“Welcome to India”

So far my experience in India has been less enlightening and more exhausting/frustrating. I am sure that once I get settled I will begin to truly enjoy myself but until then, I predict that the limits of my patience will continue to be tested.

Over the past month I have tried opening a bank account four times, had my outgoing cell phone service canceled for no reason, and everyone from our building security guard to the laundry man has tried extorting cash out of me. Having trained in Muay Thai Kickboxing for the past five years I truly fear for my fellow Indian brother’s safety should I lose my composure, however just as I feel the walls of my patience begin to crack I hear the consoling words of my conscious say, “relax Tej, they know not what they do”. Of all my experiences so far my bus trip to Delhi this weekend pushed my patience to level, which I formerly did not think I was capable of achieving.

A couple weeks back I agreed to go to Delhi to pick up a group of volunteers from Scotland. I thought of all my previous arrivals to India and how comforting it was to hear the familiar sounds of English from my Indian relatives amongst the chaos of the Delhi airport. Being the only native English speaker in my office I knew I was the man for the job.

The day before we leave, we have a logistics meeting regarding the trip and I am told the chartered bus will leave at 6pm Saturday and arrive at 12 midnight. Their flight does not arrive until Sunday 10am so my next logical question is “Sooo where am I gonna sleep for the night?” Everyone looks around dumbfounded. Then I am told that the bus drivers and other staff member are “probably” just going to sleep in the bus. Immediately I get a feeling that this is going to be a very long trip. In my experience when basic logistics like that are overlooked you are really in for disorganized mess. Knowing my aunt lives in Delhi I propose to the group that I just stay at her place for the night and we all come to an understanding that that is a good idea. I know arriving at midnight is a little late but I figure maybe since we are chartering our own bus it will get their a little quicker. BIG MISTAKE…

The next day I arrive at my NGO’s head office and I’m informed that instead of leaving at the designated and agreed upon time of 6pm the chartered bus drivers decided that they want to leave at 9pm, which means that I will be arriving in Delhi at 3am, way too late for my aunt to pick me up. Completely confused as to how the bus drivers that we are employing can dictate the bus schedule I ask a staff member to call the company and demand that they leave at the agreed upon time. When the staff calls the company they say that they don’t have the bus drivers number, so unfortunately we will have to leave at 9pm. At this point I can’t help but hide my frustration and annoyance that the bus drivers we are paying are just making up their own schedule. One of the staff members says to me “welcome to India”. Thanks buddy.

Of course the bus doesn’t show up until 10pm. I board the bus and I’m relieved to see that it looks pretty comfortable. We have to make one stop to pickup an NGO staff member in Achrol but other than that I’m thinking that we can just go straight their. In barely understandable Hindi I tell the bus driver “You guys are late, after our stop in Achrol you need to head straight for Delhi because I have to meet my Aunt”. They nod in approval but their lack of eye contact is a sure sign that my words went in one ear and out the other. Literally, after driving about 10 km’s they stop for tea. Ahhhhh. And they don’t just grab their tea to-go, they sit down at the tea stand and sip their tea slowly while talking with the locals. I am amazed by their complete disregard for my situation. Could you imagine charting a bus in the US and the bus drivers decide to come 4 hours late and make their own tea stops? After 20 minutes they get back on the bus, I catch myself fantasizing about throwing them into the oncoming traffic.

We pick up the NGO Staff member in Achrol who has been standing outside for 3 hours waiting for the bus. Happy to see a friendly face I greet him and we continue on our way. 20 minutes into the trip he asks me in the Hindi if I’ve eaten anything or if I want any tea. Knowing exactly where he is heading with the question I tell him I already ate and I’m fine, hoping to dissuade him from telling the bus driver to stop. He gets up anyways and tells the bus drivers to stop at the next tea stand. 5 minutes later we stop. After walking around for 20 minutes the NGO staff member realizes that they don’t serve tea so he tells the bus drivers to stop at the next place they see. 10 minutes later they stop again. I tell the NGO staff member to try to make it as quick as possible because my aunt is waiting for me. Of course he sits down at a table and takes 20 minutes to finish his tea. At this point I have given up. My frustration has passed the point of anger and reached hopelessness. I can’t speak Hindi and nobody cares that my aunt is waiting up for me.

Fatigued and emotionally drained I fall asleep only to be woken up 30 minutes later as the bus comes to a halt. I ask the NGO staff member why the bus stopped and he informs me that the bus drivers are filling our their tax forms. What does that even mean? 20 minutes later they continue only to stop after 10 minutes for tea again. Apparently they met some of their friends at the tax place so they all wanted to get tea together. My NGO staff member’s frustration finally hits anger and he marches outside to yell at the bus drivers. I come down for backup, fearing that this could escalate. As he yells, one of the bus driver’s friends just yells back at him, while the two bus drivers indifferently sip their tea. Never in my life have I seen such disregard towards someone else’s concerns or feelings. Even after their exchange, and the NGO staff member angrily marches back on the bus, the bus drivers and their friends continue to leisurely sip their tea and resume their conversation as if nothing ever happened.

At this point I have completely given up. I am at the mercy of the bus drivers and my only hope is that karma will at some point in time catch up to them, whether it be in this life or the next. Throughout the journey they stopped around 12 times, stretching the journey from the usual 4:30 hours to 9 hours. Between phone calls from my concerned aunt and the frequent stops sleep was far and few between. When we finally arrived at 7am my aunt came to pick me up. I knew I would only have time to eat a quick breakfast and shower before I had to head to the airport to pick up the group from Scotland. On the drive back to my aunt’s house my visible sleep deprived aunt tells me “you American’s don’t know how to plan a trip”. I shrug my shoulders and slump down in the back seat, a beaten man.

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4 thoughts on ““Welcome to India”

  1. Its beautifully written and can i just say that the initial phase is always the hardest, but after some time, things start to get better. And although, the chaos and confusion aren’t going anywhere, your reaction to such situations will surely change.
    Plus, when yo do go back, you’re not going to carry any of these incidents, instead you’d take back the good stuff – stuff that you connect with and the people you’d meet.

  2. Dude, did you really just threaten to bust out some Muai Thai on a “fellow Indian brother”? I’m sorry to hear things are exhausting. I hope you understand why I laughed out loud when reading this though. That bus trip is the quintessential experience here. Between bus travel in India and Sardar jokes, I’d be ready to snap too. Anyways, well written my friend.

  3. Give thanks to the fact that there were no rivers to cross by Ferry and ferryman has taken the night off. Anyway this is part of the Fellowship experience!!!!. Go with the flow. Best. Sridar

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