I adjusted the kirpan to check if it was stuck. It was big. It was basically a sword. I adjusted it again. Panicked, I noticed the mob was getting bigger. I was against the wall. Still, I told them, I wasn’t paying. They could come and get it. I put my hand on my knife again just to check that it was there. All this over 4 rupees and a coca cola. Pointless but at the moment it seemed big.
Rewind 20 minutes. It was the year 2000. I was standing at a coca cola stall in Anandpursahib India. The guy before me paid 7 rupees for a mini coca cola. The guy before him paid 7 rupees for a mini coca cola. I handed the guy 10 rupee note. The one with Gandhi on it. I waited for change. No change came. I asked and he said they are 10 rupees. I asked again and he says get out of here. They are 10 for people like you.
People like me I thought. I put 4 rupees on the counter and popped open another coca cola. I took a long sip. It was good.
He got explosively pissed off. Like white man has been stealing my country for 200 years pissed off.
But how would I know. I was 16.
Realizing I may be in for a rumble, I downed the Coke and took off. Abandoning his booth, he grabbed his neighboring stall gang and they followed in pursuit.
As we approached the end of the alley, I looked back. It was going to be a brawl.
The mob started to grow as we all argued about what happened. And then cursing, lots of cursing. Mostly in punjabi but some english too. More people crowded around. I explained that I was tired of getting hustled. Five years I had been here. How long will I be a foreigner ? He called me a thief. I called him a cheater. I told him if he wants his money he can come get it.
People started chiming in, saying you had better pay or you are going to get a beat down. I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Everyone cursed me. Eventually someone stepped in and offered to pay the 4 rupees.
I protested. I said, “You better not”.
He protested. He said “I won’t take it”.
Men are kind of dumb that way. Stalemate you could say.
In hindsight, I wish I had approached it differently. But it would be an experience I remembered through a number of other unsavory situations. I reflect on two things from this experience.
First, one person with conviction can over power an unorganized group. That’s an important one.
Second, things go much better if you take small things and make them into nothing rather than blowing them up into something.
A guy with some refinement ended up in the crowd and convinced everyone to chill out. It was an off ramp for everyone. He shamed us all, but it was still the best 4 rupees of my life.