Saturday, February 11, 2012


Baloo and the Do-Gooder

I showed the American-Mexican volunteers to the alleyway opening to their hotel. It was dark and I was not used to walking at midnight down the familiar but smelly and broken streets. There were some autorickshaw wallahs standing around, some whispering, some engaging loudly, some of them clearly drunk, and I was aware of myself as the lone tourist, albeit an older somewhat substantial mother figure tourist. I took a firm, but relaxed stride, feeling basically safe, but wanting to give the signal that I was not to be messed with since I was outnumbered.

As I got past the darkest part of the street, where during the day plastic bangles and hand made jute bags with Om signs are hawked by a variety of persistent micro merchants, I relaxed into my uphill walk home. I passed some more very drunk people and recognized one of the hip rafting guides who stands out because he always wears a knitted hat with a thick line of tassles that look like an exaggerated mohawk hair cut. I think he is Tibetan, because of his height and width, but I could be wrong. I wanted to pass him unnoticed, but he called out to me with "Mataji" which was clearly affectionate and respectful, so I had to turn around. He said "help me, please, I cannot ride my motorcycle, I am too drunk". I hesitatingly said "yes", and asked him where he lived. My heart sank when he said he lived 3 kms away. I had no desire to walk that far or to find a taxi. Then he asked to sleep in my room, which was not an option as I did not know him very well at all. I had seen him hanging around the internet shop I use often which is also a trekking outfit. I realized that the owner of that shop, Pradeep, was my neighbour, so I could just take him there and let them take care of one of their own, shopwise and genderwise. I asked what his name was and as if that was an invitation he told me his wife didn't love him. My heart sank. I got him up and standing so we could go. As I started up with him, arm in arm, I felt discouraged at the idea of walking uphill with a very drunk and heavy man for the next half an hour, possibly having to listen to his side of a marital drama.

As I resigned myself, a police jeep cruised silently past us, and looked at us somewhat suspiciously. Suddenly I wanted desperately to maintain my air of respectability, given that it looked like I was a drunk older female tourist with a young gigolo-like man with a very strange knitted Mohawk hat. Lucky for me, Baloo shouted out "these are my friends, they will give me a lift". Oh Shiva. I did not want to spend time begging for a lift only to get a humiliating refusal. But they gave us a lift, in the backseat of the jeep. Baloo started ranting about something to the officer in the back with us, and I leaned to the front, and in my very best Hindi explained where we were going, which was only two minutes away by car. I was very very grateful to the police for the second time in India. That was just awfully decent of them, considering their extensive reputation for corruption, torture and general laziness. I dropped off Baloo with Pradeep, who said "no worries, thank you, we will take care of him" and was home in thirty seconds. How great is that, when things work out well?

Well, postscript. I found out today, the day after, that no one liked him there, and no, he wasn't really their friend, and he always gets drunk, but they took him off my hands to be nice to me. Sigh. What should I have done?

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