This story is out-of-place and out of time. But I ended up writing about it this morning, so here it is, and I’ll try to get up to date on our trip soon. Since my family arrived I’ve had less time alone for writing my blog!
One thing we are learning is that you can get a pretty good read on a person right away, if you will only trust your impression. During the times we’ve had trouble with a tuk-tuk driver, for example, Jennifer and I have had an immediate bad feeling about the person. Unfortunately, the impression is subtle, and we have not always acted on it–refusing to engage and walking away and have regretted it.
This seems like common sense, but when someone has an open friendly face and demeanor, a person who engages with you in a friendly way, looks you in the eye, they usually turn out to be an honest, friendly person. The times when a person has had a brooding, sullen, silent, shifty, unfriendly demeanor, often with their personal hygiene and appearance looking more shabby, it’s best to stay away. I’m not sure if that sounds conservative. Sometimes people are just down on their luck. And of course there are naked holy men walking around. But most often, these less open an friendly people have been the ones who have cheated us or tried to cheat us. I remember there was a book that came out a few years ago about how women should trust their instincts. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the slick con artist, the woman at the Gateway to India on my first visit.
Anyway, on our second day in Pune, it was Jennifer’s birthday! As a treat, we took a tuk-tuk to the Pune Baking Company in the Marriott Hotel, for espresso drinks and treats for the boys. We had a fine ride over, and a very nice air-conditioned time at the coffee shop. A real relief since our flat is not air-conditioned.
As we were leaving, on the way out to the street, we were looking for a tuk-tuk. A driver at the corner waved us over. (Beware of the overly helpful!) So we went. He was a bit shabby looking, with long stringy hair, poorly shaven, and without an open clear face. There were two tuk-tuks sitting there. We got into the first one, not the one of the guy who hailed us over. I knew that usually you take the one in front, as they line up like taxi cabs at airports. The driver didn’t seem to know the place we wanted to go. So we got out and moved to the one in front. Jennifer and the boys got in. I was asking the driver how many rupees it was going to cost.
Then a young guy in jeans and a polo shirt walked up. He started talking to the driver, intervening in the conversation, talking in Marathi or Hindi to him and to me in English. Evidently, he was worried about the driver cheating us. We hadn’t agreed on a price, but the young guy was emphatic.
The driver was angry. He says: “Do you know this guy? He says he’s a student. Are you a professor?”
“Yes, I am a professor.
“Is he your student? Look, he’s smoking!!!!!”
He held up the student’s cupped hand in which he was holding a cigarette. I’m thinking, “Why the hell would I care if he’s smoking.” I made a gesture showing I didn’t’ care.
The student said, “Don’t let these guys cheat you. They are supposed to used the meter. They’re trying to cheat you.”
This is all weird. Whether you pay 50 or 100 rupees is not that big a deal — a dollar or a dollar and a half. And I felt that his help was a little premature, as I had not even settled on a price with the driver. We had just taken a metered ride from the flat to the hotel, so I knew what the price should be. Plus, he probably thought we had just arrived in India and didn’t know what we were doing, when this was my third trip to India, and on this one I’d already been here a month and taken many tuk-tuk rides.
My basic rule is, “No meter, no tip.” I tip generously. If the meter says 50 rupees, I give a 100. I want to share some of my Fulbright funds with ordinary folks, not just hotel owners and airlines. But if a driver want to try to negotiate a price instead of using the meter as he’s supposed to do, they’re going to be worse off.
Anyway, the guys are starting to really argue. Jennifer seeing that this was not going well, gets herself and the boys out of the tuk-tuk and says, “Come on, Michael. Let’s find someone else.”
I think, okay, that’s a wise move. I start to move off toward the family and then hear shouting behind me. The driver and the college guy are really yelling at each other. They begin to push and scuffle. Then the long-haired driver swings and hits the college kid.
I yell, “Hey, you guys, break it up! ” I go back to try to do something. I was feeling bad since the college kid had been trying to help.
They keep shoving and pushing each other. As I get close to them, Jennifer yells,
“Come on, Michael. Don’t get involved in that!”
I turn back. As I do I look back and the driver’s wrestled the college guy to the sidewalk. He’s on top of him. I start to go back to help. But Jennifer and the boys are walking toward the hotel entrance. She tells a security guard that there’s trouble. I pass the hotel gate and tell another guard that there’s a fight on the corner. The guards (there are security guards everywhere) go over and start breaking up the fight. I stop to see what happens. The guards have separated them. They guys are still swinging, yelling at each other.
I catch up to the family.
“Let’s cross the street and cross the main street and we’ll get a tuk-tuk on the quiet street we came in on.”
So, we do. I’m worried about Aidan and Kellen. I say, “Everyone was okay. I watched to make sure no one got hurt. The guards broke up the fight.”
I can tell that Aidan is upset. I keep reassuring him. He’s quick-witted, always looking for solutions. He says,
“I like older tuk-tuk drivers. I don’t think we should use the young ones anymore.”
The rest of Jennifer’s birthday day went off without a hitch.