Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The People of Pushkar

Ok- so I decided to skip Bikiner after a friend emailed me and told me it was crap and to go straight to Pushkar. It turns out (according to my reliable source - aka: cool Lex) that Bikiner is more of a hole then a haven and the rat temple isn't really that fascinating after all. Maybe next time.
Anyways, I made it to Pushkar around 5 am this morning after taking my second overnight bus in India. Yes I know..I vowed never to set foot on another overnight bus - but I rationalized my decision by the fact that I save on a hotel room and I had the option to book a seat rather then spend the bumpy ride lying horizontal in one of the bunks. It turned out to be a wise choice. Although it was still only possible to get brief moments of sleep, the 12 hours seemed to pass quickly.
Unfortunately, the bus driver refused to drop me off at the bus terminal and instead deposited me about 2 kms outside of the small town of Ajmer. I then had to negotiate a rickshaw ride to the bus station (they wanted 500 rupees - I paid 50, then watched as the Indians that shared my taxi paid 10 rupees.....ahhh India) After waiting at the bus station for 30 minutes, the local bus finally departed and I arrived in Pushkar and managed to find my guesthouse without too much more drama.
After a long nap and some coffee I decided to explore the city and see what it had to offer.
My conclusion after a short time was not much….although as usual in India – I would later change my mind completely.
I made my way down towards the small lake in the center of town and attempted to sit down for a quiet moment by one of the ghats.
Note: most days getting a quiet moment in India is generally not possible - and today proved to be just the same.
After no less then 10 seconds I had 3 people around me - each asking the usual questions they had memorized and thought suitable for any foreigner : "which country you from?" "what your name?" "How long you stay Pushkar?"....sigh.
After politely answering their questions, they decided I was not too interesting and slowly retreated.

It was not long after when a small girl approached me trying to sell me some silver bracelets. She said her name was Natty and that she lived with her older brother and his wife. She told me that both of her parents had died leaving 6 children (including her). Her brother and his wife had 3 more. That makes 11 in her family. Natty is one of the middle children and is 12 years old. Natty’s older brother is a musician and makes money performing and giving lessons to people. But he often finds himself with not enough work. Natty and her brothers sell bracelets and other souvenirs to tourists.
The sad thing is that Natty’s story is all too common.
After making some small talk and telling her several time I didn’t want to buy any bracelets, she decided to just sit back and relax. We began to talk a bit more and she told me how her family struggled to make enough money for food. It was soon after that her brother’s wife (carrying a baby) came over and joined our conversation. It was obvious from looking at Natty, her sister-in-law and the baby, that they were all quite sick. Each of them had large sores on their arms and legs. Also their eyes were full of yellow puss-like and it was clear that the young baby was doing far worse then the older girls.
They told me that they can’t afford to visit the doctor very often and didn’t have any medicine for the children or themselves. I offered to go with them to the doctor and help pay for some medicine for the family. Since I am a foreigner, the doctor would most likely charge me 3 or 4 times the amount he would charge Natty’s family – so I waited outside while they visited the doctor and received the medicine.
Since Natty’s sister-in-law needed to get home to give the other children some medicine, they invited me to join them for dinner. We walked outside of the town of Pushkar about 1 km to a small village, stopping only to buy a bag of flour to make chapatti for dinner. The families that live in Natty's village do not have the standard mud houses that I saw in the villages of Bihar or other areas of Rajasthan– they live in small tents that are built from sticks and tarps. Natty’s family has a small tent that doesn’t quite fit all of the 11 members of her family. She told me that her and her brothers sleep outside and when it rains they have no cover. Her sister-in-law and the small children sleep under the tent. The tent is ripped and doesn’t appear to have much time left before it falls apart completely. They also have 5 blankets to share between the 11 of them and only a small metal box that contains the entire personal belongings of the family (a couple sweaters and scarves, a worn shawl, a few pots, pans, 5 plates, a mirror, some lip gloss and a few old photos – most of these were given to them by other foreigners – and I am assuming the lip gloss (which looked to be an American brand ) – was also a gift.
Natty was very proud of the photos and took great pride in showing me them – although she expressed regret that she didn’t have an album to keep them safe in and was afraid that they were beginning to get too dirty.
After lunch, I took some photos on my camera of Natty and her family while we sat and talked about their life some more. I decided that I couldn’t leave knowing that this family doesn’t have a proper shelter to sleep under. Most nights I have found myself cold in my guesthouse – I can’t imagine how it must be for them to sleep outside without any protection from the wind. So after speaking some more with Natty’s sister-in-law I agreed to help them out.
We agreed that tomorrow Natty’s brother will go to the town of Ajmer and I will help him buy a new tent for the family. Although I usually don’t give money to the people I meet, I decided that this family is a little different and since I will be buying them the things they need and not just handing over cash, I can walk away knowing that the money was put to good use.
Anyways, that being said – Pushkar has already turned out to be so much more then just another touristy town.
Who knows what the last 6 days of my time in India hold – but I have a feeling that even I am going to be surprised right till the end.


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