Rajistan: The land of Princes and Professional hustlers.
Pushkar: the Holy City. Where many an apprentice do start young. Walking down the street heading for the market on this fine sunny day. I’ve left Tim to hang out at the garage with the boys to work on the bike, while I work on a day of much overdue shopping. I’m approached by a young boy. Maybe 11. He’s holding one of these 4 string triangular violin type instruments. He doesn’t ask for money, just chatting away. He’s oh so charming and smart enough to avoid the clichéd broken english phrases of most street kids so I invite him to have a juice with me. We head for the juice bar and enjoy a cold (rare) delicious pineapple and orange juice (40 rps). He starts to play for me. It’s atrocious, ear bleeding stuff. He tells me his dad makes them and that I could own this very piece for the bargain price of 500 rps (our hotel, with tv and swimming pool costs 200) we barter, or rather he attempts to barter as I gently refuse his most generous offer. We reach an agreement. I go with him to the shop to buy 5kg of dupati flour for his ma (120 rps) and he won’t play for me anymore. He angles for me to buy him gee (lard) which is much more expensive. I pay for the flour, which the shopkeeper puts to the side for his mum to pick up later. I’m left wondering if he has a mum, or if he’s just working for the shop-keeper. I tell him he should stay in school.
A little further down the strip past shops adorned with silks of every colour imaginable shining in the sun, past graveyards of long gone camels made into purses bags belts and shoes. Carpets and rich tapestries twinkle at me and gems shine in the windows as every shop keeper I pass attempts to court me with friendly greetings, offer of chai, and the most beautiful things for you very good price pleazze madam. I feel like a mobile ATM. A mini three ring circus performs in the street with a man on Tabla and another guy on a Horn, they play at the fastest pace possible, inciting madness as a small disjointed girl wraps her arms around hers legs and puts her head through her knees then does a back somersault. Three dirty ratty snotty little street urchin girls pounce on me from the shadows, it’s too late I didn’t see them coming: They’ve got me in their clutches. I relent and hand over an orange I was saving for later. This they fight over as I walk away. The Dancing Girls, adorned in jewelry, heavy eye make up and the most amazing sari’s call to me. They are so beautiful and epitomize the exotic allure of the desert princess. I completely ignore them. These girls are hardened professionals and I recognise them as the harem that hijacked Tim last time we were in town and adorned him with henna despite his (apparent??) protests. I haven’t got my camera with me. I’m going to find them later and bargain for a photo shoot.
A little boy comes up to me. He’s not too dirty; he looks sweet, tells me he’s hungry and asks if I can buy him some dupati. He takes me by the hand. He leads me to an Indian restaurant, a popular joint on the corner pumping with the passage of pilgrims in the city for some religious festival or other. I order a fresh juice and a thali to share (a plate with dahl, curd, curry and dupati) while we wait we chat a little. He’s 5, his English is pretty good (as in way better than my Hindi) he likes Pushkar, doesn’t go to school, has a little brother. His mother has problems. We hold hands and I pretend to read his palm, telling him he’ll live a long life, get a good job, marry and have many sons. A lot of the men (women don’t really eat out in public) are looking at us, but smiling politely. We eat our thali. He orders more dupati. We go to leave and he wont let go of my hand, so he is now my official umbrella holder, even though I have to stoop. You can tell he’s pretty chuffed and proud of his new post. He attempts to shake off a few other little beggar kids, but they are bigger than he is. Again I relent and buy 2 kg of dupati flour for 2 girls who are very polite. The bigger of the two carries it on her head as they weave through the crowd. Now I’m determined to shake him, sweet as he is, which is easy as I just walk into a carpet shop. He knows he’s not allowed inside.
At the carpet shop I’m flattered, pushed, prodded, cajoled, pressured and almost pinned down. They’re wasting their breath. Their tapestries are faded and they are asking more than three times what I know the price to approximately be. I have more luck further down, off the main drag in a cool courtyard. I like these guys. He shows me huge tapestries of the most amazing design, rich in colour and the price is right. I like the patchwork variety as I know they are made from recycled scraps of silk and do not require the fine needlework of little (ie children’s) hands. We take a break for chai and a bidi and talk about the cricket. Yes yes, 20 20 was a very good game, India play very well. Australia play good too, but not good enough, ahh but no Ricky Ponting.... back to business. I purchase 2 tapestries and leave without them, the borders need some finishing off. They’ll be ready for me in 1 hour.
Some of the unsuccessful attempts to politely relieve me of my rupees:
“Madam, can I have 5 rps?” says 6 year old.
“No I haven’t got 5 rps’ says me.
“How about 10 rps?” says the kid.
“Madam, I’m thirsty, can you buy me a coke?”
“I’m not buying you a coke.... I’ll buy you a banana.”
