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A Local Encounter that Changed my Perspective - Which is Worse?

INDIA | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [180] | Scholarship Entry

I lean back and relax on the cool sand. Around me the sand dunes stretch endlessly, and above me the blue sky reddens as the sun begins its descent. To my right, our tour guide chats with my aunt, and behind me, our stinky yet lovable camel, Rocket, relaxes after a day of carting tourists. The wind gives the dunes a rippled texture; and I'm floating on a sea of gold. A fitting illusion since this was once the dominion of the wealthy Rajputs of India. Nowadays, the Sam sand dunes of the Thar Desert are a renowned tourist attraction, with a city of luxury tent resorts crowding together on the edges. Around us the silhouettes of other groups spot the yellow dunes.

I'm about to doze off on the silky sand when the mystic call of a been (traditional flute) rouses me. Coming up the side of our dune are two men, the been player and a man with a tambourine. As they approach, I spy a young girl behind them colourfully dressed with a beautiful red scarf adorning her head. The metal coins sewn onto the hem of her skirt, and on the edges of the scarf, tell me she is a dancer.

To my surprise, my aunt refuses to watch their performance, and when the men try to persuade her otherwise, she grows angry. When I wonder what has her so upset, she asks me, "How old do you think she is?”
"Around ten, I guess.”

She turns to the men and asks in Hindi if the little girl goes to school, or has been out here dancing all day instead. The men look away sheepishly and, when pressed, they quietly respond that she doesn't go to school. I ask why, and they simply state that they can’t afford it. My aunt angrily counters that there is free schooling and that kids should be there. Rajesh, our guide, is embarrassed by the situation and tries to explain that the family needs the money. Finally it is decided that only the men will perform while the girl rests. After a few songs, we pay them generously and the trio moves on.

As the sun begins to disappear behind the dunes, Rajesh comes to me and tries to apologize for the awkward situation. I interrupt and instead ask how he feels. He stares out into the dunes for a moment before answering in Hindi. "I know memsahib is right, but the tourists like to see the pretty dances. They make twice the money when she is with them. If she goes to school, they won't get that. Life here is hard, but at least they can be together.”
He hesitates “If the family can't eat, they may have to do much worse."
"Like what?"
"They would have to sell her."

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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Relaxing on the beautiful Sam Sand Dunes in the Thar Desert!

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