road to Pushkar

… Cliff and Tamella…

After we finally settled on the bus, we sat back for the long road ahead.  I mentally prepared myself for a lot of honking, lane cutting, passing, and overall danger.  To my surprise and pleasure, we were now on a 6 lane highway that was very smooth.  We traveled along at about 60 miles per hour without traffic and hassle.  The fast speed of the bus blew a nice breeze throughout taking away the various smells and the hot stale air.

Cliff and Tamella and I soon began talking about all subjects related to travel and eventually our conversation turned to other subjects.  Without fail, the subject of international politics came up – as it often does when talking to people from other countries.  They asked about the sentiment in the US regarding the war in Iraq.  They asked about Bush’s popularity, etc.  I do discuss the subject of the war carefully as many have very strong opinions about it and it can sometimes become “uncomfortable.”

Eventually, the conversation turned and Tamella asked what the latest child naming trends where in the US:

Tamella:  What sort of names are popular in the US these days?

Me:  Well, we had a biblical resurgence a decade  to fifteen years ago.  Names like Sarah, Joshua, Jacob,  and similar names were very popular (as I say this I realize that I’ve named off ½ of my nephews and nieces J )

Tamella:  Oh really?

Me:  And, in the late 80’s and early 90’s capitalistic names were very popular; Mercedes, Paris, Porsche, etc.

Tamella:  What have the trends been like lately?

Me:  Nature names seem to be popular as of late; Lark, Meadow, Hunter, Sky, etc.

Cliff:  We should name the kids like the Native Americans did; if you saw something at the time of the child’s birth, that became his name; Soaring Eagle, Two Deers, Screaming Elk, something like that.

Tamella:  (In a strong Australian accent) Yaya Clayff, but thay didn’t hahv highways back thayen.  What would you nayem ‘yer kid now?  “Flat dayd dawg, or two squirrel rawd keeyl?”

We all enjoyed a good laugh as the bus zoomed down the smooth road.  And with the good conversation and cool breeze, the 4 hour trip felt like 45 minutes.  By the time we arrive in Pushkar I feel refreshed without all of the swerving and horn blaring.

We climbed off the bus to collect our bags and we are immediately swamped by a wave of hotel agents, restaurant solicitors, beggars, and vendors selling anything and everything Indian.  I saw one man on a wheeled sled and offered him some Rupees.  As he had no legs, I had pity on him.  But, he also had a certain sense of pinache; he was funny, charismatic, and always had a genuine smile.

We push through the crowd and work our way towards town.  The vendors are relentless.  Most of the travelers have a copy of the LP Guidebook and have in their minds a certain desire of self exploration.  The vendors do not share their sense of independence and exploration.  To them, this is merely a life and death struggle for a share of the tourist trade that will put food on their tables and clothing on their children.  Rainer has the LP guide out and begins to orient himself to the map and the town land marks.  He and his girlfriend have selected 3 of the most recommended hotels and are determined to get to those hotels – hotel hawks or not.

As we push into Pushkar, I stare ahead with a blank look on my face.  I refuse to even acknowledge the vendors.  This seems to work, after one or two attempts, they leave me alone.  One of the German tourists, with his proper German manners, simply finds himself unable to ignore them.  He continually repeats, “No thank you,” and “Please leave us alone.”  His responses seem to encourage them and they hound him all the way through Pushkar.  He begins to grow frustrated with them and raises his voice.  But this encourages them even more.  They plead with him to visit their hotel, to just take a quick look.  They all guarantee the lowest price, the cleanest rooms, and the coldest fan.  The word “clean” in a budget hotel in India is a figurative description.  And regardless of the vendor’s claims, a fan is a fan and does not compare to air conditioning.

We walk along in the hot sun.  The venodors beg.  the German pleads.  I look along into empty space thinking the whole way, “Doesn’t he get it?”  His “I’m not interested,” is heard as, “I want to be sold, you’re not trying hard enough.”  Maybe the German has never had a sales job before.  If he had, he would better understand the rules of sales and jungle capitalism.  As my mind wanders I begin to think that the US Fortune 500 companies are recruiting in the wrong places.  Instead of going to US colleges for their talent, they should come to India.  These guys could sell circles around most US sales execs.

Right then, it all comes rushing back.  My first experience with an Indian in America while working at a sales job.  After I was laid off from my job in the great recession that hit Los Angeles and California in the early 90’s, I took a sales job to pay the rent and to keep the phone turned on.  It was a horrible job.  It was stressful and hard work.  I couldn’t stand it and only lasted one summer.  Those 6 months were some of the longest time I’ve ever experienced.  To this day, I can still hear my sales manager’s voice, “If I ever see you talking to a Patel again, you’re fired!”

I was talking to a large Indian family.  They were pleasant and polite.  I explained the company’s product line and then went to the office to get some forms.  My Sales Manager ambushed me at the office door:

SM:  What are you doing?

ME:  I’m making a sale.

SM:  (With a tone of disbelief and disgust) With them?  Not to them you’re not!

ME:  Why not?  I don’t understand.

SM:  They’ll never buy from you.  They’ll waste your time haggling over price for hours.  And in the end, they will NEVER buy from you.

ME:  Well, they have to buy from someone.

SM:  They ALL buy from Indian wholesalers.  They are only here to toy with you.

ME:  (I couldn’t really believe him, it made no sense)  Then why are they here?  Why would they spend hours talking to me if they aren’t going to buy?

SM:  It’s a sport for them.  It makes them feel like they are at home.  There is no where else in America where they can haggle.  The movie theater, the grocery store, the mall, they all have fixed prices.  These people have no where to go and haggle.  They dream about a new and inexperienced salesman that they can chew up for 6 or 8 hours.  When he said “these people,” I could hear a certain amount of hate in his voice.

He walked back to the window and looked out.  He had a 1,000 yard stare much like a grizzled veteran that had served 2 tours in Iraq or Vietnam.  He muttered to himself, “Chinese.  It’s good when we have Chinese.  They have more money than Las Vegas.  It’s always a good day when the Chinese are shopping.  Not the Indians, they never buy anything.  I started back out to let the Indian family know that I wouldn’t be helping them.  The Sales Manager stopped me, “Where are you going?”  I replied, “I’m going to tell them.”  “No,” he said, “Let them stew.  I catch you talking to a Patel again and you’re fired.”

Patel, that’s the nickname for the Indians that I hear over and over again in the workplace.  Later, I am told that Patel is a common name in the caste of hotel owners.  It makes sense as so many Indians come to America and open or buy hotels…

At that job I heard every Indian joke in the book and learned to perfect my Indian accent.  It would not be until over 10 years later that I would learn more than just the stereotypes and prejudices of my own country.  I think Mark Twain said it best:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.


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