N J Ravi Chander
As a hockey player representing the State Bank of India for over three decades, I played in some of the country's elite stadia. We always ended up shopping for souvenirs and other memorabilia after the matches. Our generous hosts cared for us and ensured we received the best treatment.
We enjoyed exploring the tourist attractions in and around the old cities by riding a cycle rickshaw or a horse tonga. The unhurried pace of the ride was far more enjoyable than the frantic ride in a motorised vehicle. Besides, it enabled us to take in the sights, smells and sounds. In Kolkata, it pained me to see skinny, bare-footed rickshaw-wallahs operating their hand-pulled contraptions on the bustling streets. But riding the iconic tram taught me to slow down and savour the moment.
But the most embarrassing moment I experienced on my hockey tours was unknowingly straying into a red-light district in Kanpur, while shopping on a street lined with leather stores. The city is renowned for its remarkable number of tanneries. We began by checking for quality leather shoes and canvas bags in the centre of the busy bazaar. But, not finding the items that suited our taste, we kept walking up the street to explore more shops.
As we neared the corner, the sudden presence of young women adorned with heavy make-up and revealing attire caught us off-guard. We had strayed into a red light zone! Emerging from their dark parlours across the street, the women beckoned us to come over. Shocked, we made an about-turn and hurried away, too scared to glance back.
One player, who must stay anonymous, was incredibly skilled at buying cheap items in bulk and profiting from their sale. As a result, he would rub his hands in glee when a hockey trip was on the horizon. His ‘business’ ended abruptly when his customers discovered that he was hoodwinking them by selling products of dubious quality.
On a separate occasion, a fellow player and I visited the historical Burma Bazaar in Parry’s Corner. The impressive array of imported items amazed us. When we looked at the displayed goods, a teenage boy approached us, carrying a shiny Yardley talcum powder tin. He claimed it was a foreign brand but would let it go for cheap. He asserted that the same product would cost a bomb elsewhere.
I was suspicious about the product’s genuineness but shifted my stance when the young man sprinkled some talc on our palms and asked us to sniff it. The captivating floral fragrance enticed us, leading my friend and me to buy a bottle without hesitation.
After arriving in Bengaluru, I unpacked my luggage. Inquisitive family members gathered around to get a glimpse. I extracted the items from the box. I was beaming with pride when I opened the talcum powder box. The aroma captivated everyone. The joy dissipated on discovering that only a thin layer of talc stood on top, and the remaining contents comprised refined wheat flour. As anticipated, the seller had taken us for a ride! We wondered how many unsuspecting customers the sly seller must have fooled. Street hawkers can, unfortunately, victimise unsuspecting tourists.
My travels have taught me that locals rarely treat travellers fairly and are usually untrustworthy. No matter where you go, it’s the same. They don't think it’s a transgression. Please be careful and avoid getting tricked while acquiring trinkets on your journeys.