My journey on the sleeper from the Punjab took around 12 hours. Which, seeing as it was mostly night time, really wasn’t a hardship. Indian trains are great – easy to sleep on and very organised.
Usually you meet lots of great people too; though not in this particular case. More of my travel mates desire to strangle me here.
No, this time, I was short of sleep and as we were so late, I was rather worried about making my flight back to Bangalore.
So, I get smartly off the train and say yes to a porter. There’s a lot of competition for business and the keen ones actually get on the train (even before it’s actually stopped) and accost you before you’ve got off and are aware of market forces.
I nod at a bloke strong of sinew and very tall and he bends down and his pals lift my bag onto his head and off we go. A taxi driver attaches to my little retinue and after a certain amount of haggling about both cost and speed, off the three of us go up the stairs and across the tracks.
I start asking how much time to the airport, as frankly the train delay means I’m likely to miss my flight if we’re not smartish. I return to the original inflated price and say – if you can get me there for 11, I pay that big price. The silly money. We agree. He negotiates me up from 11am to 11.15. I negotiate the big price down a bit to compensate for us not actually being able to time travel to get there.
I feel confident as we stride off towards the glittering future of me catching my flight.
We cross the bridge and the concourse and the plaza in front of the station and the road to the battered looking taxi van. By this time, business completed, I finally notice that the strong, tall porter, is somewhat short of limbs. That’ll be why the bag was lifted onto his head – he’s only got one arm. Though to be fair, communal lifting of cases is often the way with porters. That way they can carry one on their heads, and have one lifted onto each arm. It’s a sight to see.
Anyway, he doesn’t seem slowed down by the shortage of an arm. And he’s young and fit and striding along. I regret once more my amazing ability to simply not notice people are amputees. Somehow, it just doesn’t register on me very easily. It’s happened on numerous occasions and possibly this means I’m very pro-amputee – you can’t call me prejudiced, I just don’t notice at all!
Anyway, he certainly didn’t seem to consider himself to be disabled and marched on sharply so that soon we arrive at the knackered old taxi. The bag goes in, the driver starts limbering up and doing stretches so he’s ready for the traffic dodges to get us there fast.
I hand over 100 rupees to the porter. Which is more than the going rate in Bangalore, but I’ve been assured is the Delhi rate for one bag.
The one armed porter looks at the single 100 note in disgust, and demands 200.
No. That’s outrageous.
I agree that I will pay more – even though this is more than the going rate, that it is a single bag (as I say, you do see porters carry three, or even more, fairly regularly) and it can only have been carried the usual amount of distance, as surely people always want their bags carried to the taxis.
I decide I will pay, 150 rupees. This is a lot.
He still insists on 200. He is becoming angry.
And then something inside me snaps. I’ve not slept much. I’ve been shouted at by Punjabis on a train a good section of the night, I’ve driven for 3 hours down a mountain in the dark before that, I am about to miss my flight and now… now I’m being gouged by a station porter? Gouged simply because I’m a woman travelling on my own? And because I’m white?
No, this far, and no further.
I tell him this. He knows I’m in a hurry. He insists again. ‘Heavy bag, over the railway bridge’
In a hurry I may be, but he is obviously not aware of just how stubborn Irish girls can be.
First I tell him, it is not a heavy bag. I can carry it and I am known for being feeble. It is not a long way, surely everyone wants to cross the bridge. And finally, and most importantly, I am in a hurry, but I will miss that sodding flight and stand here all day in the street, but I will not pay him twice the going rate for a bag he could have sodding wheeled over here. It was his choice to put it on his head.
I warm to my theme, I tell him I am sick of being gouged because of my colour, because of my gender, because of my passport, because I’m in a hurry.
Usually I’m quite Zen about such things, but today. No. Today, I am not going to have it.
Frankly, it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re arguing in the street with a man with one arm. Particularly, when you’re arguing about the equivalent of a single measly US dollar. A dollar that to him would make quite a lot of difference in his takings.
But I really was sick of being taken for a complete ride – a little more is ok, but twice the going rate? No. Since the incident, I’ve been trying to think of it as not that I was shouting (yes, I’d got a bit shrill by this point), at a cripple making a living carrying heavy things, but instead shouting at an another entrepreneur, one who made his living working the tourist trade. I like to think this entrepreneur had inflated his rates way beyond the going market rate – and was simply having a corrective pricing moment, one where he finally realised the market was not about to bear such rates.
Either way, he saw the steely nature of my stubbornness. He sensed he’d be there a very long time. That I was serious about missing my flight.
So did the taxi driver, he drooped a bit and looked like he might cry. He could see his day disappearing as the man with one arm and the stubborn tourist had hours of stand off. He begged with his eyes that someone would cave in.
Fortunately it wasn’t me. The one armed porter, looked once more at my stubbornness. Realised I really was going to ruin everyones day over this.
He accepted 150 rupees.
I got in the van and we took off like a Ferrari (though a very old and dilapidated one). With lane switching, beeping and cutting in at lights we made it just in time for my flight. With a whole seven minutes to spare!
But still, I have to reconcile that Tuesday I was in the same town as the Dalai Lama. Wednesday I was shouting at a cripple.
India, it brings out a lot of things you didn’t know about yourself. Quite a few of them things you wish you didn’t know…
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