Posted By on July 24, 2009

So I’m leaving the Taj Mahal the early afternoon of July 15 and it’s unbelievably hot and to get to the tour bus I have to run a vendor and beggar gauntlet unlike any I’ve ever encountered including one kind of like this outside the Great Wall of China.

Only this one puts vendors and beggars into competition—in China, they were somehow separate—so the main feeling a spoiled western tourist like me has is of being put upon, harassed. I don’t want to buy a Taj Mahal snowglobe or one of those thick red bullwhips vendors keep thrusting at me.

I’m heading across a short bridge and the tour bus is in sight when I see a man on all fours with a hand out toward me. He’s on all fours because that’s how he’s built. I can’t really see the man. All I see is the deformity.

I don’t speak his language, I don’t know what to do, even though I have some rupees on me. I feel ashamed, privileged beyond my right. I wonder how the man got this way and what could be done/what he could do to change a condition so extreme it seems no amount of money in the world could fix it. Helplessness and anger and shame roil me.

I ask our tour guide why that man was that way. There were others in the area like that, too; one wasn’t on all fours but had similar stick, scuttling legs. It was phantasmagorical.

The guide told me it was about education; those men didn’t know enough to go where help, available under India’s system of free medical care, was available.

No matter. I can’t get the image of the man on all fours out of my mind. Taking a picture of him would have been blasphemous.


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