When alien worlds meet

I keep being reminded of just how different the world where I’m from is to the world where I now find myself. Perhaps no matter how many times I come to India things will always remain this way.
For the past couple of days we’ve been trying to figure out how to make luggage carriers for my motorcycle. Getting involved in making anything in small town India often becomes a task of epic proportions – before long, everyone’s uncle’s, cousin’s son knows what you are doing. This can be good, as you can quickly track down the right people for the job, but quite often it is simply annoying – bored bystanders come to offer useless advice and opportunists try to cash in.
After asking around we begin the search for a person who can do the job. The choice is very limited. Most of Junagadh’s inhabitants are very auspicious Hindus, many businesses are closed as the best time to re-open is on the fifth day after Diwali and that’s when we would ideally leave for our next destination.
The first candidate for the job has his “office” – a wooden shack with a sewing machine next to a public urinal. I have to block my nose while I explain what we want. I’m thankful that he isn’t too interested – the smell is simply too much. The next candidate is much more pleasantly located – in a one-hundred-year-old courtyard, next to a Hindu temple. He is a pudgy, bald, mustached bag maker in his fifties – very welcoming and as it turns out very eccentric. He hands us his business card, which reads “NO GUARANTEES” in letters larger than anything else written on the card. He invites us to chat. Our conversation randomly detours, as conversations in India do, from the topic of bags, to feeding two hundred monkeys with three hundred rotis (a type of Indian bread) at the foot of the sacred Girnar Hill. That’s what the man does every Sunday and he proves it after insisting that we watch a VCD of this act. There is religious inspiration behind the man’s actions, but trying to understand his motives in depth is hard and I have long ago learned that understanding certain things in India can be bad for my sanity, I do not even try.
After another change of topic it turns out that the monkey feeding bag maker is Hardik’s best friend Sandeep’s uncle. It is decided that he will make the luggage carriers, but the same evening Hardik rings to tell me that the man’s own nephew is not impressed with his work and does not recommend him. I remember “NO GUARANTEES” and think that perhaps it was put on the card for a reason.
The next day we plan to buy the required materials and to meet the bag maker recommended by Sandeep, unfortunately the man isn’t keen on opening for business before the auspicious date and the plan is short lived. We decide to at least buy the materials and see what to do from there. Coincidentally Sandeep sells all the materials we require in his shop, but he too isn’t ready to re-open before the auspicious date. We turn to another option, to buy everything at the market, but suddenly Sandeep calls. He says that a client has pressured him to open early and this means that we can come by and get everything we need. When we arrive we see Sandeep standing outside of his shop with the rollers down. Five minutes pass, but Sandeep does not appear to be any closer to opening his shop.
– Uh, em, why is the shop still closed? I ask.
– I am waiting for the client. Sandeep replies through Hardik.
– He should be here any minute.
Knowing that in India ‘any minute’ can mean tomorrow or never I get edgy.
– We are here and we are clients. So maybe Sandeep could open the shop?
Hardik explains – We Hindus believe that once a shop is opened for the first time in the New Year a successful opening will mean a successful year. The first time the shop opens a sale must be made, we are not yet sure whether we will buy the materials in this shop.
– Ok, we’ll definitely buy something. I say.
– Oh, then it is ok! Hardik translates to Sandeep. The roller doors come up, Sandeep says a prayer and Tanya and I begin to look for something that we will definitely buy. Suddenly the client arrives, but Sandeep insists that we be the first to buy something, as we were first to arrive and our motives are supposedly more pure. We definitely need zippers and we take them to the counter.
– How much for these two?
– They are 7 rupees each, but I will charge 11 total, 11 is a lucky number.
– Ok, whatever, great. Sandeep takes the money, says another prayer and now the other client can be served, while we pick out everything else that we need.
– Hey, how much is this per meter? And this, and this? I enquire about a few items. Sandeep says something to Hardik in Gujarati, but I don’t hear numbers.
– You cannot ask the price here. He is my best friend and you are like my brother, so this is like your shop. Just take what you need. Whatever the price will be, it will be the best price in town. I would have a hard time believing a line like this elsewhere, but Hardik is indeed like a brother. I know that young Indian men are very sensitive and as I simply want to get things done as soon as possible, I choose not to argue and go with the flow.

We got everything that we needed and in the end decided that we want to avoid drama and unexpected surprises. Tanya can make almost anything when it comes to working with fabrics, she will try to make the carriers herself using Sandeep’s sewing machine. As a result she is now out in the guesthouse’s communal hall, drawing up plans on the floor and cutting out pieces of fabric. I feel rather useless, the light is too harsh to shoot anything and I have already designed the carriers. I know that I will not have so much time in the near future and so I turn to typing this blog entry.

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2 Responses to “When alien worlds meet”

  1. Sean Says:

    Wonderful blog!

    I admire your ability to put Indian daily life into words. I’ve been a few times too but trying to put some of the wonderful and bizarre experiences I have down on on paper would be, for me, impossible.

    Good stuff.

  2. Sandy Says:

    Hey Mitch, Great blog! Your writing is very evocative and funny, keep it up!

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