We were up at 5.30 today for a 6.30 departure for our early train. I almost forgot that today is my birthday – I am always on tour for my birthday. I am just having a coffee and some toast at 6 am when the waiter appears with a huge birthday cake, candles and all. The group sing Happy Birthday and the hotel staff box the cake up for me. I don’t want to be ungrateful but now I have my backpack with my overnight stuff, my bag with my valuables and paperwork, my bag full of laundry and a huge cake to take onto the train.
I am not very keen about taking groups onto public transport, in case they do something like get off at the wrong station or not get on the train at all. The train today was on time and we were in first class. I relaxed a little and decided that there was no way that I was carrying that cake off the train. I cut the cake up and handed it out to my clients and also to the local people on the train. Even the ticket collector had some birthday cake.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet are the hawkers here in India. Any western group literally gets mobbed, wherever they go in India, by these street sellers who are just trying to make a living. I tell my groups not to talk to the hawkers and not to even say “No”, as “no” means “maybe” in India – the hawkers consider the lines of communication open, even if someone says ”no” to them. I still try to help the hawkers by selling their stuff on the bus – this way the clients won’t get ripped off and they make some money. The outcome is that, I am the one that gets hassled by the sellers. They call me “Chachi” a kind of term of endearmnt for female tour guides. Everywhere I go I hear the words “Help me, Chachi, Help me sell, Chachi”.
Many people think that the largest employer in India is the Indian railway, well actually the biggets employer is the street. There are 10 million street sellers/hawkers in India and 60 million people rely on this street business. I always try to be sympathetic to these hawkers, who can be very persistant and annoying, but they have a tough life and at least they are trying to make a living, instead of begging.