Only in India by Jill Dobbe
On a scorching hot day with a temperature nearing thirty-three degrees Celsius, we set off to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. The suffocating heat was almost unbearable, but it never stopped the throngs of tourists from showing up. Like everyone else who alighted upon the well-traveled Taj grounds, we ambled along the hot, sunlit paths, gazed at the immense monument, and posed for photos in front of the vast reflective pools. Our two teenagers were asked over and over to pose for photos and Indian tourists seemed just as excited to have a photo taken with blond-haired, white-skinned foreigners, as they were of photographing the stunning Taj.
We left the compound after a wickedly hot hour of wandering around, sidestepping tourists, and wiping sweat off of our dripping brows. A shady tree-lined path beckoned to us and we headed in that direction. Strolling along the path we came upon a turbaned snake charmer who sat cross-legged on the ground playing a festive tune on his wooden flute. In front of him, stretching its body upward and out of its basket was a formidable dancing cobra. The hooded snake moved along with the flute’s high pitched sound hissing and sticking out its venomous tongue. I was only too aware that Indian cobras were poisonous and liked to spit toxic venom, the reason I wasn’t about to go anywhere near the thing. I stood far off to the side cringing openly in fear and disgust, while others much braver than me took turns allowing the meter-long serpent to lie on their shoulders and wrap itself around their necks. No one, but me, seemed the least bit worried about being bit by the treacherous reptile.
After leaving the cobra and his flute playing friend, we were bombarded by the ever present beggars who hung around outside the Taj Mahal. They were everywhere harassing, touching, grabbing, and pleading with tourists in hopes of acquiring a few rupees. Shoeshine men clinging to their filthy rags and brushes also waited and watched for customers to buy their services. After chasing several of them away, one lanky shoe cleaner in particular feasted his eyes upon my husband, Dan’s, sparkling, unblemished Nike sneakers, and insisted on following him. Despite the fact that Dan’s spotless shoes gleamed brightly against the dirty walk ways, he was not to be deterred. Mr. Shoe Shiner continued to hound Dan, following him on his heels. Even though he was told “no” several times, he just wouldn’t stop. Dan finally lost his cool, faced the persistent guy, and lobbed a few insults at him. Dan stomped away sure that the incessant man would finally leave.
Seconds later, Dan froze and asked me, “What is that disgusting odor? Do you smell it?” Something gave off a rancid scent and seemed to hang in the air around him. Curling his nose against the overpowering stench, Dan gazed around, then stopped, and stared down at his shoes.
“AARGH!” he shrieked as he glared at his shiny white tennis shoes now smeared with a dark brown substance that looked, and smelled, a lot like animal shit.
Furious, Dan shouted, “That guy threw shit on my shoes when I wasn’t looking just so I would have to have him clean them!”
While Dan carried on with a scene much to the delight of the other tourists, I watched as the shoe cleaner lurked around a corner, and waited. Now, Dan would need to have his shoes cleaned, and he was going to be the guy to do it. Without having any other choice, he looked over at the shoe cleaner and walked toward him in disgust. Without saying a word, he offered up his shoes. After they were cleaned and the horrid smell washed away, Dan paid the cleaner his rupees and walked away muttering, “Only in India.”
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