I found this Ganesh on the gates of Drubgyud Tenzin Rinpoche’s new neighbours’ house in Varanasi. It’s quite a rickshaw ride from the ghats. You have to go up through the centre of the city from Tulsi Ghat to the university, and the streets are narrow, full of potholes and packed tight with traffic. The police sometimes try to unjam vehicles once they’ve been stationary for half an hour or so. Their method of choice is to wave long sticks in the air, particularly at the more vulnerable cycle rickshaw drivers. But once a bottle-neck’s choked the flow, it’s a slow business unblocking it.
One time the guy driving me was threatened and I confess I froze. I’m hopeless in conflict situations at the best of times, and felt particularly vulnerable as the only white female in a sea of metal and Indian manhood. I had nothing at all to worry about though. My driver simply grabbed the stick before the blow landed, and did it without a spark of aggression in his face or manner. Which is why I was surprised when the policeman’s face stretched instantly into an approximation of abject terror. But neither man gave off a whiff of pugnacity. And there was none of the caveman posturing displayed by northern European drunks, nor the bitter defensiveness of middle eastern religious minorities, just a hand placed on the stick of witless official. Quite gentle, and not in the least alarming.
Of course, as a tourist I spent a fair amount of time arguing with rickshaw drivers before accepting their services. A heart-breaking business, I must say. In the restaurants I ate at that cater exclusively for tourists I would often overhear the tender-hearted tell new friends about how they couldn’t face bartering with men who had few teeth, were so thin they almost weren’t there, and wore little more than a tea-towel.
I could sympathize, but also remembered what it was like living in London as a student in the early eighties. London wasn’t nearly as expensive then as it is now but the newly oil-rich Arabs had taken over a great deal of central London. As more and more obscenely rich people moved through the city, willing to pay anything they were asked for food, rent, etc, the lower my standard of living sank. So to this day, I continue to argue, for the sake of the locals left behind once I’ve returned to the land of the gods. And, it’s true, I also hate being cheated.