India: The Cheap Suits of Jaipur

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Got up in Agra at 6am because I had a bus to Jaipur booked for 7.30 with two guys I met the previous evening, James from Auckland, New Zealand and Jonas from Copenhagen, Denmark. I told Jonas I know Denmark pretty well but he wasn’t particularly interested. Nobody ever is. Perhaps I should stop using it as an ice breaker with Danish people. Perhaps.

I took a shit in the squat toilet in my room before leaving because I didn’t want to get caught short on the 5 hours bus journey. Took my shorts completely off beforehand because I didn’t want to actually dump in them – it happened to my friend once while camping. Shoutout Tom Tetlow. Squat toilet and bum hose combination was interesting sensation. Felt very liberating; like this is a truer form of shitting. Shitting in its purest iteration. Just a man, his bum, and the earth.

The bus was bumpy as hell with no air con, but it only gets seriously hot at 1pm so we dodged the worst of the burn. Took 5 hours or so, with no delays, which is apparently rare. I’ve been told buses are preferable to trains here because, while the bus can only really be delayed for a couple of hours due to traffic etc, trains can be stuck standing for days. A lot of fearful tales exchanged among backpackers in this country; sitting around with beers on an evening, we swap stories of the delights and dangers of India.

I arrived in Jaipur with minimum fuss and big goodbye to the guys. We swapped numbers; it’d be nice to link up with them again. They made me laugh, and reminded me of my friends back home. I got a tuk tuk to my hostel after the standard 10 minute furious argument over pricing. The dude was insisting on a high price for the tuk tuk, some 8 times the value, and I don’t like arguing but – come on. I knew the hostel was 4 kilometres away (everyone here uses kilometres) but the tuk tuk guy was insisting it was 12km. Eventually we settled on 150 rupees and – shock horror – it was 4km away.

I checked in and met Sid, the local guy who runs the place. He’s only an employee, but his life is the hostel: he sleeps on a mattress beside the check in desk, around 5 hours a night. He has never left India as he can’t afford to explore another country. All of this always makes me feel bad, but I don’t know what I can do. I feel guilty for the privilege I have, but I feel that all I can do is vote the way I vote, believe what I can believe, and voice support for change. A billion people in India, millions homeless, and billionaires at the top of the pile, spread out in lavish palaces while beyond the walls people starve. And people lash out at the beggars.

I wanted a do-nothing day, because I have all the time in the world and constant sightseeing and travelling and socialising is exhausting – and that’s without mentioning the heat, the constant yells of the street sellers, the culture shock and the danger. It’s heavy, man. India is heavy. So I  bought beers and sat on the balcony and made a few friends.

A girl check in called Genna Powers (what a name) and she was from Chicago. We made friends and she told me she was heading out that night to see the city with a tuk tuk driver she befriended. I asked if I could join and she said yes, so at 8pm we headed out to meet Samir, a local dude with a fresh haircut. He gave us three options: cinema, disco, or bar. We chose bar so we could actually talk.

He took us to some swanky looking place a few minutes down the road in his tuk tuk. It was a kind of shisha/tiki bar with the cricket on a big tv. Expensive booze. But then he changed his mind and said it was too early and the bar was too quiet; to kill time we should visit his family in their shop. Sigh. I’ve been swindled on the road enough times to spot a scam on the horizon, but sometimes you see these things unfold but can’t think to do anything but walk straight into them.

The shop was lovely and Samir’s cousins were sweet, a couple of 5’4 guys in floral shirts offering us chai. They flirted a lot with Genna and I could see she was uncomfortable, so I tried to stay by her side to deter any unwanted attention. We sat and talked with the guys about their religion and their work for maybe an hour, then at the end of what was a charming conversation came the sales pitch: so what do you think we charge for a suit made? Guess?

I said I didn’t have any money and the guy said hey, who mentioned money? I said I didn’t want to buy anything and he said they sell suits for 150, made from real Italian cotton. 150 rupees is about 20 cents, and though I have no use for a suit, I begin to think maybe this could be fun. Then he corrected me, quietly: 150 British rupees. So I asked him if he meant pounds, and he said yes. I politely declined. He tried to convince me for a little bit, and asked me if I would return tomorrow, then shook his head and smiled and said ‘this guy won’t return because he knows I’m gunna try sell him something’. And we laughed, shook hands, and parted.

Me, Genna and Samir got beers in the bar next door and I checked Genna was okay while Samir was busy talking on the phone. I was glad I went along – I could see she felt uncomfortable from the off, and tried to act chill and amicable to reassure her. There were three of the dudes and they were very skinny and very short, and I reckon if anything had truly gone down we’d have been fine getting out, but it’s an unpleasant experience for a girl – you never quite know what the people want with you.

We talked about Indian politics and religion, sport and love and mental health. After four beers, we headed home and Samir parted ways without asking for money, which makes him one of the first local people to have done such a thing. I gave him a couple of hundred rupees to say thanks – which I think is actually a shitload, but I was drunk, and it was like 2 euros, so whatever.

Chatted on the balcony with hostel people until late, and hit the hay.

3 thoughts on “India: The Cheap Suits of Jaipur

  1. After what happened to some women in India, I’m not surprised Genna was uncomfortable. I’d have been hella uncomfortable, even with a guy I could trust. But things seem to have been fine. It’s good that most potentially bad situations don’t necessarily end up bad.
    The story about the suits reminds me of a chapter in Uwe Timm’s Midsummernight where the guy is wandering around Berlin and gets swindled by an Italian taxi driver into buying a coat made out of tissue paper. But he takes it in stride.

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