Everything that ain't India


Mukesh smiled broadly.

‘You and me, sir. You and me. Wow.’

‘Yup, my friend, wow.’

It was like having a conversation with a two-year-old.

Mukesh was by no means a simple man; inside that head was a whole Mukesh world of wonder – but we had no way of communication beyond our growing stock of catch-phrases. With this elastic language of gesture and intonation we managed to communicate, if not deeply, most of the time. Already rather a lot had happened to Mukesh and Mr. Dogster. We had bonded, as much as a sixty year-old and a twenty year-old tribal lad possibly can. He let me be old and I let him be young. It was a perfectly amiable, occasionally frustrating relationship that stayed relentlessly shallow, a one note Samba of ‘sir,’ and ‘stop!’, ‘chelo!’ and ‘chai!’, bursts of ‘shanti, shanti…’

Mukesh turned on his morning Bollywood music, sighed a deep sigh of contentment and settled back at the wheel.

‘Chelo! Kali Niketan! You and me. O.K. Papa! Grr-r-r-r! Tigah-h-h! Wow!’

Chotta Udepur was the destination of choice today. Today was a special day; as well as the normal weekly ‘haat’, today was to be the yearly bhagoria.

By now in my travels, was a market was a market. There are only so many colorful photos one can take of ladies selling potatoes. The real deal with these weekly markets is to spot the tribal differences in the women’s dress and jewellery at which I was hopeless, seeing as I didn’t have a guide. They all looked great to me.

The market was stinking hot. I stumbled around, chatting, sitting, drinking coconut juice and chai, just bumming around. Nobody could care less. It was up to me. If I wanted to behave like a tourist loon and wander around taking photos I could be the centre of attention. In Chotta Udepur this would just have been uncool.

Every town had a different dynamic. I wasn’t particularly an object of curiosity – I was visible, always sticking out like a sore thumb, but not overly cared about. I was a person. I certainly existed. A hundred little conversations attest to this. I talk to everybody – but there was no grab and tickle, no grasping claw. I wasn’t wandering vacantly, looking for photo opportunities – I was just walking through, like everyone else. I was just one of five thousand interesting people on the street.

Actually, I wasn’t very interesting at all. There was much more important stuff going on. Today is a destiny day. All the young women dress in their finest and place themselves on display. Looking for a husband.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.