I asked him to drop me off right where we were. Apologising, he tried to assure me that this time, for real, it would be free. I jumped out and continued the walk on my own.
Crossing the road in India is a bloody nightmare. It just does not stop. I wondered how I would get across my first street. I tagged along with two women. Apparently the trick is to just keep going, and you just don’t get hit. As easy as that.
Checking the map I had saved onto my phone, I focused on my eyes for a bank. I didn’t need the map – the Great Wall of China sized line gave it away. It stretched from the bank right to the end of the street. Testing the waters, I reluctantly and half-heartedly stood at the back of it, weighing up if it would actually be better to just go back to the hotel and look up another bank. Instead, I walked up to one of the guards and shamelessly played the white Western card.
“Hi there! Do you speak English… ?”
I made it into the bank, sweating. I had only been waiting a minute but the heat announced itself wherever I was. It caused my armpit to saturate, but I didn’t realise this until I had to lift up my arm to pass the first bank clerk my ID. Men with the exact same problem filled up every inch of the tiny room.
The trip to the bank was a three-desk process. The second desk was inside the main building. I had to walk through a metal detector to get in there. The thoughtfulness of the Indians there undoubtedly calmed my nerves. Anyone and everyone who spoke English made the effort to ask if I knew what I was doing, how I was feeling and where I was from.
“Ahh… Do you like cricket?”
Finally at the third desk, I emptied out my illegal tender and felt a wave of relief. It was finally over, I thought. The clerk though, turned her head and called behind her in Hindi. I’d rather she just gave me the money, but sure, it’s good to have work friends. A man from behind the bars walked toward me and told me that they only accepted 4000 rupees a day.
I stuttered. This had all been worth ₹4000. With my passport and $500 cash, I had muddled my way through the chaotic streets and rooms of India for $88 only.
I got back to the hotel room smelling of smoke and sweat, throwing the freshly won currency on the bed. We had two days left in Delhi before our scheduled flight to Varanasi. The travel agent had organised for somebody to pick us up, but until then we were on our own. It was exhausting and we decided that the banks would be less busy in Varanasi. Also, the air outside was literally poisonous. Inside the hotel we stayed.
We arrived in Varanasi on another scorching morning. The air was nowhere near as polluted but the sun felt closer, third-wheeling me and my girlfriend for the entire journey. We drove past the first bank, but the line snaked around the building. It was something we would see at every single one until we got to our pre-paid hotel.
It’s amazing how quickly not having any money in India stops becoming an issue when your hotel has a pool. The bar at its side took eftpos and the long chairs invited even longer hours. Not having cash even gave me a convenient excuse not to tip (I told you I was a white Westerner).
Unfortunately for us, our guide Ashish was a good person and wanted to help us. He and his boss had come up with a strategy to get us our money back. The four of us would go the nearest bank and get it all exchanged in one go.
“The man Ashish got us out of a tight situation. And then took us to the Ganges”
We waved goodbye to the pool and took to the street. The first bank was only a ten minute walk away but this time, because of our association with the guides, we weren’t allowed at the front. Either, we could wait maybe two hours or go to the next one. We decided on bank #2 and there we had success. Three fans spun above us, trying their best. I would easily have traded one of them for a chair; it was far too hot to stand. Dozens of local people looked at us through the building’s protective bars. Hundreds waited behind them.
This is my final memory from the 8th of November; Modi’s dickheadedness undoubtedly ruined the holiday. But much worse than that, like incomparably worse, people actually died from this. Opposition parties claim 100 direct deaths, including many from dehydration waiting in line at the bank. People suddenly found themselves without a good chunk of their savings. Some lost it all. A trip to the bank meant setting aside most of your day. For many, that was simply not possible. A few days later, Modi decreased the amount of cash a person could exchange each day from 4000 to 2000.
In Trump’s one year since being elected President, he’s obstructed justice, made a war-widow cry, overseen possibly the worst-ever response to a hurricane and threatened the deportation of thousands. But none of these include policy that directly caused people to die. So yes, express shock at the US election but don’t forget that on the same day Modi became the world’s wanker in chief.