In­dian in­ter­ludes

FOL­LOW THE READER

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JU­DITH SALMON

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

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