The one question that I was asked most in Rajasthan was ..’aap akeli ho? Are you alone?’
Rajasthani men are very protective of their women. The were very protective of me too and very respectful.
When people remind me of female foeticide and sati… I remember that the men here give their lives for honour too. They just value honour more than life.
In the Indian society which is becoming increasingly materialistic the idea of living or dying for honour is becoming very alien. Honour to the dustbin .. if it helps you become rich and/or powerful. I don’t know if the Rajasthanis can be understood from the outside… by the government, the media or the book writers.
The first lady I met in Rajasthan was a bus conductor. As was the next. The second lady had an M.A. in English literature and was the wife of a prof. Both ladies had the ‘sar pe pallu’. Both men and women were surprised that I was allowed to go country trotting without the protection of a man or at least a group of women. However the Rajasthan government encourages women to travel alone by giving them a 30% discount at R.T.D.C. hotels.
The third lady I met was a punjabi lady. 60 years old. Escorting her daughter and grandchildren to Ajmer, Pushkar etc. She started speaking as if travelling alone was an invitation to be violated. She was so negative and full of fear that I had to move away from her in the bus at some point. She was not willing to accept my direct evidence that I had traveled on my own, not only in India but also abroad (on work and on exploration) and that as a rule men and women are very helpful all over the world. She felt that it was unsafe for her to travel alone even at her age.
The next ladies I met, were a part of a singing group of desert dwellers who come to Pushkar to sing for tourists and make money. Very pretty and with lovely voices. One with dark eyes and one with light eyes, with their moms and one of their dads as a part of the group. I think their chief interest in me was to see how much money they could make off me. Their moms and I exchanged some mutual sympathy about leg pains.
The next lady was in fact a young girl, a cook in the R.T.D.C. hotel. She got the job because her dad had passed away 9 years ago. She was the sole support of her mom and younger sister. Her dress and mannerisms were masculine – like the hero in the fukrey movie. I think that if a woman is in fact forced to step out of home, everyone becomes her uncle, brother and son. She was the only girl on staff in that hotel. We took quite a liking to each other and she refused a final tip from me, wanting only a parental As’IrwAd from me.
The next lady was an obnoxious foreigner, a social worker who brought stray dogs into the dining hall, moved table cloths to suit herself and glowered when she should have smiled. She is a long term guest at the hotel and the staff fawn on her, to her face anyway. She is the reason I left Pushkar early. She reminded me of the white-tourist-colonisation of our natural and holy places.
The next lady was another young girl doing her B.Ed. Her dad dropped her at the bus-stop in Pushkar and the college bus would pick her up in Ajmer. She had completely bought into the idea that the world outside was an unsafe place. She never went out in Pushkar except to college and had no idea of what was there.
The last young lady I met was also young and of the gautamasa gOtra (my kin!). Her whole life upto that point was in Bhilwada, chittor and in udaipur where she had studied. Of these she loved Udaipur the best and insisted that I see the city palace. I didn’t like Udaipur much and the city palace was yawwnnn for a fan of the Mysore Palace. But the lake was pretty and there was a good breeze at the top of the palace. And I really liked their music gallery in the palace. This young lady too thought that an engineering education was good enough for a woman, and that an education career was good enough for a woman, and that the world outside was dangerous for a woman. She worked as a teacher in a computer training institute.
I think that where I grew up with the example of onake obavva who killed a host of enemy soldiers so that her husband could enjoy his meal uninterrupted and gave her life fighting… this young girl-kin of mine grew up with the example of beautiful padmini who threw herself into the fire with all the other ladies to escape from the evil khilji. onake Obavva was a soldier’s wife, whose weapon was a pestle and her own intelligence. Padmini was a Rajput princess. Both women died bravely but my heroine was Obavva. Obavva’s death was heroic. Padmini’s death was tragic.
All said and done, I didn’t enjoy this facet of my Rajasthan trip. I was very happy to leave Rajasthan and come home…..