India 2016 | “Keeping Our Heads” – Rickshaw Run, Day 4: Jaipur to Agra — 7 April

“It was my understanding there would be no algebra required this entire trip.”

If a motorcycle carrying one driver and one passenger driving at a speed of 90 kmph heading west for 15 minutes was gathering a group of friends i.e. forming a mob, to beat the shit out of you — a potential lynching and hanging waiting to happen — and you were driving an auto rickshaw at 60 kmph east from the same spot the motorcycle started driving west… How long it would it take for the motorcycle to catch you; and how many kilometers would the motorcycle and the rickshaw have driven?

I’m not sure why eighth grade algebra was running through my head as we were racing down the Indian national highway, on our way to Agra. Danger was imminent, a potential gang coming after us for our heads.

Just another day on the Rickshaw Run.
Jaipur was behind us.
Agra was ahead of us.

Rewind about an hour, and we had stopped on the side of the road — the national highway — into a large street stand on the side of the highway, with street food cooked the way it’s been cooked for hundreds of years, if not longer; and we were hungry. Derek, DaveRisner, and I were in an animated conversation about logistics around whether to drive straight to Agra or not. Derek was determined to get there. I didn’t think we could make it before nightfall. I wanted to revisit Fatehpur Sikri, about forty kilometers closer to us from Agra. Staying there seemed to be the logical move in my mind. Derek assured us he could get us to Agra safely and in the morning visit Fatehpur Sikri. While he was most decidedly the strongest driver between the three of us, I was not ready to put ourselves into his hands on day four. It just didn’t seem logical to me. Our conversation became decidedly more and more vocal. The cameras were rolling. Derek wasn’t budging. Neither was I. When we pressed DaveRisner to vote one way or the other, he wouldn’t commit, deciding not to take sides, infuriating me.

Unbeknownst to us, a group of Indians at the table across from us were agitated over our conversation (to put it mildly), perhaps because they couldn’t understand us? Perhaps thinking we were hostile? Perhaps thinking we were foreign? Perhaps, I don’t know… And before I knew it…

A young Indian man stood above me, staring me down. Aware of his presence, my temper got the best of me, raising my voice a decibel “Dude, I am the last man you want to fuck with!” He sat down next to me wearing a scowl on his face, staring at me even further. “What?!? What!?!” He made a play to grab my phone. “That’s my phone! You don’t get to touch that. It’s mine.” My temper had boiled over. And I was ready to cold-cock him; and no doubt in my mind I would have dropped him. I like to think it was Derek that got me to this point. Nothing like your best friend to get you so heated that you’re about to beat the shit out another man. It must be the “Puvathingal” in me. We’re a heated bunch.

“Cecil, calm down!” Derek was the voice of reason. My temperature immediately fell to acceptable levels. Derek had that magical power, to calm me down (and in India, amidst the madness of everyday life, his demeanor was more than necessary; it was wanted). I smiled, and it seemed all was good. My “new friend” was taking pictures of Derek and DaveRisner. My smile was beaming from ear-to-ear, but my eyes told a different story, “Derek, he’s taking pictures of both of you.” A darkness fell over me. I was on high-alert. I could tell Derek was too. DaveRisner was trying to decipher the menu. “Hmmm… should I have chai?”

The young man took a good hard look at me before giving me his phone, his eyes trying to bore into my very being unaware of who he was really dealing with. Nothing good was going to come out of this, I thought. While I was looking at the picture, he said “India” and made the sign around his neck for slitting a throat.

The picture was of a man hanging from the tree.

“Boy, that escalated quickly. That got out of hand fast! Brick killed a guy! Did you throw a trident?”

My Spidey-sense was working on overdrive.

Soon another young man came over making the same gestures, animated and falsely confident. I wanted to drop them both; it took everything to contain myself. An older gentleman (probably my age, but looked anciently older) chastised both “men”. Because they were speaking Hindi (and not Malayalam), I could not understand them. That being said, I knew exactly what was being said.

I turned to my boys. “We got to get the fuck out of here.”

“Dude — what’s going on? Are we gonna eat?” DaveRisner quipped.

“Ok, let’s go.” Derek sprung into action and before I knew it, he was already at our rickshaw. DaveRisner and I were trying to pay for our food that we ordered, and get it. We had an algebra problem to solve.

“Cecil, get the fuck over here! Hustle up! We gotta go!” Immediately realizing the gravity of the situation, Derek was taking command. I hate being ordered. Candidly speaking, he was right. We were on the wrong side of an algebra problem. And I had no idea what sort of Indian mob waited for us… for our heads. I liked my head. I liked Derek’s and I liked DaveRisner’s. We had nice heads. And I wanted to keep it intact.

Dinner was still being made; the food smelled so good. We were starving; at least I was. And I wanted the food; and I wanted to pay for it. Derek was barking orders. Finally I gave 100 rupees for the cook’s troubles. I weighed dinner versus a head on a platter. We didn’t get any food. Racing to Derek (or as he likes to reminisce when he retells the story — lallygag to him and the rickshaw), we boarded and raced east. For the first hour, Derek drove in silence while DaveRisner and I contributed to the lack of conversation, in our heads I’m sure wondering — what would we do if the Indian mob came after our heads?

We would never find out.
And we never did see Fatehpur Sikri.

The next thing we knew, it was dark and we had gone through another series of waves of traffic through the city streets, and we were drinking with our newfound friends in Agra, the Taj Mahal in our future.

Our heads intact.

Dang, this is only Day Four.

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