On our only visit to Jaipur, Jenny and I suddenly found ourselves swept into a wave of Spanish-speaking tourists. They were exiting a temple, and their guide was exhorting them onward to their next sight; since we were wandering aimlessly at the time, we figured that they might be headed somewhere interesting. So we allowed ourselves to bounce along in their wake, just to see where it would lead us.
Ten steps outside of the temple, the touts attacked.
It was like a goblin charge in Lord of the Rings: the enemy merchants appeared as a horde and rushed into the midst of our adopted group with a divide-and-conquer strategy, each hawker latching onto a tourist and battering him or her with puppets and flutes and other totally-authentic Jaipur knick-knacks until half of them bought something just to be left alone. In the churning waters of the moneyed and the moneyless, the sound of their sales pitches rose into the air.
Their pitches were in Spanish.
“Señor! Señora!” The touts shouted. “Especias! Artesanía! Trabajos manuales! Tengo siete hijos… señor, por favor…!”
The Spaniards pursed their lips and speed-walked towards a group of bicycle rickshaws waiting down the street. The rickshaw pullers had obviously been bribed to move from in front of the temple where the tourists had been dropped off; now they watched from down the street, a distance far enough that the touts had more than enough time to make their sales.
“Señor! Muy bonito brazalete!” One tout began pulling at my shirt, walking backwards alongside me with more deftness than I could walk forwards on the typically-uneven Indian sidewalk. He barraged me in Spanish far superior to that which I’d retained after two semesters studying it in college. “De la fábrica de mi tío. Señor, mira!”
Suddenly it was clear just how well organized Jaipur’s souvenir trade truly was. The touts had clearly been tipped off that Spanish-speaking tourists would be exiting this particular temple at this particular time. The fact that they’d so strategically organized the bicycle rickshaws implied a level of action on intelligence to be envied by militaries around the world.
What’s more, the fact that they were speaking Spanish suggested that multilingual street peddlers are dispatched in SWAT Team fashion. Buried in a mountain cave somewhere outside of Jaipur, we suspect, there is a gleamingly-futuristic central headquarters, in which street peddler generals plot the movements of tourists on high-tech command-and-control consoles. Their informants are everywhere: chaiwallahs at the train station scrutinize the debarking faces, autorickshaw drivers report on who is dropped off where, and hotel clerks transmit the nationality of the passports they collect when they register. All this information is relayed to central headquarters, where orders are barked based on the latest intelligence. “A Russian couple has been spotted at The Amber Fort! Don’t forget to make vodka jokes! Move, people, MOVE!”
Which is why we have so many sparkly bracelets and soapstone elephants in our possession today: they know that we’re coming. They know where we’re from. The speak our language. They know our next move. Everywhere we go, they’re already there.