What? A Tolerable Rickshaw Driver?

This is what I have learned from more than 12 years of blogging: the online world is filled with illiterates and fools, none of whom realize they are illiterates and fools.

India has been graced of late with visits from two, um, luminaries. Actor Wil Smith is making many friends with his over-the-top praise of Bollywood actors and music. And George Bush is being feted like a returning white Raj. You think Canadians are pathetic with their fawning appreciation for any scrap of American praise? The Indian papers are downright embarrassing as they trip over themselves to report –as front page news, mind you– that Bush “approves of Indian democracy”.

What they don’t report is that Bush has been careful to praise Pakistan, as well, with each official statement. Bush is here to smooth the way for a US-India civil nuclear partnership, and has given implicit approval, so the papers say, of India’s (and presumably Pakistan’s) military nuclear programmes.

What is encouraging is that Bush has inserted himself into the Kashmir peace process. Heck, nothing else has worked, so the dude can’t make things much worse –can he?

Other big news here is that avian flu panic has gripped the nation, as a few cases have been identified. The predictable result is that people are afraid to eat chicken and eggs, even though you can only get the disease from contact with a live bird.

To quell concerns, in cities all over the country, the so-called “Poultry Welfare Association” is giving away hundreds of kilograms of cooked chicken and boiled eggs. It makes for good newspaper photos! Though I have to wonder how it’s in poultry’s welfare to kill them and eat them.

Today was my last full day in Hyderabad, and it was a relaxing one. I overpaid a rickshaw driver to take me to some tourist locations: the Golconda Fort –India’s Masada, where a local king staved off the Mughal imperial army– and a series of majestic Islamic tombs.

Now, I hate rickshaw drivers. They are guaranteed to make a stressful day worse. After an uncomfortable flight, when you’re lugging big bags around, having newly arrived in a new and scary place, you can always count on the rickshaw driver to try to take you somewhere other than the hotel you reserved, and to try to make unscheduled stops at vendors where he gets a commission. I’ve come very close, in many nations, to physically assaulting taxi and rickshaw drivers when they have refused to take me directly to my stated destination.

But today’s dude was surprisingly tolerable. He proved knowledgable about his city and quite pleasant, and even brought his 5 year old son along for the ride. I now know that my Hindi truly sucks because I can’t even communicate with a child. But of course I had in my possession the ultimate child communication device: the digital camera. Kids with cameras have a way of making language moot. (The price being scores of useless photos of the backs of hands and feet.)

But the highlight of my day was when the soda vendor, a young man of 24, wanted to know my exercise routine, since he wanted to become as “muscular” as me. Hey, I’m just reporting what he said! Maybe he was trying to pick me up, pick my pocket or sell me something –I don’t care. I’ll take a compliment however it comes!

Tonight I head back to Delhi. Tomorrow I read for Nehru University. And the day after, I fly back to Ottawa via New York. Can’t believe it’s almost over.