The disparities between our lifestyle and the stark lifestyle here are enormous. Many people live off the land, hawk whatever they can, and live in makeshift accommodation.
The beggars are a challenge. We have both learned that, for us, God speaks through people - and we hear the message when we are willing to listen. My discomfort with the beggars is more about me than it is about them, and I am only beginning to understand how to face the challenges they ask me to face in myself. In Cambodia, the begging was more harsh than what I experienced in India - people with no face, no arms, no hands, and no money. I learned that I have a choice in how I interact with these human beings, and that I give when I can, and I make a difference when the time is right - and the choice of that time is not mine.
The culture is structured; everyone has a place - and the role of tourists is clear. You must pay whenever you are given the opportunity. I have learned to carry 10 rupee (20 cent) notes wherever I go. I can then pay the beggars, tip the porters, and pay to take a picture of a person - which, of course, they all expect and welcome.
Learning to bargain is difficult, because it is an art. Purchase here is not about the price - it is about relationship. Whenever we buy something, be it a new carpet or a package of figs, we are exposed to be overcharged and cheated. There is no fixed price, and there are no rules. We came to accept that we pay more -- twice or three times is ok, but we get offended when the amount is 10 times. On occasion, we were told the price was fixed, and there was no negotiation, but we could get a 20% discount. The relationship part seems most important with business people who sell carpets, jewels, and other items of significant value, yet it is as important when we buy bananas.
In Jaipur, we asked to see a place where carpets were made, and I have attached several pictures. This place has people in homes that do the carpets, and they support a substantial economy. We learned a lot about carpet making, and saw first hand how the carpets are cleaned,how errors are corrected, how the shaving is done, how the backs are burned, and how the carpets are washed. Darlene could not resist, as she had planned to buy a carpet, and one is on its way home now. I am sure we paid more than we needed to, but that is life in India. Everyone takes a piece of the action, and we are the action.