I’m just back from a whirlwind trip of Rajasthan. Travelled across three cities and the Thar in five days by road, on ramshackle buses, checking into hotels just to spend the night.
The most memorable part of our itinerary was a night in the desert, putting up in a tent and participating in a concocted version of Rajasthani folk music and dance recital, while being served tea and pakoras around a cheerful bonfire. It’s a great hit with tourists, judging from the many foreign nationals joining us in what is sold as the “desert safari”.
Several of us danced, barring me, along with the two girls who ushered us in and broke into an impromptu jig in traditional Rajasthani attire of ghaagra, choli, and dupatta. Another joined them later to perform with a queue of handis on her head. Two very drunk men lingered on the dance floor well after the recital was over and the camp guys began playing a DJ mix on their stereo system to keep spirits up.
I’m not only a lousy dancer but also too self-conscious about it; hence I sat and watched. Something bothered me, but I wasn’t sure if that was because I was missing out on the fun despite wanting to be part of it or something else. The desert sky was magical, and the warmth of the fire cast a spell on the otherwise chilly surroundings.
Later on, as we were returning from dinner, I saw one of the girls sitting alone near the fire. I smiled and asked her name. “Kamli” she said. She told me that she lived nearby, in Jaisalmer, about half an hour from the camp. (Yes, in India we do measure distance by time.) It was already 11 PM, pretty late for that place, so I asked how she would go home. “I’m waiting for the car to arrive, and it will drop me at my place,” she said. I prodded further and she said that she was married.
I didn’t ask her anything more. I thought I’d already asked her too many questions and it was becoming a discomfiting, one-sided conversation. But as I went back, I wondered if it was a job she had chosen of her own free will. With my limited knowledge, it’s hard to believe that a married woman from a Rajasthani village would willingly “work” in the evenings to dance and entertain (drunk) guests.
It’s one of those things I shall never know.