Three days ago, Nandram asked us if we could borrow the scooter. He wanted to take his wife to Kalyanpura, the village next door. I was set against it, but when Nikhil came back he guiltily admitted, "I've said yes."
Sure, it's hard to say no, especially to one's landlord. But it set a bad precedent. If Nandram could use our scooter anyone could. By granting one favor it opened up the floodgates for future requests.
Lakshmi bounced up the steps again today, exclaiming, "We need the scooter, can you give the key?" Nikhil said no. A few minutes later Shanti Bai came up along with Jasodha. A few neighborhood kids tagged along to witness the spectacle. The tension-saturated conversation consisted of Shanti Bai shouting (she shouts even when she's not angry) and us suggesting she ask for a ride form someone else in the Kheda. This lasted for a few minutes until she realized we were not budging.
Saying no the second time takes a lot longer than saying it the first time. This experience might sour relations with Nandram's family, but our scooter is not up for public use. We are not here to provide charity to residents of the Kheda. They travelled to different villages before we arrived, and they'll continue to do so after we leave. So why the sudden "need" for an outsider's vehicle? The most disturbing aspect of this whole ordeal was that Nandram first sent his daughter up to ask, and then his wife as his spokesperson. Not once did he approach us directly. That didn't seem right.
Let's be clear. For the villagers, we are big-city foreigners. We shouldn't try to be one of them, because we can't. And yes, there is a "we" and a "them". However, that does not mean their can't be an "us". This unity manifests itself at 11 am everyday, when women and children sit under the shade of a neem tree and enthusiastically take control of their education. I sense this "us" every night by the temple that Raju Vaishnav and his father maintain. There, women sing euphoniously and feed me 'batashas' as prasad. Such acts of "us"ness I enjoy very much. Sending children as messengers for scooter borrowing...not so much.