It’s 6:30 in the morning. The sun is coming up. I’m hungover. I’m alone again. I’m hungover because I’m alone again. Because I decided to get drunk to deal with being alone again. Last night. I got drunk. Really drunk. Because that’s sometimes how I deal with my problems.
So there’s that.
There’s also this: I’m at the fucking Taj Ma-fucking-hal. The Taj Mahal. No. The Fucking Taj Ma-Fucking-Hal. I’m there. I had my hotel people wake me up at 5:30 in the morning so that I could watch the sun come up through the minarets. I woke up when they woke me up. Then I brushed my teeth. Then I walked the two hundred meters to the gate. I waited in line. I got inside.
So I’m there, right. Some guy is leading me around, showing me good spots from which to take photographs. He is the second guy who has led me around. The first one was worth every rupee. He took my picture over and over again, had me strike poses, the like. I paid him ten rupees.
“Some people give one hundred, two hundred rupees,” he began, putting out his hand.
“I’ll give you ten.”
He was worth ten. All ten. But no more.
But the second guy has decided that I can’t tell east from west, is leading me toward the west side of the Taj so that I can take pictures of the sun coming up through the minarets. I am following him. He will get ten rupees, too. Might as well trust the people who guide foreign people to picturesque spots for a living when you’re a foreign person looking for a picturesque spot. You know?
But then my batteries run out.
Oh. You should probably have extra batteries for your camera when you visit the Taj Mahal. Just, you know, as a precaution.
So, right. Okay. My batteries run out. I’ve only been here for twenty minutes.
“Shit, guy,” I say to the second picture-guide. “What do I do?”
“You must go outside the gates and find batteries on the street,” he tells me.
“Okay, perfect,” I reply. “How much?” I’m not going to pay what he asks, I’m just curious.
“Some people pay one hundred rupees, some people pay two hundred,” he says.
“I’ll give you ten.”
He accepts. I walk–no, I power-walk (hell, I practically run)–to the gate. Say hello to the security guards.
“Hey, guys. I need batteries.” I show them my camera. It says, ‘Battery Exhausted.’ “See?” I point. “Exhausted. Battery exhausted. Can I go out and get some batteries and come back in real quick?”
“Yes, yes. Of course, my friend,” they say.
“You’ll remember my face?” I pinch my cheeks. Like an aunt might.
They assure me they will.
Of course, this being India, the Taj being the Big Motherfucker, I am besieged outside of the grounds by twelve- and thirteen-year-old touts. Touts in training. In twaining.
I say that I need batteries. I am a man on a mission. The twouts jockey for position and fight for my attention. I pick one at random. He brings me to a shop across the street.
“Batteries?” I ask.
The battery wallah nods.
And here I don’t even let him finish. Batteries do not cost 150 rupees. If you ever come to India, please do not pay 150 rupees for batteries. You’ll just be doing us poor travelers a disservice.
“40 rupees,” I offer.
No go. I walk out. He goes down to 100 as I leave, but I keep walking, led by another random child. Into the next store. Same exact thing plays out.
150? 40. Not possible, sir. Exit, Tom.
Next store, not led by small child. I go in. Battery wallah shows me the Panasonics everybody’s been trying to get me to pay 150 for.
He frowns and pulls out Duracells. They have the MRP printed on them. It says they cost 40 rupees.
“Perfect. Let me try them first, and if they work then I buy.” I rip open the packaging.
“50 rupees,” the wallah says when they work.
I laugh. “No, my friend.” I point, “MRP! MRP!” I have exact change. I give it to him and walk back to the gate. I go back inside the grounds to gaze at the Taj Mahal. To take it in. To live with it for a little while.
It is the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen.