Even a tourist destination is more than just the site – its the people, the place and its environs that define a place. In the recent whirlwind 5-day tour we did in Kutch, we stayed 4 nights in 4 different places, traveled 1500 kilometers by road and took in a multitude of sights. So, there was little time or scope for people interaction. However, what ever chance I got, I did try and catch the local color!! (All pictures taken with permission of the subject)
The local tourists were few and far between. Gujarat Tourism charges just Rs 5/ per adult for entry, which I felt was ridiculously low. But then I caught these two women, in all their pinkness, sitting in the sun. And they said their the menfolk had gone to see Prag Mahal and Aina Mahal – they did not want to spend the Rs 5 entry fee!!
On visits to villages to see the local craft, these giggling, young girls were running a parallel business of selling some trinkets, outside their parents outlet. They were in the 9-12 age group and had done a few years of schooling. The school was at the end of the small cluster of houses that was the village, but their grandfather had stopped them from continuing. I could not resist the trinkets adorning the ears of the younger girl – and she was a most willing to pose.
As we drove through the lanes of another village, Vikram our driver (who had by this time smelt out our interests) stopped for this sight – a group of women who were doing the local embroidery. They were working for a local NGO after completing their household chores. They were paid by the day, and not by the piece , as is the custom in most of these places.
Since I had remarked, how few bullock carts were seen on the roads (in some sectors there were many camel drawn carts) Vikram stopped on seeing one! And I was surprised to see the old wooden wheels on his cart – these have been widely replaced by tyres. He said that he did not have the Rs 3000 needed for tyres – and cheekily asked me if I would sponsor them!!
Having had no breakfast on Day 3, we stopped at a village to get some local farsan to munch and these two fine gentlemen were at the chaiwallahs.
We crossed a small, colorful group of singing men and women playing with gulal, which we usually associate with Holi. As I got out to capture some pictures, they spontaneously drew me into their group, smearing gulal on my face – it was a group from a nearby village taking offerings to a Devi teample close by. And every one tried to clamber into the photo frame..
So much is changing even in rural India, the cell phone connectivity, more educational access, better roads and so better mobility – but, one sees the faces and there is a lack of stress and a certain timelessness about them.
And finally the girls, their spontaneity, happy and confident outlook, candid questions was refreshing and left me with a sense of hope. I wrote about in an earlier post about the group of students from Bhuj on an excursion to the Rann. There were bunches of young school children in the 8-12 age group both at Modhera and Rani-ki-vav. The enthusiasm with which the escorting teachers were describing the details of these monuments to the youngsters was interesting. And once again, at the vav, it was a group of girls who picked up a conversation with us wanting to know where we were from, was it our first visit to Gujarat and so on….
We drove into half a dozen villages to see the craft, and noted that houses were mostly pucca constructions. And by and large the lanes were relatively clean (of course, the usual scattered plastic was there), with no dashing families of pigs and mounds of stinking garbage!! Nandini, a pediatrician, also noted that the children on the whole looked healthy.
The local with whom we had the most interaction was Vikram – and I regret that while he took a lot of photos of us, we forgot to get one with him. A thorough gentleman, mild mannered and well informed, he was from a Rajasthani community on the Gujarat border. His employers, paid him a salary of Rs 7000/pm and Rs 150 per diem for nights out of station. So if he was out on the road and away from the family the whole month he would make around Rs 11,500 + the tips from the customers. A tough way to make a living!! For the five days, he ate most meals with us and at some locations the resort provided free meals to the drivers with their staff. But in spite of that, I felt that whatever tip I gave him would be inappropriate. So toil, the millions members of the informal sector, who make privileged lives more comfortable.