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HABERFIELD, NSW ONthe road between Jaipur and Agra, I see a group of women, heads shielded from the sun by sari veils. They crouch on a carpet of short and swaying green grass.
‘‘What are they doing?’’ I ask my driver, Ashok.
‘‘They are weeding the wheat, m’am.’’
I ask him to stop so I can take a photograph. When they see me, the women hide beneath their veils and begin waving their arms above their heads. ‘‘They want you to go over,’’ he says. So I do, and he follows. ‘‘They want you to sit with them and I will take your photograph.’’
I begin to understand that this is a business transaction. They give me a photo opportunity and I give them an occasion for hilarity with my awkwardness and creaking knees, and then I hand over a small amount of money. There is more gesticulating and loud calling as we leave.
‘‘They want you to bring prints of the photos next time,’’ Ashok explains.
‘‘What, next year?’’ I ask, incredulously.
‘‘Yes, m’am, they will be here. They are always here. This is where they work.’’
We drive on and eventually stop at a small roadside service station. ‘‘You can’t go in there, m’am,’’ warns Ashok. ‘‘It is an Indian toilet, full of surprises.’’
‘‘I must,’’ I say. When I open the door to leave, I am surprised by Ashok and a very small woman in a hot pink sari — they are blocking the sunlight. It’s another business transaction. This woman is of the untouchables caste. She lives and works on the pavement outside the service station. We drive on. Returning to our vehicle after tea at a roadside restaurant, a tall man waits for us in the carpark with his stringed sitar. ‘‘Now we will listen to him,’’ Ashok tells me. Another business transaction, but this man has something else to offer. ‘‘He would like to see your coat please,’’ explains Ashok. I remove my Rajasthani jacket and pass it to Ashok. The musician turns it inside out, examines the stitching on both sides and returns it to me. ‘‘He says it is good, very good.’’
And we drive on. Art and cultural consultant Judith Salmon leads tours to India and blogs at salmonplus.com Send your 400-word contribution to our Follow the Reader column. Published columnists will receive a Lemnis Pharox Solar Kit, both an energyefficient portable light and a charger for devices such as phones and iPods. $49.95. More: 1300 LEMNIS; lemnislighting.com.au