I am a sucker, and this is likely to cause some devastation along my travels. It’s a given that many a widely grinning street vendor will call out, “Hello, Madam, special hand-made souvenir, made only here by us only!” and I will pay three times as much for the same item that is located in every souvenir shop around the corner. But, whatever, that sort of thing lasts two minutes and only impacts me financially. What I’m more wary of is being made to feel emotionally obligated — a feeling that chips away at my soul and makes me question the fortitude my feminism. In the US, I have been swayed to purchase something or pay more than I normally would have because of persistent and/or good customer service — but I feel like Indians take it to the next level by stuffing you with food and chai and asking you about your family and making you feel like you’re part of theirs!!
It has already started; and the pathetic part is that I haven’t even been fed food or chai or asked about my family. What happened is this: a couple of months ago, I had thought about how perhaps I could do an organized South India tour, so I Googled “South India tours” and innocently filled out an inquiry form through one of the websites, mentioning some destinations and accommodations of interest. Within minutes, I received an enthusiastic response from a man named Ashok. “Dear Miss Leena, Namaskar! and Greetings!!!!” he began, following with a detailed itinerary appropriately customized with the destinations and nature of accommodations I had requested. Among the perks would be a “Man Friday” who would “walk with [me] along villages in the countryside as well as walk along bazaars of the city and point out fine eating places and shopping areas in different towns – a true friend.” I had been talking with some cousins about traveling together and I wanted to figure things out with them before locking anything down, but I replied to Ashok to thank him and let him know that I would get back to him when I was more clear on my plans.
What followed was a near-daily email from Ashok with multiple exclamation marks, reminding me that he was eager to book my tour and could customize it in any way. My cousin then arranged our travels to Chennai and Pondicherry, so the only remaining things I needed were one bus ticket, one hotel booking, and one plane ticket (I decided I could be my own “Man Friday”): all things that I easily could have booked on my own, online, instantly. But I felt so indebted to Ashok that I contacted him to book these things for me, wanting him to make a decent commission for his time.
Ashok provided a reasonable quote for the items I requested, and asked me to send a copy of my passport and visa, and make a partial credit card payment. I thought it was kind of weird that he needed my passport and visa, and I had a mild inkling that he might be trying to steal my identity or overcharge my credit card — but I decided to run with it anyway, and did as requested. Ashok replied back confirming receipt and said he would send my bookings by the next day. After days and weeks of follow-up to which I just received “Namaskar Leena!!!! Yes, yes, we have booked it” types of replies with no actual evidence, I finally just today received a PDF of the bus ticket. I called the hotel, which confirmed a booking under my name, and Ashok in a separate email also copied and pasted my flight details. But why, oh, why was this process so torturous and long-winded when everything could have easily been attached to me the next day? Part of me wished I had in fact been scammed, and that Ashok would be unreachable after I sent him my passport, visa, and credit card. At least then, I would know that my life was possibly in danger, and I could just book everything again from scratch!
The fact of the matter is that things are not always going to be smooth or easy, and I will just have to be patient and accepting with the way things operate in different places. But at least I can do my part and resolve that pity-booking is a thing of my past!