“I don’t want a banana, I want a coke”
I find an internet cafe and attempt to have my photos transferred from memory card to CD, 4 gig, at least 1500 photos. Yes madam 5 minutes. I walk across the way for a chai in the street. A Baba approaches and I wave him away. A man playing one of the violin type instruments approaches (playing much better than the kid) I wave him away. I hand over 10 rps for my 5 rps chai. The Chai Walla motions to me, Will I buy the violin-playing guy a 3 rps chai? Sure why not? My bill is up to 8 rps. An old woman hanging out in front of the temple calls out to the Chai Walla, he motions to me, Why not by this old woman squatting in the gutter a chai too? May as well round it up to 10 rps? Sure, why not? A round of chai’s on me. The guy beside me asks if he can bum a bidi, as does the guy next to him. Now everyone’s happy with chai and bidi a plenty. The next hour or two is killed bargaining for silk skirts (yes madam 100% silk yeah right) with the occasional return to the internet joint to check on progress. On my third inspection I find things slightly askew, the guys swapping the 2 chips in the hard drive like he’s a magician performing tricks. The trick works, I’m completely confused as to which chip is which, a rudimentary pile of burnt cds sits face down un marked, one of the hard drives is choosing to fire only 50% of the time, the poor guys got hardly any teeth and a bit of a stutter. The process of checking what’s been burnt and how many times begins... and takes another 2 hours before its complete. Some moments approach a Monty Python skit, which is funny except when you’re in it. I retreat occasionally for another chai to calm down, something on the roof is making one hellova racket and the shop is shaking, the guy seems unperturbed. Monkeys. Some stupid whitey in a hotel above the street decided to throw some food to one of these cute little critters. The pack descends. No shit, 30 maybe 40 monkeys all of different size are now wreaking havoc, and more are coming. The Word is Out. The bigger ones are scrambling up the wall to her window, which is, luckily for her, barred. I see smaller ones performing acrobatics of olympic standard from the haphazard conglomeration of electrical wires. I see one taking obvious joy in jumping up and down, up and down, as hard as his little monkey body could muster on the wrought iron roof. One monkey mum and her attached little un make a grab for the Chai Walla’s stash of biscuits and confectionary, now me and the Chai Walla are engaged in a stand off, I adopt a karate stance with my extended but enclosed umbrella at the ready. It snarls and spits at us but retreats. The Chai Walla and me congratulate our selves on over powering this lesser primate. However he still makes me pay for my chai. It’s starting to get dark. I finally collect my cd’s after some more bargaining. I’m starting to panic. I’ve walked the strip 4 times and can’t find the courtyard with my tapestries. I’ve already handed over the considerable sum and this shops done an Aladdin on me. I find the shop, and head for the hills.
I’m almost free of this market of mayhem when I see him, or rather he sees me. The same little kid I shared a thali with hours ago. He holds my hand and asks if I’ll buy him some shoes (25rps - that’s like 80cents) I probably would too, cept I was feeling kinda all charitied out. He took me to a shop to introduce me to his friend and show me a photo. His friend was this nice old guy selling gaudy Arabic style adornments. He didn’t try to push anything on me. The little kid showed me two large framed photos displayed at the front of a man standing with a camel, both dressed up to the nines, decked out in their desert celebration royal procession best. I click, the guy in the photo is the shopkeeper. He’s happy to talk about his camel and the fanfare attached to their regal displays of traditional opulence. He jokes telling me I have my own personal bodyguard, and tells me he’s a good kid. The kid wants a samosa, a bargain at 5 rps and it is on my way home. However, by the time we get to the Samosa Walla, word has traveled of the urchin and his sugar mama, and I now have quite the procession of street kids bringing up the rear. Looks like the samosa are on me. I order 4 samosa “No - 5!” I hear a voice from the back, but there are no samosa left and I have to buy these other deep fried treats at 7 rps a pop. I get into a fight with the voice number 5, telling him he’s rude and that he’s not getting a samosa, although now my argument is shot to shit, cause 20 rps was nice and neat, but now were looking at 28rps (4 by 7 rps) or 35 rps (5 by 7rps)
I buy 4 but my little bodyguard doesn’t want his. The other kids all make a big deal of saying thank-you. I think they, and the Samosa Walla are amused by my rising seether and level of frustration at my presumed wealth and obvious easiness as a target. I’ve got no street cred in this town what so ever. The kid makes to follow me home, its now way dark, I tell him he’s got to go home, he starts to make a show of crying, hiding behind a cow, then appearing again. I can’t even understand what he’s saying in between tears but I’m guessing he wants money, or to come home with me so I can buy him dinner. It ends with him finally accepting the deep fried treat, in between yelling and pointing at me before giving up and running away. This makes me sad and I can feel tears of tiredness, frustration, fat white guilt and general anger at the whole damned imbalanced off kilter inequality of it all rise up. Tim, with his innate timing and effortless cool, appears, engine roaring out of nowhere, looking for me. I jump on the bike and we ride out to the farm. We pass the temple on the corner, and there’s an old woman with a weathered face that looks like she’s on crack, performing a kind of Monday morning at Rainbow Serpent swaying stomp in between waving at people... or nothing - whichever comes her way. I catch a glimpse of her eyes in the headlights and she looks strangely overjoyed, but completely and utterly… gone. Tim tells me she’s been at it all day long. Pushkar - The Holy City.