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Wandering Star

Beauty of the beholder

INDIA | Thursday, 24 April 2014 | Views [666]

'Come in', she said. Her hands were old and crinkled, the henna sunk deep into the cracks around her nails and the divets of her fingers. I sat down across the table from her and she took my hand in hers, all the while never meeting my eyes.

'What would you like?' she asked, still averting my curious gaze. Her face was beautiful. Full of smile lines that were set into her cheeks, around her eyes and mouth. Her hair was silver and thick, a long plait hanging down to crack of her bottom.

'Something on my left hand and arm,' I replied.

She reached over to her modest art table and picked up a brush and some black ink. She began to draw. The ink was refreshingly cold in the 40 degree weather and it tickled my skin in a way that made all my fingers unfurl and relax.

'Are you from here, from Udaipur?' My intention was to get her to lift her head and look at me. Instead she shook her head, making her long silver earrings jingle.

'My family lives just outside Jaipur, I live here now,' she whispered. I could feel the energy change in the room, her sadness tangible.

'I'm sorry.'

Although I had no idea what life in a class system must be like, I had tasted the poverty in every town, city and village I had visited. The rule of thumb in India: if you could get work, you took it, even if it meant being away from your family.

She continued to draw and we sat in silence. My emotions fluctuated from anger to sadness to extreme empathy to guilt. Here I was, sitting in a tiny room off the side of a market in Udaipur, treating myself to a henna tattoo with the only worry in the world - which curry to have for lunch today. I suddenly couldn't take it anymore.

'Thank you,' I said stiffly, trying to move my hand away.

'No, not finished!' she cried, mortified that I would consider leaving with only half of her art completed. 'Please, sit.'

I sat back down and reluctantly stretched out my arm. She picked up her brush and continued with soft, generous strokes across the top of my hand. We sat in silence for a long time.

'You make us happy,' she spoke more confidently this time. 'Having people like you with white skin and blonde hair, you make us have work.'

'Tourism,' I managed.

'Yes,' she looked up at me and smiled, her eyes never wavering. 'Tell me about your country.'

Tags: culture, food, ganges, india, love, taj mahal, temples

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