Wandering Up the Ganges – Part 3: The Incident

rishikesh

By Gabriel Palmer

I have to take issue with the statement “When God closes a door he opens a window.” I assume that this adage is meant to mean that when one opportunity ends, another is presented. Fair enough I suppose, but not all opportunities are equal. A door is something that you simply walk out of, a window is something that you usually fall or get pushed out of. So perhaps a window is opened, but prudence says it would be better to not go through if it would involve a mutli-story fall. But I seldom follow the prudent path.

The taxi driver that had approached me was suspicious at best. The fact that he seemed anxious, kept furtively looking around, or that his car was incredibly nice even though his clothes were worn and tattered, should have alerted me to the fact that something here was clearly wrong, but after my experience in the train station my desire to find any mode of conveyance outweighed any measure of caution.

Something else that should have tipped me off is that the driver agreed to my price too quickly. You see, in India the act of negotiation is in itself probably more important than the outcome. I once argued 15 minutes with a rickshaw driver over the difference of 10 rupees (which admittedly did strike some pangs of conscience once I remembered that I was fighting with this man over the price of a gumball and I had paid $1,200 for a plane ticket – roughly 4,800 gumballs). This man, however, was more than happy to take my low ball offer – somewhere in the range of $2.50 to take me on an hour long drive.

While his driving skills were questionable and he seemed to think that he was in the US since he kept driving on the right side of the road (you are supposed to drive on the left like in England, one of the many holdouts from the British colonial period including, walking with umbrellas, the use of overly formal English, and enough mustaches to make the 1970’s jealous), I just chalked this up to it being India, the land of spiritual wealth and lax driving laws. Putting my safety and well being in the hands of Vishnu I sat back and watched the scenery roll by.

I was just trying to fall asleep, realizing that it was far better to be unconscious than to watch this man’s driving any longer, when a car sped up, pulled along side of us and started honking its horn. I was startled to be sure but it is India and the roads are not for the faint of heart; the driver, however, look terrified. One of the two men in the car next to us proceeded to roll down his window and, with a look on his face that was somewhere between intense anger and murderous rage, yelled with such intensity that I thought he would have an aneurism. At this point I was thoroughly confused, marginally concerned, and curious to see where this was going. The driver was almost frozen with fear. Realizing that yelling alone was not accomplishing the task the other car decided to force us off the road.

As the driver stopped the car my curiosity turned to fear, as I began to realize that my life was turning into a bad made for TV movie that would star Sally Field and involve involve a concerned mother arriving at the embassy to try to track down her lost son… Before I could finish playing out the entire plot in my mind and deciding who should play me (I was leaning towards either a younger George Clooney or maybe Christian Bale), one of the two men opened the front door of the car, sat down in the passenger seat and yelled at the driver to start driving – or so I assumed since Hindi is one of the many languages I never mastered. The car started rolling, and I started praying.

Naively, I thought that if I asked nicely they might just let me out of the car.

“Excuse me sir, clearly you and this man have some issues you need to work out. I won’t bother you any further, you can just let me out here.”

As if they had forgotten I was even in the car, they both turned around to look at me with confused stares. My presence did not seem to be of any interest to them, since the one man just went back to screaming, while the other went back to cowering like a puppy that just peed on the floor (which he may have considering how absolutely panic-stricken he was). Recognizing that I only had a few moments to decide what to do, I began to quickly run over the options in my mind.

  1. Wait and see. There is almost no chance that this was going to work out well for me – I would end up dead, robbed, missing a kidney, held for ransom or all of the above – so I scrapped it right away.
  2. Jump out of the moving car. While the car wasn’t really moving particularly fast I would have still have sustained significant injuries which would have in the end severely impeded my escape. I sadly had to recognize I am no James Bond or Jack Bauer, so I had to scrap this idea as well.
  3. Convince them I am dangerous. Both of these men were of relatively small build, neither seemed to be carrying a weapon of any sort, and I happened to have a bamboo walking stick with me. I figure rather than being nice I would just threaten them – I mean they had no idea that I am about as dangerous as box full of kittens. Since 1 and 2 weren’t going to work I went with this option.

“Stop this #$%@#$% Car right now! I don’t know who the %$^& you think you are dealing with, but you better stop this #$!@ right now and take me where I need to go or the wrath of Kali will be nothing compared to what I will have done to both of you !%$#@%!”

“Sir I…”

“No, I don’t want to hear a !@#$%^& word out of either of your mouths. You will shut the !@#$ up and just drive. Not another word!”

Silence.

For the next 30 minutes they drove on in absolute silence. As I sat with a look of fierce anger on my face making sure they knew exactly who the man in charge was (again, ironic considering I apologize even when I kill an insect). The only words spoken for the rest of the journey were when they needed to ask what hotel to drop me at.

“Please sir, I am very sorry sir, I beg your forgiveness for speaking, I just need to know what hotel to drop you at.”

When we reached the hotel I exited the car adding one final angry flourish.

“You don’t know how lucky you are. You picked the wrong man to !@#$ with.”

I never did actually find out what was going on, why the car was forced off the road, who the men were, or why either was dumb enough to believe that I am threating. But, none of that mattered because I finally made it. I was in Rishkiesh, and it was time to find my guru.

Photo Credit: http://goo.gl/9UCiIg


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