India chronicles – a few random stories

31 Dec

The Rajastani girl

I met her once sitting by the side of the road with a board in front of her where she neatly placed some of her henna moulds and some design books. Draped in her worn red shawl and her beige shalwar khamis, she looked small and vulnerable.

She looked up with her dark, kohl smeared eyes at me as I walked towards her.

“how much do you charge?” I asked

“120 rupees for this and this” she replied while gesturing towards the front and back of her small hand.

“oh ok, I will come back on the 16th which is before I leave to go home, I want to have henna on my hand before I leave Leh, ok?” I tried to explain to her as simply as possible.

She replied with a small ok and a smile at the corner of her lips, ” I will be here and I will wait for you.”

I tried to ask her what time she comes daily.

” I try to return at 10 in morning and go at 6″ she replied kindly.

Everyday for the rest of the days, we would walk past where her board is but she is rarely there. Sometimes we see her with a customer. Other times, she would be chatting happily with her companions; other guys sitting by the road with their shoe cleaning and shoe polishing tools.

On Thursday when we were on our way to the restaurant for breakfast, we saw the little Rajastani girl and she broke into her sweet smile as soon as she saw me and she said “Saturday right? I will wait for you!”

Saturday morning, we went for breakfast and bought water. We headed to where she usually was at 10am. She was nowhere to be found but the guys who cleaned shoes were there. We stood there for a while hoping she would turn up soon.

“hi, kaha se tum?” a suave policeman came up to us. Husband replied that we didn’t know Hindi.

” Where are you from?” he tried again in his polished English.

” Singapore,” we replied with a smile.

“You’re Muslim?” he enquired curiously. He looks really happy to hear that we were Muslims.

” I am Abdul Gani,” he exclaimed proudly with his hand gesturing to his chest where his name was on his policeman uniform.

“Your good name please?” he asked and we replied politely.

“Masyallah!” he replied happily and called his police friends to come towards us and he introduced them.

Policeman is from Nubra Valley , turtuk area. We stayed at Hunder when we went to Nubra valley.

Then he asked, “you are couple?” and we replied that we were married. ” Are you married?” to which he said not yet. He shared that people in Ladakh got married between the ages of 25 to 35 and he was 26. When asked,” people here have love marriages or match made marriages,” he replied that there are both types as that he preferred love marriage. When probed further, he shared that he had a girlfriend but mom doesn’t agree. We told him that maybe with time mom would agree. He smiled. He went on with his job.

We went opposite to sit on a cemented low wall while waiting for the little Rajastani girl.

She arrived at twenty to eleven in the attire she comes in daily. I believe the policeman told her that we were waiting for her so she turned and gave a little wave. We went over and she said ” sorry I will give you discount for you so nice you wait me.”

We had a conversation about us and her while she drew prettily on my right palm. I explained to her what I did for a living and what the husband did. We talked about water and how cold the weather is now. I realized she was a pretty smart child of 14 years old and she has been working in Leh since 4 years ago. When she asked if we had any children, I said no we don’t. She replied,” it’s ok you are so young just like 20 years old and children is very difficult to look after, feed and everything, you work tired the have baby not easy.” I realized that her perspective of children was different. Other people we met thought having children was a great thing.

She said,” you my best friend so I give you good price, other foreigners, I ask for Rs800 to Rs900 for this design.” I told her that we are leaving Leh soon so we are running out of rupees so I cannot afford so much. She looked a little sad but she said,” you are my friend, I give you good price.”

While I was getting to know little Rajastani girl, policeman said to husband, ” brother, come sit here,” he placed a piece of the cardboard box on the step of the shop we were sitting at. They chatted with other people and other shop owners so husband was entertained too. It turned out policeman was a grad from Jammu University.

We paid the Rajastani girl Rs350 for the henna. We bade our goodbyes and went on our way.

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