"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 25, A Murder of Hawking Crows

Ch. 25, A Murder of Hawking Crows

Everything is funny as long as it is happening to someone else.—Will Rogers

I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “chick magnet.”    You’ve heard of them, maybe even fallen under the spell of guys who, because of their looks, demeanor, or charisma (or sometimes their cars) are so attractive to females they almost have to beat them off with a stick.

Well (ahem), turns out I’m something of a magnet myself and I could use one of those sticks.   I have empirical evidence to prove this, evidence in the form of eyewitnesses— every person in my group of this tour of India,  plus the tour guide himself, who helped me escape the unwanted attention a couple times by dropping a few choice words on them.

Yes, me, Gullible, a magnet.   I am a hawker magnet.  They sense when I am in the area and they attack mercilessly.   

I have no photos of hawkers.   Therefore you get street scenes of Agra, like this bicycler hookey-bobbing.

My initial escape from the hawkers at the gate of the Taj Mahal is temporary.   As soon as the electric bus drops us off back in the parking lot, “Sam” and “Dave” and a half-dozen of their cohorts cut me out of the safety of the herd and encircle me, holding up picture books of the Taj Mahal, bags of tiny elephants in cellophane bags, tee shirts, etc., all of which are waved in my face with abandon.

I watched this little street dog scratch at the ONLY patch of dirt to make itself a bed.

They  make it impossible for me to walk forward.  They all talk at once, never hearing me say “no!”   

No one else in the group seems to be bothered by them.  Only me, with my hawker magnetism.   “Why me?” I ask my travel companions once I am “safe” back on the bus.

I know it's out of focus.   This was taken holding my camera out the side of a vehicle, upside down, and photographing this bull crossing the road behind me.

I get all kinds of advice:   ignore them, don’t talk to them, don’t look at them.

I try that at the next stop.   I get off the bus and turn on my camera, not to take a photo but to pretend I am scrolling through photos.   It works.   The problem is, I don’t know where I am because I didn’t take a photo of the entrance sign.   Fortunately, I take a photo of the sign as we leave the area, and now I know where I was.

Another fast point, shoot, and hope.

There is a particularly annoying infestation at another venue a few days later.   I am completely encased in hawkers cawing at me like a murder of crows.   I am right at THAT point, that point so close to losing it.   It’s a very unfamiliar feeling and I don’t know what I might do next.   Not quite panic, not quite tantrum, just a point where I can’t stand any more. I look around for Dinesh and can’t see him.

Yammer, yammer, yammer in my ears.   How much, madam?   You need this, madam.   Okay, tell me how much you want to pay.   Two hundred rupees?   One hundred rupees?   Madam, madam, look at this!   Madam, five hundred rupees.   A bargain, madam.   I am giving it away.

“Help,” I say weakly.   And then, “HELP!”  Mind you, I am in a crowd of other tourists.     Sandy comes to my rescue, grabs me by the arm, pulls me close, and forcefully escorts me through the yammering crows and down to the jeeps waiting to take us to the coach.   Then, figuring I am safe, leaves me to go back to her husband.

Out the rear window screen of the coach.   Water buffalo coming up the street.

The hawkers pile in the jeep!   One drops a tee shirt in my lap.   I let it fall to the floor.   Another insists I buy a junky musical instrument from him. That one has followed me quite some distance.  Still others wave books and more merchandise, none of which I want. 

The photo man shows up, and I buy photos from him of me on an elephant.   That incites the hawkers to a new frenzy.

Early morning warmth.

The jeep takes off and the hawkers ride the bumper for a way, still shoving merchandise in my face. 

Unbelievably (in retrospect), I pick up the tee shirt on the floor of the jeep and hand it to the hawker before we outdistance them altogether.

“Why me?”   I plead. “Why me?”  
“You’re too polite.”   “You’re too nice to them.”

Some of the goats, cattle, and dogs that roam freely actually return to their owners in the evening.

I have another idea.   I think it’s because of my 5’2” (okay, 5'1-3/4") height.  I’m their size, for the most part.   I cannot imagine those hawkers surrounding some of the six foot and more tall men on this trip, or the women taller than me.

There’s another possibility.   All the other women in my group have a male partner with them.
And a third option:   I am Gullible.   I am Hawker Magnet!   Hear me roar!

I don’t mind in the least all the young men who want to take my photo or have theirs taken with me.   Or the children, and there are many, who crowd around me politely.

Just before I took this photo, these kids were begging.   As soon as I held up the camera, they posed.   I wonder if they expected money?

But Vantage Travel does one thing we all appreciate.   At each stop, Vantage allows a select few hawkers on the bus, one at a time.  This ensures that those who want a certain souvenir can purchase it at a price that is fair to both the hawker and the purchaser, without the frenzy of the circus.   And many do, including me.

As I handed one vendor the money, he looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, "Thank you, m' maa."  "Maa" means mother or grandmother.  It is a term of respect for an elder.   Nice.   I heard it several times in the trip.

I even buy one of those junky musical instruments for a couple bucks.   After I look at it, I wish I’d bought the first one I saw—the one before Sandy rescued me.   I’d heard the guy play it and it sounded nice.  I wanted to send it as a joke to my nephew Jason who seems to be collecting stringed instruments.

The one I bought in peace and quiet within the confines of the Vantage coach?   Last time I saw it, it was where I’d put it—in the waste basket of my hotel room in Delhi.

The disintegrating joke for my nephew.

And learning that I am a hawker magnet was one of the two surprises I had in Agra--the bad one.


More water buffalo.

Note the "tailored" cold weather coats for the oxen.

Very typical truck in India.

Goats and a camel.

And now:

The two photos above were the result of my trying to get into this tower, one of my favorite photos of the trip.

And while I was standing alongside the river, I took my other favorite photo:

And, not a favorite photo, but interesting, some water buffalo on the far shore:


  1. What a journey you were on in India. You captured some phenomenal pictures of your surroundings. Just seeing the photos and knowing you were there, excites me. I can't imagine how surreal it must have been for you.

  2. Really, really liked your favorite photos at the end. The primary reason the hawkers may have been at you more than the others IS that you were a single woman. I found in India that my NO did not carry any near the weight that Cap's NO carried! The "traffic" of not only cars, trucks, buses, cabs, auto rickshaws and scooters, but the camels, the water buffalos, the goats and the dogs crowding the roads are SO India. For the kids I think you ARE just a magnet. Thanks for another day in India! Patti and Cap

  3. I sure love the sayings you have at your disposal. Its fine so long as it's happening to someone else. You look the hawkers directly in the eyes .. then you put your flat palm at the level of your eyes and then you flick your fingers at their eyes as your hand moves towards their eyes. Stops them cold. It takes some practice and a man can pull this off better than a women I believe. While I was WITH Patti on our 1996 trip men actually tried to hit on Patti with me sitting beside her. One in our train compartment. LOVE the photo of the two birds in the sand. Oh yes it is ALL SO LIKE INDIA. It is all so familiar. Are you planning your next trip to India. Smiles from Patti and myself ..