Tag Archives: touts

Whoah!

Dani’s twin sisters are in India, along with appropriate significant others. Holger was also in Bangalore due to a business trip a couple of weeks ago, when this story took place. So we all piled into the car and drove to Tiruvannamalai to show them the temple there. It started off well. The drive there is always beautiful, we stopped at the roadside at one point to let the kids collect Tamarind and we had a nice biryani (rice based casserole) for lunch at a restaurant in Tiruvannamalai. Then we went to the temple.

The Shiva temple in Tiruvannamalai is magnificent, as I have said before. We strolled in took in the architecture and atmosphere and went straight to the temple elephant so that the kids could get blessings from it. Shortly before reaching the elephant, a beggar woman approached us. Somehow, we managed to get past her without her following and we reached the pachyderm safely. Charlotte emptied my pocket of coins; giving one at a time to the elephant. It takes the coin, gives it to its handler and then touches your forehead with its trunk in blessing. Sammy was too frightened to try it.

Just as we were about to move on, a man smiled and stepped next to me. He loitered for some time. This is usually the signal that he is the insidious bastard type of tout. Then he started with a song and dance about how he needed 100 rupees to get back to Chennai. I told him to get lost. I loathe professional beggars with the fury of a thousand suns. Any able bodied person who consciously chooses to beg instead work is not a good person in my book. Tellingly, the one phrase in Kannada that I know is to tell such people to get a job.

He left to look for another mark and I continued on my merry way.

A while later, we were lounging near one of the small shrines near the eastern gopura. I stepped away to photograph temple monkeys. Another fellow came up to me. This one was wearing the saffron (orange) dhoti of a devout Hindu sadu. He started to tell me that he lost his pass and needed help. I mentally groaned. “Here we go again. Why won’t these people leave me alone?” Saffron dhoti or no, my patience was at an end.

You would not do this if I was Indian!

I turned and walked away.

He stammered…

I am not a beggar! All Indians are not beggars!

Then he walked away.

A short while later, he returned. I had moved over to the tank (artificial pond) to watch a kingfisher hunt, but the others had remained in place. He pointed to me and said to Holger.

Your friend said that all Indians are beggars! We are not beggars!

He went on accosting Holger for a few minutes. I never said that and don’t think it, so I don’t know where he came up with that idea. As far as I could tell, there are four possible reasons he acted that way:

1 – He was just unbalanced.

2 (the cynical version) – he was just using it as a psychological lever to pull at our heartstrings and do a scam. After all, nobody wants to think of themselves as bigots and people may be inclined to try and prove that they are not under such conditions.

3 (slightly less cynical) – He was trying to scam me, but was still genuinely offended at my gruff response.

4 – He was genuinely the engineer that he claimed to be and genuinely in need of help and had no clue what a riff-raff magnet foreigners are. Middle class Indians are often shocked at some of the experiences I’ve had. I distinctly remember Siva being wide eyed about the guy asking for my socks. If he does not personally know any foreigners, he may be unaware of this and not understand my reaction.

I do wonder what it was.

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Touts

As Daniela’s sisters are visiting and we have travelled around quite a bit in the past couple of weeks. I am constantly reminded of a word that I quickly learned when we first got to India.

Tout

A tout would be called a solicitor in America (and what is called a lawyer in America is called a solicitor in the UK). You find these people wherever there are tourists or pilgrims; which are a form of domestic tourist here in India. They generally come in three flavors:

The Solicitor – This type of tout is usually has some knickknack or service that he (nearly always a he; rarely a she) is trying to sell. The service may be taxi or guide services if it is a tourist spot. The knickknack will often be some low budget, completely useless item that has nothing to do with the theme of the place; cheap sunglasses, cheap wooden flutes, little drums, toys, etc. Sometimes, the knickknack is something actually useful, such as fruits or jaggery. Their natural habitat is major intersections and bus stands. They’ll walk along the busses or from car to car hawking their wares. The solicitor is the least annoying form of tout and is sometimes even welcome, such as when they are offering mangoes and cucumbers to occupants of busses stopped at stands, or cars at traffic lights. There is a little girl that haunts a railroad crossing on the road between Krishnagiri and Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. She is the only source that I know of for brown jaggery, a lightly refined form of brown sugar.

The solicitor will move on if you are not interested in what they have to sell.

The Barnacle – The barnacle is a variant of the solicitor that haunts tourist places and pilgrimage sites. Unlike the solicitor, the barnacle nearly never has anything that you would actually want. No mangoes, no cucumbers and no jaggery. Instead, they have low quality knickknacks and postcards. Once they have pinned you as a potential customer, they never leave; much like a barnacle clings to a ship. No amount of the word “no” will deter them.

Sometimes you can get several barnacles at a time, all selling the same exact thing. Once you have made the mistake of being polite to them, getting the crowd to go away is nearly impossible.

A pack of rare female barnacles

A pack of rare female barnacles

The Insidious Bastard – This is by far the most annoying sort of tout. They try the friendly approach where they just cling to you and socialize; at least at first. Ostensibly, they are being “helpful” and “friendly”. Since they might actually be someone who is just friendly and curious about the foreigners, you are reluctant to tell them to get lost. Somewhere along the line, they will ask for money of course. If they can actually provide a service that you are willing to pay for, then fine. Usually, they are just leeches that lower your enjoyment of the time/place, actually know less about the history of a place than you do if you did your homework and will later demand an outsized payment (at least from foreigners) for “guide services”.