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Of Beggars and Kings

A Day Trip to Agra

April 22nd, 2008 · Written by · 1 Comment

“Here they come,” said Edward. He was a lawyer for an oil company, out of Singapore. And he knew what that made him in my eyes. But somehow, on this long bumpy ride down from Delhi, we had got past all that, and even exchanged some jokes and travel stories. And he was always glancing down at his cell phone, tapping in text messages to his wife, back in Singapore.

…they pulled themselves along with their arms, and they had twisted, gnarly clubs instead of legs, and humps instead of backs…

And then I looked down, and there they were: more of the dark people, but these were somehow incomplete: they pulled themselves along with their arms, and they had twisted, gnarly clubs instead of legs, and humps instead of backs, but they still had those limpid whites set in the dark faces, and then, when they got up next to you, they stretched out a hand, and the dark pools inside the whites turned up at you, and you felt fear and revulsion and shame and…but no, no. Don’t face that now; better to wait until you’re back at the hotel room, in the dark, after the Sikh has come to turn down your bed and brought you an evening aperitif, and you have turned off the television and the darkness has come down whether you wanted it to or not. No, go back to that vision, over there, beyond the meandering river, go back to Shah Jahan and the love he had for his wife, and how these brown people that grew up all around the Red Fort had achieved tolerance, and openness, and acceptance, and how it all came down to that, even for these poor creatures dragging themselves through the dirt to beg for a rupee.

And Edward was a corporate lawyer, but he was still a human being, and we looked at each other, standing there on the bridge that spanned the muddy stream bed and we each saw the other’s jaw stiffen as our eyes met: me, clutching my camera and trying not to think about it, and he, finger poised over the keypad of his cell phone, where he had been tap-tap-tapping out a message to his wife, back in Singapore, and we…said…nothing. Nothing. We said nothing.

Our guide, an old Hindu man who could speak English as well as Hindi, and who made a pretty good living taking rubes like Edward and me to carpet shops and clothing stores, where he received his kickback from the salesmen after they had plundered our credit cards, stepped out of the van, brushed past the twisted forms at his feet, took each of us by the elbow, and shepherded us toward the gate. “The Red Fort was built by Akbar, in 1565,” he began…

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Tags: Literature ·

One Comment so far ↓

  • Dart2345

    Very well written! I almost felt as if I were there in the car and experiencing a visit to Akbar.

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