Is it cos I is white?

by tkos on December 7, 2012

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It’s about 5:30 in the morning and we are getting set for our final cycle in India, just 27km to the Kolkata airport to get a plane over the uncrossable land borders of Bangladesh and Burma to Bangkok.

With bags packed and bikes loaded, we click in our cleats for the last time as the sun begins to emerge through the thick Kolkata pollution. Just yesterday we read on the BBC website how 70% of the local population have or will suffer from an environment related respiratory disease. It is with this thought that we begin to leave India with mixed emotions.

India can be tough to cycle through. There is no doubt about it. There are days that we have hated it, with a passion. Days that angered, frustrated, irritated and disgusted us. Days that have made us jump through hoops and tested all our patience. Days where we have thought that it’s just not fun anymore and that we just want to get through it as quick as we can.

Then there have been days where we have fallen in love with India. Days where we have adored, admired, respected and been inspired by India. Days where the culture and people have captivated a part of our hearts forever. Days where we have thought that four and a half months is just not long enough and that we do not want to leave.

Anyone who has travelled India will know that it has a way of getting under your skin, for better or for worse.

As we slowly wind our way around the intermittent early morning traffic of fried samosa vendor carts and tuk tuks on the nearly deserted roads, we get the occasional nod of respect from the odd cycle rikshaw. My heart warms with nostalgia as my perceived heavy load of bags weighing 20kg shamefully compares to the 200kg+ pulled by the cycle rikshaws of India, yet the nod of respect is all the same. My warm heart brings a smile to my face as I ponder the last few months and what makes India so damn Indian.

“What are you smirking at?” Kimmi asks, breaking the silence.

“I was just thinking about our worst day in India. Do you remember that day in Rajasthan where one thing went wrong after another?”

“ When I had a metal splinter lodged in my back tyre that was causing repeated punctures. I think we repaired seven tubes within 60km before we found the problem.”

“Oh, yeah”, Kimmi remembers.

“And on the same day, you fell off your bike and went ass over tit because we were going too fast over a speed hump.”

“And a few kilometres after that, your speedo fell off due to a bump on the road and then it got run over by three trucks.”

“And then some idiot truck driver thought he would impress us by performing a finger sex show as he drove by.”

“Then there was that other idiot who thought it would be funny to pretend to throw a petrol canister at you as he drove by on the back of a motorbike going the wrong way down the freeway.”

I started to laugh at the events of that day. It has taken a long time to be able to laugh at them as the day itself had taken us to the brink of our own sanity. It was our worst day in India.

Kimmi suddenly burst into a belly raucous laugh.

“I just thought of those poor guys at the roadside stop where we got some drinks! Perhaps we were a little harsh!”

“Harsh?! That’s putting it mildly! I think you almost got my ass kicked!”

We had taken a break from the day’s hectic events, a break from the lucky escape from injury of Kimmi’s accident, from the taunts and lewd gestures of the truck drivers and from the dangerous practical ‘jokes’ of idiots on motorbikes. Taking shelter from the extreme heat and blistering sun, we stopped for a cold bottle of water and some sugar in the form of a 500ml Fanta. We sat in silent bewilderment and just prepped ourselves to focus on getting through the day without any more turmoil. I checked the MRP (maximum retail price) printed on the empty bottles which added to Rs 42. With the exception of the owner and his friends, the place was deserted.

On leaving, I gave the man Rs 100 and waited for my change. He looked through a couple of drawers at a randomly positioned old wooden desk, huffing and puffing a little, like he was doing me some sort of favour. He put his hand into his own pocket and gave me Rs 20.

I didn’t move a muscle, I just looked at the Rs 20 he put in front of me and sighed. Not today, this was not going to happen today. I can get my head around being charged Rs 50, even perhaps Rs 60 at a push, but Rs 80 is a complete insult. He may as well have spat at me.

I questioned him with vigour, disputing the individual prices of each bottle and pointing at the printed MRP on the bottle. Although he didn’t speak English, he understood every word, but he just didn’t care. It was a war that we were not going to win so I took my Rs 20 and began to retreat.


Oh, yes. Kimmi had completely lost it.

We both remembered that day well. I’m glad we can laugh about it. A large part of me even wants to apologise to the unsuspecting yet cheeky retailers for our incredibly embarrassing behaviour. Never had we been so passionate about 25p (GBP) or 40c (AU$). As we get closer to the airport, the laughter cleverly disguises our shameful behaviour from that episode.

We arrive nice and early to allow for wrapping our bikes. The guard at the entrance informs us that we are too early and that we must wait outside the airport for about two hours. I ask if we can wait inside where it is air conditioned but he refuses, stating that it is policy we must wait outside. The airport is empty inside as almost 100 wait outside. Kimmi and I swap an ironic glance and laugh at the Indian mentality of following rules regardless of common sense. We take it in our stride as a street vendor offers some coffee in a small cup, perhaps about 25ml. Pleasantly surprised we take the gift and prepare for the long wait, then as we finish, he returns and asks for Rs 50 for what is normally worth Rs 5. We take a deep breath, pay the man and blame ourselves for accepting it in the first place, knowing that it’s almost over.

When the check in opens, we are allowed to enter the empty airport, but we must take our bikes apart outside and carry them inside. A first for airports in our experience but again, we take it all in our stride. Why make things easy when you can complicate them and make it more difficult. The next security check makes us wait a further fifteen minutes before we can access the airport wrapping service. There is no reason, but he has a gun. We oblige and hold on to the fragile smile keeping us sane.

Finally, with 20 minutes to boarding, we are allowed to get the bikes wrapped and prepped for the plane. A big sign boldly claims “All items Rs 200”. We have enough cash, we are good to go. It’s almost over.

The man looks at the bikes. “It will cost Rs 1000 for the two bikes.”

Kimmi instantly sees red.


Struggling to find the words of her utter dismay, Kimmi finally comes out with:


Oh dear, time to go.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Charles Victor December 7, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I think we need more visitors to India to do the same! This is the country that has a Sanskrit saying that roughly translates to ‘the guest is similar to a god’. Remember we were telling you guys about it?? But it’s really sad the way some of them rip visitors off. And the truth is, it is because you’re white and they think they can! So thumbs up Kimmi! AND I’m glad you didn’t remember the translation Rave taught you!!


Ankur December 7, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Sorry to say but yes, this isn’t new… I have seen this happen many times around here, especially on street side shops. At times when we(localites) speak up in favour of tourists, the shopkeeper would invariably argue back to us, ‘we are getting a one time chance, allow us to loot ‘em!’. It’s a form of racism after all! :)


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