India wins with seconds to spare . . .

He was getting even with the 'don't touch me' man.

I lost.

I put up a good fight, but in the end, I lost.

I wanted to see India up close and personal. I wanted to experience the culture, see the people, ALL the people in their own land and on their terms. I’m an American, I come from an egalitarian society where all men are created equal etc. etc., and I wanted to believe that I could treat Indians as equals and be accepted as one of them. Well, maybe without all the dirt and stuff, but just be friendly, say ‘hi’, take a few pictures, and hopefully get a smile back. There’s a lot of dirt here.

And I think I did a hell of a job. I mean I nearly made it out of the country without slamming a 5 year old’s face on the pavement.

Nearly.

OK, he was 7 or 8, but . . . see, slightly more than 6 hours before I was to get in the car to start my journey home, I was walking to the mall with 2 friends when we were beset by three beggar children. They ignored my companions and focused their attention on me. It could be that one of my companions is Latino and, having dark skin and hair, looks like a local. Of course that would not explain why they ignored the other friend who is as white and pasty as me. More so actually, as he hasn’t been in the country as long as I have.

It could also be that I’m larger and slower, and therefore an easier target.

Or it could be that they wanted revenge. A couple of weeks ago I told one of them ‘DON’T TOUCH ME!!’. I suspect they took offense.

It’s not a caste thing, I’m not a racist like some Indians who don’t want any contact with the ‘filthy untouchables’. One of my traveling companions, the lady with the strange dreams, went down to the hair place in the hotel. While she was having her hair done an Indian woman came in to get a dye job. The stylist was just getting set-up when the woman said, “Put gloves on! I don’t want to get a disease!” This was to a professional stylist in a 5 star hotel.

But she was of a lower caste.

Me, I don’t care who it is doing the touching. It’s just I don’t like to be touched is all. At least not by strangers. I don’t think the beggar children made that distinction. I suspect they assumed that I don’t like to be touched by beggars specifically. Maybe they didn’t, maybe they just found someone who was bothered by touching and, being unruly brats who’ve never known any kind of discipline, decided to make a game of touching me every chance they got. I never thought I’d say it, but I miss my sister saying ‘I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!’

I ignore the children completely when they just beg, but when they start grabbing at my arm, I start swatting. They sort of press down on your forearm with 3 fingers, about as close as you can get to holding someone back without holding them. THAT's the touching I don't like, and that's what I yelled about. They’ve been giving me a wide berth since I started shaking off their touching with the back of my hand. I don't do it hard, I don't aim, I don't even look, and I've never made contact. But the message is clear enough: if you touch me, I get to touch you back.

Combined with this I have also perfected, after 8 weeks, a loud angry ‘Nehi!!’ that, delivered with force upon their approach, has successfully kept them at bay. They know me, for the most part, and after 8 weeks of not getting any money out of me they don’t press the issue.

Until today.

Today, three kids descend upon me like flies on . . . well, they start asking for money, and I say ‘Nehi’ with my meanest face, and 2 of them back off. But the third one doesn’t, he does something new; he grabs my arm. Not grabs AT my arm as I described, no, this kid wraps his hand around my forearm and holds on. And his hand is wet and sticky.

I dislike this.

I do what anyone might do, I try to pull my arm away. I pull it forward then straight up to get him off, while giving my loudest, angriest ‘Nehi!!’ yet. Problem is, he’s determined. He doesn’t let go. What happens when a 300 pound man flings an arm with a kid attached who, it seems, weighs all of about 20 pounds?

I turn around to see him laying face down on the pavement. I wait one second, two seconds, he doesn’t move. He’s not unconscious, he’s supporting his weight on his forearms, but he's just lying there. After about 5 seconds he turns over. There’s a red scrape about the size of a 2 rupee coin on his forehead. Snot is pouring down his face. He starts crying.

I realize that people are gathering. One of my companions calls my name. I turn to him. He looks me dead in the eye and jerks his head: ‘We should go. NOW.’ He’s right of course. I turn and walk away.

So now I can add child beater to my resume. 4 sons and I’ve been able to avoid that. Until now.

In retrospect, in the hot partially-melted light of Indian reality, I think it was planned. Maybe not the getting injured part, but the grabbing. Why after 8 weeks did he suddenly decide to grab hold and not let go? Why was his hand wet? Not sticky like he didn't wash his hands after eating something sweet, but downright wet. He had put his hand in something. When I got to the mall I found a bluish-grey streak on my arm where he had grabbed me. He was getting even with the 'don't touch me' man.

I guess he showed me.

I so didn’t want to be THAT person, the one who takes a car everywhere, who doesn’t set foot outside the compound, who doesn’t actually SEE any people except the ones in the office and boutiques. It occurs to me that this is why I have such a generous car allowance: the people who make these decisions clearly ARE that person. That's why they picked a 5 star hotel in a slum; they couldn't care less what the neighborhood looks like, they have no intention of seeing any of it. When they're not in the hotel or in the office, they'll be in a car driving into the city to shop. You have to go pretty damn far to burn through $40 a day American in India. A driver will wait outside a restaurant or shopping center all day long for $40 American. Literally, all day long. And you'd still have enough left to get you to the office that night.

I hang out at the mall for an hour. I find a washroom to get the slime off my arm. Just a washroom, no commode, no door. It's called a 'hand wash', they're in every restaurant. Clearly this isn't an unusual problem. I can't concentrate, I'm too upset. I excuse myself and head back to the hotel.

Outside the mall, out of sight of my companions, I call the hotel a half a block away. I ask them to send a car to pick me up.

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