Taxi Drivers Take Us For A Ride…

by Pam

Here in India, every driver has a friend, and every friend has a business, and every businessman runs an orphanage, and every one of them thus far has managed to part us from a good chunk of our money.

We make up excuses and justifications for our accidental rampant spending: We are weak. We like things. We are American. We are still confused by Indian money. We feel sad when people say the word “orphan.”

After several of these purchases, it occurs to me that we are becoming “those people.” Those people whose homes are decorated with exotic, though mismatched, treasures acquired on their travels. Every piece will have a story, a long story, a story with which we will bore dinner guests, children and grandchildren for years to come. Stories that will all start with phrases like, “Oh yes, we picked that up near the ancient fort in Jodhpur right before we were pickpocketed by monkeys,” or, “That was hand-stitched by Hindu eunuchs,” or, “That piece is a great example of the….blah, blah, blah.” Every story will grind into a long winded history lesson. Word will get around. No one will come to visit. We’ll die old and alone. But with a bunch a really cool stuff.

As practice, I’ve decided to do the rundown of the past week’s travels as seen through the lens of the past week’s purchases; each entry accompanied by a long winded and boring Back Story (B.S.).

Giant Cashmere Bedcover/Throw/Shawl Thingie
Cost : 12,500.00 INR
bighermes
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B.S. Our driver took us to his friend’s textile warehouse in Jodhpur assuring us that it was the best in the city;  that all the other shops in the area buy their goods from him, and that all the proceeds from the store go to his orphanage. Who were we to question? We followed our driver into a five-story riot of color. Silks, wools, pashmina, cashmere, cotton, mirrored embroidery. It looked as though the entire Haight Ashbury had been thrown up on the walls and floors, draped over stair rails, benches and curtains.

haight
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We were seated on a cushioned bench against the back wall; hot cups of chai were placed in our hands. The salesman dazzled us with swooping drapes of color; one after another floated to the floor in front of us, effectively blocking any escape we might be planning. He named dropped: Bill Murray, Richard Gere, Angelica Houston, Angelina Jolie, they had all just been there, and he told us which pieces they bought, with the hope that we’d be shallow enough to purchase something because someone famous had –  we are. He showed us pieces that he’d created for Hermes and Armani, in case we were brand whores – we are. We were pretty sure he was telling tales, but by this time we were hypnotized and had lost all hope of leaving with our credit line intact. The process took on a life of its own. We were both draped in pashminas and wrapped in silks. “Ooh, that color looks beautiful on you,” the salesman cooed, with just enough fey affectation that we believed him.

hermes
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Several versions of this same story unfold over a three-day period. Sitting on cushions in a forest of woven fabric, layers and layers of color laid out in front of us until we no longer knew where we were or what we were doing, and the only way to break the spell was to purchase something. We tell ourselves it’ll be a reminder of our honeymoon for the rest of our lives, we manage to have a terrible argument in the honeymoon suite in Jaisalmer. Something we don’t really want to be reminded of.

Blue Cotton Bed Cover
Cost: 2,000.00 INR
bluebedcover
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B.S. Made of hand-dyed Indian cotton, painstakingly stitched by three Punjabi widows who worked on it for more than one year. Purchased from a back alley shop in Jaisalmer that has been in business since the 1600’s. And the owner runs an orphanage !

Antique Threadwork Wall Hanging
Cost: 14,500.00 INR
antique-threadwork-wall-hanging
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B.S. Stumbled upon at a shop in Jaisalmer, on a late night stroll past garbage-eating cows on the way back to our room at the Shahi Palace, after eating the worst Italian food on the planet. This piece is made of a patchwork of fragments of antique ceremonial royal clothing with embellished with gold and silver thread. A rare find, as most of the metal-threaded garments in the area have long since been melted down and sold to feed the orphaned children.

Beaded and Sequined Blue Bed Cover
Cost : 3000.00 INR
beadedandsequinedbluebedcover
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B.S. A patchwork of antique fabric, hand-stitched, then soaked in traditional Indian indigo die. Made by the women from a small village near the Pakistan border. The moustached salesmen showed us pictures of the children at the orphanage.

Heartbreakingly Beautiful Antique Wooden Buddha
Cost : 200,000.00 INR
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B.S. This, along with three rings and two jeweled pendants, were purchased from and blessed by Bablou, a spookily accurate palm reader and jewelry/antique merchant, as protection from the bad things that would surely have befallen us had we not purchased these powerful objects. He assured us that the money wasn’t for him, but rather the 120 orphans he feeds every day. He made me promise I’d come back and see him again. I probably will.

Phil says:
I’ve never wanted a Buddha. I’ve never needed a Buddha. I’ve never wanted to be the kind of person who has a Buddha. And I sure as hell was not interested in BUYING an antique (or so said Bablou) Buddha for $ [amount redacted].00 USD cash money. But there it is. I totally love this Buddha.

Silver Tea Service
Cost : 3000.00 INR
Tea Service
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B.S. A total misunderstanding. Pam needs to polish her currency conversion skills. And yeah, it would help if the people here spoke some form of intelligible English (says the arrogant American). Anyway, I think the shop owner may have grown up in an orphanage.

The rumor that India is a cheap place to live? Priceless :)

~ Pam

2 Responses to “Taxi Drivers Take Us For A Ride…”

  1. ellen says:

    I too am “one of those people”. Pity our poor children who have to sort through all that stuff someday. On the other hand, last night I was in a Carnival parade and threw a hat I once bought in Nepal to a kid in the crowd. More rewarding than actually wearing the hat, especially since I’m sure he had just been let out of one of the numerous Yucatan orphanages. You could try that with your beautiful bedspreads (just let me know where and when so I can be there to catch one…).

  2. womannextdoor says:

    Excellent essay. Amusing and perceptive. I have witnessed similar salesmanship when I took a French friend shopping. I was amazed at the kind of stories and I could not figure out if it was all the truth or lies.
    As for the right price of all those beautiful things you have acquired, i wouldn’t even know because certain merchandise is available only to the foreign tourist and not to the haggling native.