I know he’s watching me approach; all high pants and twitching moustache as he calculates how much he’s going to be able to squeeze out of yet another foolish tourist. It’s 9am in New Delhi, and already as hot as the Eternal Pit. I’m sweating like a hog in long-johns as I approach the auto-rickshaw wallah in order to commence negotiations for how much I will pay to get into his ludicrous dodgem-car, and I can sense that my patience is already wearing a bit thin. Like a wolf on the hunt, he can sense it too!
And so it begins, “No way! That’s way too much!”, “Oh no, Sir, this is a very good price”, “But it’s so close!”, “OK, Sir, what’s your best price?” … “Oh no, Sir, I have a large family…”. And on it goes. My wife giggles as I start to gesticulate wildly, and my face turns the colour of last night’s tandoori chicken. “Yesterday I only paid…”, “But today is Wednesday, Sir,” he replies, all smarmy patience and indulging smile, “Extra charge on Wednesday”.
“Bwaaaaaaaaaaagh!”, screams every muscle and sinew in my bulging neck, but a week of yoga in a Himalayan Ashram is starting to pay-off; I gulp down some deep breaths to calm myself, and smile as I approach enlightenment.
The negotiations finally draw to a close, and as we climb into the battered tin-can that is the auto-rickshaw, I know I’ve just been suckered and paid at least five rupees more than I should. While this is not much more than about fifteen cents, I am burning with shame as I remember the sour, obnoxious Swiss backpacker at breakfast, cursing and preaching about how we “new comers” are spoiling it for everyone else by agreeing to pay too much.
Ashamed and absolutely done-in, we launch into the writhing Delhi traffic; thoughts of self-loathing are immediately replaced with self-preservation! As the horns blare, and the trucks, buses, cars and motorbikes all speed by within inches of our hands and feet, I am reminded of why all the arguing and negotiation is so worth it. Travelling around in auto-rickshaws is exciting because it’s so dangerous; you’re so close to the other vehicles and the unforgiving road that it reminds you of just how mortal you are. And that’s what India is all about – experiencing and appreciating your great, big, fragile life!