I stand and watch silently as my colleague negotiates the fare for the auto-rickshaw. A pack of drivers gather round, an informal union of sorts. The driver names a price and Dinesh counters in Hindi. I stand quietly, trying, unsuccessfully, to appear inconspicuous. I know that my tall white presence does not help his bargaining. Dinesh offers a price, the equivalent of about 45 cents. The driver shakes his head. The others kick the dirt and shake their heads, offended at his offer. They click their tongues and turn their backs.
I watch. I’ve seen this too often. The drivers all appear offended, but they’re watching. They’re waiting. They’re assessing how much the passenger will give, both in the bargaining process and for the fare. I spot the one – the one that will take us for the price Dinesh is offering. He’s got playful black eyes and a rotund pot belly, sweat forming a large oval on the front of his shirt. I stare at the drivers’ feet, noticing they all are wearing similar sandals, all have similarly dusty feet. After several rounds of Dinesh offering the same price and the original driver appearing offended, our guy steps forward and motions for us to follow him to his vehicle. I silently wonder if the other drivers are angry. We would have eventually paid the 10 extra rupees being asked.
As we get into the auto-rickshaw, I quietly say to Dinesh, “You’re good at that. I’m not such a good bargainer.” He replies, “I hate that. I hate the bargaining back and…”
“Don’t hate me!
We look at the driver. “Don’t hate me. This is hard work. It’s hot, this is hard. Where you go, not many people. How will I get another…”
Dinesh interrupts, “Not you – I don’t hate you; I hate the bargaining.”
And all is well. We putt putt our way onto the highway and our driver breaks into song in Hindi. He sings a few verses and tells us he will entertain us. I’m laughing; the hot air of the night washing over me as if I’ve just opened the oven door. He alternates between slightly broken English and Hindi. “I will be your blood.” This catches my ear. ?? “You will not be able to forget me. I make you so happy.” At the moment I am so happy that I am not alone with him. Another Hindi song and I notice he’s adjusted his rearview mirror and he’s staring directly at me. I know, I’ve accepted, I won’t contest India always wins, so I simply laugh as the hot wind blows my hair out of its tightly twisted knot. There’s no point in getting upset. Horns blare all around us. Cars come perilously close to our open vehicle. He swerves to miss a pothole. I hear Hindi, then, “First whiskey, then no whiskey, then you love the Indian.” I glance up. What is this jibberish? He’s smiling at me in the rear view mirror. “See, I told you I entertain.” I laugh silently, glad for the moment that India always wins.