Brief Encounters in Jaipur

by Ekua on March 30, 2011 in India

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.

Throwing Stones

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.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Odysseus March 30, 2011 at 11:09 pm

I like this post, and how you took photos of the shadows! I’m sure we’d be friends if we ever met in real life. Another thing we could bond over: I was also “stoned” on a street in India. I didn’t see who did it, whether it was just a rude kid or a malicious adult, but it really scared me and I pretty much ran down the street afterwards.

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Ekua March 31, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Thanks! I wasn’t sure if anyone would like this post because it’s not chock full of happy or definitive travel story endings.

I sounds we had very similar experiences… well, I didn’t end up with a broken limb which is pretty huge! My guess is that your stoning was also done by a boy. Males in their 30s and under in India were quite possibly the most obnoxious I’ve ever encountered. In my situation, I saw the perpetrator and it was all so absurd that I was annoyed more than anything else.

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures March 31, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Ooooh I loved this post, because you highlighted my favorite part about traveling, meeting people!

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Ekua March 31, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I can’t say that I enjoyed all of the “meeting people” I experienced in Jaipur, but the end of each encounter honestly revealed different aspects of being a tourist in Jaipur that I wouldn’t have seen if I’d stuck to just seeing the sights.

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Oneika the Traveller April 6, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I’m disturbed by the boy throwing a rock at you. Do you think it was because you are Black? I had the same thing happen to me when I was travelling in Morocco. The little kids threw stones at me and spit in my direction, but nothing of the sort to my non-Black travel companion. The things that make you go hmmm…

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Ekua April 7, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I did think it was because I’m black, but there is no way to confirm for sure. At times, I really did think that people received me less favorably because of race (absurd given the fact that my skin color is not that far off from a nice chunk of the population there). When I was walking around with a travel companion, I felt that I was received more positively than when I wasn’t.

Thanks for letting me know about Morocco. It’s not really at the top of my list anyway, but when it’s so extreme, hearing about that sort of reception can be a deciding factor for me.

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Lola April 9, 2011 at 11:02 am

What a solid and very important post Ekua!

The boy throwing stones, I’ve always said time and time again that black or minority travelers sometimes have quite different experiences that other travelers may have a hard time fully grasping. I’ve written about this too.

There are so many ways that pre-teen could get your attention, but throwing a rock? What if you’d been injured? Same with intense staring, sometimes being served last, etc (even in this day and age).

Obviously, there’s no way to confirm for sure, but it smells like it.

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Ekua April 10, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Yup… and I think in this way, travel writing can be one sided. That’s one reason why I feel compelled to share the details of my interactions with people in India. There are so many factors that can affect how we experience a country, and appearance is a huge one.

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