the best collections of art work I have ever visited. I immersed myself in the scribbles and drawing of Rabindranath Tagore. I realized there were 2 other Tagores who made significant art work. How I wish I could have taken photographs of the display and share them to you. But it was prohibited. This is one of the best curated collections I have witnessed, and it's a waste that very few people get to see this. Hey people, it's only 10 rupees!
And I saw this collection through the kindness of Indian people's hearts. See? Most Indians find this "paying discrepancy" between locals and foreigners uneven and unfair. Foreigners should pay more, but not "exponentially". Otherwise, we feel like we're being taken advantaged of.
Thank you, my Indian friends for your hospitality. Sometimes, it pays to be a tourist in India because one witnesses the inherent goodness of people.
This is the Eye in the Sky!