India Travelogue, Ep. 6:


Everywhere we went in India, whether urban or rural, we encountered folks trying to earn a few rupees. I’ve already written about the multitude of souls, mostly children, seeking money by begging. In addition, there are legions of folks, young and old, standing by to serve tourists in exchange for what amounts to a dollar or two. (During our time there, the exchange rate was 65 rupees to one US dollar.)

I paid both male and female attendants outside restrooms who did nothing more than hand me a napkin. (Most public restrooms in India don’t have toilet paper, soap or paper towels. I carried supplies in my purse everywhere I went but it’s hard to ignore an earnest attendant.) I paid porters to tote my luggage. I paid staff I never laid eyes on to launder and iron my clothes. The list can be endless and, although when traveling in America I’m pretty much a self-serve gal, I relaxed and gave into those who were waiting (and sometimes begging) to help.

The fellow in this photo shined shoes. I was wearing sneakers so I couldn’t patronize him, but our tour guide stopped long enough to get his black leather loafers spiffed up. He paid the boy 10 rupees (about 15 cents). I tried to imagine how many shoes the boy had to shine to eat a meal (much less pay rent or buy new clothes or other necessities), but my mind got lost in translation from third-world to first-world economics and things simply didn’t compute for me.

In the quiet moments of my trip I spent a good bit of time pondering the relativity of wealth. There’s no more relation to my standard of living from this boy’s, than there is to Donald Trump’s from mine. I decided that in the face of such disparity the most important currency is kindness. And in India, I learned the exchange rate is always favorable.