March 7, 2012 - Narender & the Gypsy Colony
I was alone, wandering around the streets of Jaipur with a broken cell phone and no access to money. It was hot and dusty and loud. I was three months into my first trip to India and I was tired and frustrated and sick. India had torn me to pieces pretty quickly - two hospital stays, more sexual harassment than I could express with words and not an english speaking companion since I left the airplane.
I had no idea where I was or why I was in Jaipur other than to pass through on my way to Pushkar. I had been walking all day with no destination, poor Hindi speaking skills and no access to money for at least two more days.
I finally sat down on a street corner and put in my ear buds, scrolled through to find some comfort music, settled on City & Color and just remembered my Mantra "I am the Universe Breathing and I have Arrived in this Moment"... over and over ad over.
A rickshaw driver stopped next to me.
"Hello! Hello my friend!" came at me in a thick accent that I had grown used to, "What are you doing?"
"Nothing" I said, not making eye contact.
"Where you want to go?"
"I dont know. Is there a Monkey temple around?"
"Yes Yes! Come! Come!"
"As you like Madam"
As you like. I hated that phrase. At this point I hated that phrase more than any other phrase in the universe, ever spoken, in any language. As you like is what they say when they think you're an idiot. They assume you will rip yourself off.
"Its not my first day in India, Brother" I responded to him in Hindi, as I threw my bag into the rickshaw and got in.
"Madam I just need to stop home and change my shirt."
"You're kidding right?"
"No Madam, if I am seen working in this shirt big problems"
His name was Narander, and before I knew it, I was walking with him through a Gypsy colony to the place where he lived and taught music and puppeteering to children. (I know, it seems dumb to have gone with him, but this first trip to India was full of many seemingly dumb decisions based on my guts instincts, and here I am, writing this in one piece!)
“Sit Sit. I’ll bring you chai”
Before he returned with the chai, a group of young boys came in with a large copper tray of rice, daal and aloo palak. The next two hours consisted of delicious chai, far too much food, a puppeteering show put on just for me and lots of song and dance. When the festivities were finished Narender insisted that I come visit his family. His mother made me endless amounts of chai as his young sister cried relentlessly on the floor. They stared at me... and stared and stared.
It was, needless to say, a unique experience that I imagine the Monkey Temple never would have paralleled. I wouldnt know, because I never made it to the monkey temple. After leaving the colony we headed towards the temple but got distracted by a beautiful botanical park, some of Narenders dancer friends and eventually we stumbled upon some of the elephants being painted for the world famous Rajasthani Elephant Festival that would take place the next day.
I spent the entire day being taken everywhere but where I had asked to go. And I wouldn’t change a thing. I met some beautiful families, I saw into a way of Indian life I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and I made some friends - even if I never see them again.
This is a photo from the time I spent in his home. His sister is the main focus, his mother is doing dishes in the back, and his brother is sitting next to the bed that his other brother is laying in. The youngest brother had broken his leg pretty badly when he was hit by a car and he had been laying in that bed for over a month.