I don’t understand India. I don’t think I ever will. (I’m not even sure that’s a possible thing to do.) But in the same way that you never really feel like an adult, you just get better at faking it, now that I’ve been in India for a couple of months, I’m able to talk to in-country noobz and come across like an old hand.
In Orchha, I got chatting to a German tourist who’d been in India for just a few days. I had breakfast with him, but he had to rush off to a pre-arranged meeting with a local man who’d aggressively befriended him in the way that any traveller in India will be familiar with. He was still trying to work out whether this apparent hospitality was genuine, or whether the entire forced relationship was ultimately aimed at financial gain. He asked me, “so what’s the deal? Is there always a catch? Are Indians always after money, either directly or indirectly?”
My answer was, emphatically, no. A great many people are after money, and I’ve done a lot of complaining about the grinding chore of dealing with them, but I’ve also encountered genuine, selfless hospitality and generosity in many places. The ratio at which you encounter the two depends on where you are: in more touristic places like the cities of Rajasthan, people’s motivations will tend towards the commercial, and somewhere like Khajuraho or Orchha, which are small settlements on the edge of hugely popular tourist sites, it will approach 100%. Conversely, it’s been in places that no tourist has ever heard of – Milak, Bhujiya Ghat, Dhuri – in which I’ve been overwhelmed by generosity and kindness.
Thinking about this reminded me that all of those places were in the first month of the trip, and since I’ve been backpacking, I’ve been taking trains and buses from tourist spot to tourist spot, and haven’t experienced anything like it since. So when SK, my host in Gwalior, asked if I’d like to spend a couple of days visiting his brother’s family in Sultanpur, a small city utterly devoid of any significance, I jumped at the offer.