A Breakfast Sales Pitch
There weren’t enough salt and pepper shakers at the hotel’s breakfast. Not long after I asked a boisterous Australian man to borrow the salt and pepper, an Eastern European woman asked me to borrow them. At the time, I wasn’t sure if she wanted to use the shakers or if she was looking for an avenue for conversation.
She occupied the table next to me and began to chat. Soon, she was joined by her friend, a snappily dressed man from Jaipur. We had some laughs, but I had a feeling that something about them was a bit off.
Then the conversation went where I sensed it was going all along but was hoping it wouldn’t. They asked me what I had planned for Jaipur. The instant I mentioned wanting to buy handicrafts there, the jovial chatter ended and the sales pitch began.
The man told me that he had a warehouse in Jaipur. They both began to list the various things I could buy there. They were persistent despite my lack of interest. They told me they’d come back that afternoon with a car to take me to his shop. I told them I already had plans, but as I left, they still assumed I was going to meet them later. I know everyone needs to earn their living somehow, I just wished they’d been upfront about their intentions from the start.
The Woman Behind the Cloth
After breakfast and settling in, I met up with the woman from China who’d been on the same path as me since Varanasi. We took to the dusty and hot streets of Jaipur in search of the Pink City. We had tourist maps and a general sense of where we were going, but underestimated how far and tricky it would be to get there. We arrived at a busy intersection and knew we needed to find someone to ask for help.
The first person we made eye contact with was a fully cloaked Muslim woman. All we could see were her eyes, and they clearly showed an understanding and willingness to help. I was surprised when she cheerfully spoke to us in English and helped us get oriented and on the right path to the Pink City.
The interaction challenged my assumptions about fully cloaked women. In that moment, I realized that when I’d previously seen an image of a woman draped in black, I’d made assumptions. I hadn’t really bothered to think about the woman behind the cloak: her capabilities, her personality, her desires. That in itself might be an argument against the cloak. But still, the presence of the cover doesn’t excuse not attempting to figure out who the woman is beneath it.
After exploring a bit of the Pink City with my travel buddy, I took a rickshaw back to my hotel and wandered through the neighborhood on foot by myself.
I felt on edge with the amount of staring I received. But as it was an untouristy area, despite the curiosity I invited, I could enjoy being left alone. I saw a little boy roaming the streets alone. He stopped when he saw me, his eyes wide at the sight of something new. I smiled and waved and hoped he would understand that I was just another person.
When the streets appeared to become a maze, I decided to make my way out of the neighborhood, pausing every so often to check out the various activities that were going on. It was a poor neighborhood and there was a lot of welding and working on wires without the type of safety precautions you might find elsewhere.
When I reached the street my hotel was on, I heard something hit the ground next to me. It was a stone and I knew it hadn’t landed there by accident. I turned around to find an older boy — maybe about twelve years old — ducking behind a car and looking at me with an expression I couldn’t read. We made eye contact and he threw one more stone in my direction before turning around and running back down the street.
A Photographic Kindred Spirit
At the Central Museum, there was a pretty stained glass window on a stairwell wall. What I liked more were the colorful shadows it created on the drab stairs. Each time I tried to take a picture of it, people rushed up and down the stairwell and blocked the shadows. People slowed to look at me to try to discern what I was doing, but no one looked in the direction my camera was pointing.
A break in the crowd came and I started to snap some pictures. Soon after, an Indian woman who looked to be about my age came up the stairs. She stood beside me to see what I was photographing. She silently looked back and forth at the window and the shadows and eventually said, “Most people are looking at the window, but you noticed the shadows. Creative.” She smiled at me. With her hefty camera, she snapped her own photo of the shadows and then continued up the stairs.