Travelling to India wasn’t on my bucket list but being an adventurer at heart, I had no intention of saying no when offered the opportunity. I had some reservations, namely getting deathly ill in a country where my Doctor wasn’t. She, hailing from India herself, told me to buck up and be mindful. She was firm, but she laid out the rules and promised me if followed her guidelines while I was traveling, India I would part the best of friends. She was right, of course. I had an exceptional experience. I would return to India in heartbeat, but I would most likely avoid the stranger in New Delhi.
India is not for the faint of heart. If you visit, you must travel with no expectations, be open to the possibilities, and have the brute force and strength of Genghis Khan when shopping or when dealing with a carpet salesman. I’m certain the locals would laugh at my lack of finesse but I was new and in way over my head. What the travel books fail to mention to the virgin traveler is carpet salesmen are a breed unto themselves, and no amount of prep can prepare you for negotiation or escape.
Once I overcame my trepidation about the trip, I shifted gears. I planned to complete all my holiday shopping. Although I was going to be on business the trip would span several weekends. Time enough for sight seeing and holiday shopping. I was after anything that would fit in the spare suitcase.
JP, my then boss and traveling companion, and I flew from Hyderabad to New Delhi. We planned to spend day shopping there followed by a weekend sight seeing trek to Agra. We both wanted to visit the Taj Mahal. We each had a shopping list, I was after anything glitzy, and JP was after furniture. We shared our intentions with our driver an off we flew down the road, me clutching the seats and praying to all the Gods over head I would survive the drive.
After hours of shopping, tired and ready to return to the hotel I rallied for a final stop at an out of the way place, the equivalent of a strip mall here in the states. It was over 90 and humid as we exited the car. I was not quite cranky but hovering close. I focused of sipping something icy and tall, anything so long the drink contained alcohol.
We entered a carpet store. My head started swirling. The colors and delicate designs overwhelmed me instantly. I watched the salesman sprinting across the room like a gazelle.
“Can I help you?” He asked without loss of breath or hint of accent.
“No thank-you, I’m looking.” He smiled kindly, but the look in his eyes said, what does a woman know. He grabbed my elbow and manhandled me to the back of the store and pushed me into a lumpy sofa designed to swallow a body whole. Out of nowhere someone thrust a cup hot sugary tea into my hand. My doctor’s voice screaming in my head, don’t drink or eat anything if you are uncertain if the water, food, or dishes have been cleaned. I placed the cup and saucer on the floor untouched. The Salesman melted into the floor beside me while barking out something in Hindi to the empty room. In less than a hiccup the room filled with eager assistants.
Carpet after carpet was unrolled at my feet. They were beautiful. I did want to buy one, but I was sinking further into the abyss of the sofa and struggling to breathe. I wanted time to explore and to see the other delights the country had to offer before making a decision. My Carpet Dealer had other plans. I looked into my captor’s eyes, pulled myself up, squeaked out, “No thank you, I want to look around, ” and made a dash for the front door.
“NO, you cannot leave. SIT!” He grabbed my elbow and guided me back towards the sofa. I managed to elude his clutch and imprisonment by the sofa. The years in ballet paid off as I once again sprang towards the door.
“How much do you want to pay?”
I tried no thank you for your time and walked with determination. The Delhi Carpet-bagger planted his body in front of the door. Apparently, he had also taken ballet lessons.
“I cannot move, you must have a price in mind. Name a price, then I will step aside.”
Survival required switching to plan b. I considered faking an epileptic attack. I was pondering my chances of escape when JP rescued me. I exited the carpet store slightly rattled, but determined to continue my quest for presents. I entered a fabric store two doors down.
“Madam, do you have a price, your lowest price. Your purchase of this rug will feed a village.” My carpet stalker unrolled the rug across the fabric I was looking at. No one in the fabric store paid him any attention. There was no stopping this man.
I left the store but the Carpet Dracula followed me in and out of each shop I entered until I had no choice but to make a getaway by car. As we drove away, Dracula pounded on the trunk swearing colorfully.
I’d like to say the rest of my shopping trips were less eventful, but that would be a lie. I never did buy a rug but I did have a fantastic time.
What do you do when you meet someone pushy?