March 22, 2010

To Firos Khan

You say you are a social worker with Mother Theresa
bringing ill patients from the countryside to the Mother House
for medical care
We talk about serving the poor and needy.
You seem like my kind of person!
We are friends. Let's go visit Shiva Temple.
You show me around, giving me a history of Hinduism.
The lingham, Shiva, Kali, Durga, Ganesha...
We see all the great gods and goddesses amidst the largest Hindu temple in India.
You say the art museum is closed on Sundays, too bad for me.
And anyway it costs 100 Rs which is not worth it to see the textiles you see in the Mughol town.
Handmade silks and saris, famous to Varanasi.
You bring me there on your motorcycle, commenting on how expensive petrol is--autorickshaws are so costly these days, 90 Rs/liter.
We see silk being woven by hand, it is made with cardboard hole-patter guides to create the design
and then woven onto looms.
Only the Mughol town with the community of Muslims makes it from real silk, the other are fake and charge ridiculous prices, you explain.
"You are lucky because today is the Mughol festival--the warehouse gives 50% discount all day." You tell me this.
We sit with a salesman at the "government-run" export warehouse. "Not tourist prices" he says.
I browse through gorgeous bedsheets and silk stoles.
The cheapest item is 325 Rs, a ridiculous asking for a single scarf.
All other items are at least 700.
325 is nothing, you say. Those cheaper scarves are poor quality. These are the real silk, handmade you see. I bargain down to 150 Rs, though I feel I am being ripped off anyway. We leave and you ask me if I want a ride to the railway station in the morning. You don't ask money. You treat me with chai 3 times today. You say a stupid crook must have booked your train from Moghulsarai instead of Varanasi, the closer station. It is so far, maybe 500 Rs by auto! You will take us, you insist. I offer to pay some for petrol. You insist, then 100 Rs at least for petrol, for tomorrow. Give you now, because you have no money left. You must fill up for the morning. I see. Do I trust you? I do owe you some money for our trip tomorrow. But I think of my friend's story of the man who made off with her money after gaining her trust. I say I need the money for the hotel, whose name I won't give you. No, I can't give you 100 Rs. You are angry now. You demand it. You have no money. You need at least 50 you say. I offer you 20. What can I do with that? I give you 50. Indeed it costs 90 Rs/ liter. We will meet tomorrow at 8 am at Gaudalia Crossing. You will fill up your petrol and will take us both to Moghulsarai station on the motorcycle. You call me 5 times in the morning to confirm. We arrive and you say that Moghulsarai is much too far to ride both of us on your motorcycle. Best to take an autorickshaw. You have already ordered one for 300 Rs. This is quite expensive for us you know. You say just ask any others and you will jump off your seat at how much they charge! My friend makes me get in. But you promised to take us to the station! What about the 50 Rs for your petrol!? Best take an autorickshaw. The 50 Rs is another story you say. Why not trust me? You keep saying. I am furious. We go with no choice. Will you call me in Calcutta, yes? Why would I do that? You are a cheater sir. It is not the 50 Rs. I owed you at least that much for your knowledge. But you took back your promise with no warning. And I know you got commission for setting up our auto-rickshaw; that is just how it works. I know you got commission from that silk warehouse, which was certainly not a real warehouse at sale prices after I have seen the same products at much cheaper on the streets and consulted my handicraft friends. Also did you know that I was looking out the window into the art museum? It said "open." And you offer me a cheap place to stay with you in Kolkata, only 1500 a month. Meet me in Kolkata and we speak Bengali, I teach you cooking. I come from a wealthy family, I don't ever ask for money. No worry no hurry no thank you no sorry. You say you only help special tourists. You continuously call my phone, you want to know my address. When you command my trust that is when it ends. You want to meet me in Kolkata? Maybe if I was not stupid, and if the real price of petrol wasn't only 54 Rs/liter.

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