So, as I mentioned, on April Fool’s Day, I suffered a little scam.
I asked my Fulbright contact after our meeting if there might be a little supermarket nearby. He told me that there was one called Crawford Market about a mile down the street. So, when I got back to my hotel, I asked the clerk, and he said any of the taxi drivers outside would know where it was. So, I chose the nicest looking guy, who turned out to be very nice. He took me to a giant old castle-like building with Moorish-looking arches on a very busy street. He said that’s where it was. He parked, we got out, and he accompanied me across the thoroughfare. (In my notes from my 2011 trip, I wrote about the art and peril of crossing Indian streets. You basically head out fearlessly into the stream of cars, rickshaws, and motorbikes, creating a little eddy around yourself. Mostly the cars stop or slow for you, the way a river floods around a rock. You happen to be a moving rock, but it works the same way.)
If I’d just been wandering around on my own, I would have loved this market. Inside the stone building were hundreds of little shops and stalls. Everything you might ever want: spice stalls, fruit stalls, tea stalls, fish stalls, trinket stalls. But it did not look like a supermarket, at all. I wanted some packaged things like yogurt, crackers, apple juice, lame foods that I wouldn’t have to worry about washing or peeling.
As we entered the market, a man more or less ran up to us. He seemed to know the driver. He said to follow him. I thought, well, okay. I didn’t feel at any danger or anything. So this guy led us around asking us what I wanted.
He would take us to a stall, but instead of me ordering the items and paying the stall owner, this guy talked to the stall owner, gathered what I wanted, and told me what it cost, and to give it to him. So, at first it didn’t seem too weird–and remember I’m still jet lagged at this point–but before long–working out the rupee to dollar conversions in my head– I could see that the prices were exorbitant. I couldn’t understand why the nice driver was associated with this guy. I finally just had to refuse his prices and tell him to take the juice and yogurt back. So we haggled, which I don’t really enjoy doing. I was pretty pissed. We finally settled on a price, which was exorbitant anyway—about eight dollars for two liter sized cartons of juice and large yogurt. But I wanted out of there, and needed the food.
On the drive back, my driver kept asking if I was happy. I said no. He agreed that the guy at the market was a very bad man. Maybe he didn’t’ know him at all. He felt bad about the job he’d done taking me to the market. When it was time to pay him, he said I could just pay whatever I wanted, of course all this said with him knowing a handful of English words and me only a handful of Hindi words. I paid him a good amount for the ride. I liked him. He was nice.
Moral of the story: In India, random people will come up to you and try to “help” you. You have to be a bit rude, or you’ll get taken to the cleaners–April Fool’s Day or not. I just wish I’d gotten a little picture of him. As I did with my first scam artist on my first trip. I’ll just re-post her pretty face here, in case you run into her at Mumbai’s famous Gate of India.