This woman almost took me to the cleaners!
She did take me to the grocer.
innocently taking photos of the beautiful people and the sights
and the crows
when I felt something cool and soft on my arm. I looked down, and there she was, tying a bracelet of fresh jasmine flowers around my wrist.
I started to back away, but she smiled so sweetly, saying, “No money. No money.” That sounded nice. She tied on the bracelet. I asked if I could take her picture. “Yes.” I offered five rupees (about 15 cents.) She said, “No money. No money. Food? You buy me some food?”
Well, that jibed with the traveler’s cliché that everyone mouths—by a begging person food rather than giving money. It seemed like a good idea. So she pointed toward the entrance of the plaza. We walked together, and she talked very sweetly. She said that police would take her money if she had money. Hmm. That seemed a little strange.
She led me to the street and then down a little alley. Now, I was getting suspicious. She’s probably got some friends down here who are going to knife me!
“Here, just take this money.” “No money. No money.” She pointed to a little storefront right ahead, just two doors down in the alley. So I kept going.
When we got there, she said, “Rice, milk for babies?” I said, “Okay.” I asked for rice and milk. The grocer brought out a huge bag of rice and a gigantic can of milk. She said, “Two rice. Two milk. Babies. Eat,” touching her mouth with her fingers. I asked how much. The grim grocer said, “800 rupees.” (about $20). I said, “Too much. Too much.” So we haggled for a while. “How much you want to spend.” “I showed him 50 rupees, about a dollar. He frowned. Showed me a small can of milk, showed me the printed price on the bottom. Small bag of rice. “400 Rupees!”
Slowly the plan became clear. I would buy her the food. She give the food back to the grocer and get a cut . The owner would land a big sale and keep both the food and the money. So, I said, “No. No.” I gave her the 50 rupees and walked away.
It was a clever plan. And, of course, it goes without saying that the woman doesn’t have many opportunities, nor does the grocer.
Spending a day at a major tourist spot was a different kind of experience than my previous two days in a regular neighborhood of Mumbai. I’ll be sad to leave here.