During my time here in Rajasthan, I have met many interesting and different people with unique backgrounds. In this post, I highlight some of my favorite and enlightening interactions with the people I’ve had the privilege of meeting.
My friends and I turn around to see who is greeting us. It’s a man in front of a shop. We smile and continue on our route. We walk alongside cars, tuk tuks and motorbikes zooming past us. We can’t hear each other over the incessant honking and sound of vehicles driving past. All of a sudden, we are forced to stop. A motorist has pulled up beside us. It’s the man from across the street who greeted us 10 seconds earlier.
Aditya: “Hello, where are you all from? I’d really like to show you my shop. I’m an artist and would be honored if you viewed my pieces”.
My friends and I look at each other with puzzled expressions. Should we trust this overeager stranger?
We make our way over to his shop.
Aditya: “I am an artist here in Udaipur. I studied with one of the greatest artists in India who has been internationally recognized. I myself have also traveled and worked abroad. I’ve lived all over places like Paris, Italy and the United States. I am also a healer. People often come to me because I am very good.”
During our visit, Aditya shared with us a journal in which his many international visitors wrote notes of gratitude to him. Many of the entries thanked him for his smile, hospitality, generosity, calming spirit, great conversation, and overall positive outlook on life. He also shared with us his artwork, which were beautiful! He did not ask us to buy anything; he simply wanted to share his life experiences with us.
Upon leaving, Aditya shook my hand to say to good bye. While firmly gripping my hand, he looked me in the eyes and began to read me. The combination of him holding my hand, looking me in the eyes and telling me about myself, shook me to my core. My heart pumped faster and harder in my chest as I tried to maintain eye contact and listen to what he was saying. I was deeply uncomfortable because the interaction was very intimate especially since I had only known Aditya for 20 minutes. I felt extremely vulnerable. How often do you allow a person to gather intimate details of your life?
Aditya: “I wish you the best of luck during your time here.”
Rani: “What would you offer me if I came to visit you in your home?”
Me: “Juice, soda, water, snacks.”
Rani: “Yes, but it would all be artificial. That stuff is bad for you. Everything I eat and drink is natural. The juice that I offered you, I made myself. I ground wheat flour myself and use that to make Chappatti. I am very serious my health. I exercise every day and I work hard. How many kgs of flour can you carry? I lift about 50 kgs every time I grind a bag of wheat.
In school, everyone including the boys was afraid of me. If a person saw me coming, they’d shout out my name and everyone would run away. I played all kinds of sports. I rode horses, shot guns, and shot a bow and arrow. I’m a Rajput you know. These are all the things that a Rajput woman takes part in.”
Rani leading our social mapping exercise Water filters installed after multiple complaints to the Sarpanch
- As a group of people are deciding where to go for dinner, another student interrupts and forces a third option on everyone, to which everyone agrees. A fellow student shouts: “That is so colonial of you!”
- On discussing caste in India: “Brahmins care too much about how they are perceived. My sister’s husband beat her so bad that she is now infertile. After he threw her on a glass table, my family didn’t go to the police. They threatened him and forced my sister to stay with him. You can’t divorce your husband no matter how badly he treats you. That’s not the Brahmin way.”
- While discussing the differences between the cost of education in the U.S. and Sweden: “University is free. We even receive a stipend while we’re in graduate school to help us get through our studies”.
- Talking about my Indian colleague’s wedding plans: “I’m inviting over 1,000 people to my wedding. I have 12 bridesmaids and 5 flower girls.”
- Meeting with different people in my research village: “Oh you’re Muslim, Mashallah! You’re staying with a Hindu family, right? If you ever want non-veg, come over to my home. My wife will make some great chicken for you.”
Chicken fried rice