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Friday, 29 February 2008

Rajasthani Gypsy Camp, Pushkar, India - Page 2

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Many Indian cities have been built around holy bodies of water. The Ganga, of course, is the lifeblood, the sacrament of these bodies, but lesser lakes and rivers are also revered. The water is sacred, so, understandably, people build religious vessels around it. Worship is solidified in the form of multi-tiered temples (with swimming landings called ghats) constructed in blocky layers around the lake.

When I asked one woman about her husband, she said he took the drink and left. Every morning the women walk one hour to get water and carry it back in clay pots on their heads. The rest of the day, they go sell henna in the market, teach dance, and, as far as I could see, hang out, cook, smoke, and take care of the kids. The camp had a lull to it, especially around mid-day, and I could easily see myself becoming a squatting, gossiping chain smoker with the rest of them.

After the obligatory questions: How old you? You married? Kids? No kids? Oh…(face falls)—they told me that Puva, the old woman, had been widowed years ago and had no family. The big gypsy family allowed her to sleep by their fire, but could not share food with her, as they had to take care of themselves first. Her eyes were failing and her lungs were weak.

"She has two month, then she see no more," Sanita, a girl roughly my age who spoke the best English, informed me.
"What then?" I asked.
"We give her a stick and tell her which way to walk to town."

With failing eyesight, Puva cannot make jewelry or apply henna, two things that help gypsy women sustain themselves. She is also too old to dance. When I asked how old she was, Sanita shook her head and said very, very old. About 40.

Gypsy Camp, Pushkar, India The women put mehndi, a marital wedding design, on my hands using henna squeezed from plastic bags. Before the henna was dry, they started dancing, a display complete with drums and a built-in audience. They did a traditional dance with flowing skirts and tricks like bending over backwards and putting a 100-rupee bill inside of her mouth. They continued to smoke like chimneys. I found yet another bidi between my lips as I took pictures. They then took me to their kitchen area, where I shared in throat-burning dahl and homemade chapati.

After buying some jewelry and giving them a kickback for the food and the show, one of them, Shanti, accompanied me back to the market. We sat in the middle of the dirt for a cigarette break halfway there. She informed me that my clothes were mediocre and I had to make myself beautiful. Next thing I knew, she'd stuck a bindi on my forehead and smeared dark lipstick on my lips with her pinky finger. She also gave me a ring to wear. Much better.

It was mid-afternoon when I finally got back to the hotel room. After smoking 4 bidis, I was stricken by a sinus headache that put me out for the rest of the week. I saw the gypsies again when I was well enough to walk around town, offering henna to unsuspecting tourists. I smiled and they yelled back, asking if I, too, wanted henna. Perhaps they'd already forgotten who I was. I, on the other hand, will never forget them.

©Drea Knufken


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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