PUSHKAR, RAJASTHAN, I N D I A
I briskly walked away from the lake, tired of fake Brahmin priests offering me a “blessing”.
I felt exasperated from being pulled, pushed and prodded by aggressive little girls in ostentatious gypsy costumes with painted white faces demanding, “money, money, money!” and aggressive henna artists who grabbed my hand without permission, expecting a handsome payment for an uninvited design.
I ran up the ghat stairs and disappeared down a littered alleyway, in an attempt to find refuge from the bustling marketplace. The smell of urine and incense overtook my senses. Amidst the maze of stalls and small streets, I missed the road to my guesthouse. I quickly side-stepped into a clothing stall to take a breath and re-orient myself.
“Looking for something?” a husky, warm voice inquired. I tried to find the face belonging to this friendly voice. There he was, smiling with sparkly eyes and full flushed cheeks, peering up from behind an old Singer sewing machine. Piles of colorful fabric surrounded him.
“Actually I’m not looking for anything. I just wanted to rest for a moment”. I started to explain how I came to be standing in his shop.
He motioned for me to sit. “Chai?”
That was the most welcome invitation I’d had all day.
By now I was familiar with the drill. I’d probably spend the next hour or so chatting and drinking sweet chai. I settled with content.
We talked for what seemed to be hours. Mukand was kind and charming with a wild streak but I detected that deep within the complexity of his being was a deep sadness that later he would reveal.
The following evening we sat on the rooftop of The Palace Hotel, sipping tea and telling stories, with a view of Pushkar Lake. Its still, glassy surface twinkled with the reflection of the city lights.
In the distance, the sound of wedding music coincided with the story of his arranged marriage. I was curious and troubled by this Indian tradition and listened intently as he shared. The sorrow that I’d sensed seeped out as he spoke.
“I was 24 when my mother introduced me to my wife. At first, I ran away. I partied and drank. For weeks I was gone. But I came back and married her to honor my mother.”
The wedding procession encroached down the street. The groom paraded around on a costumed horse. Horns and drums blared whilst family and friends danced and sang. The cacophony enveloped us, saturating the air with sound, almost completely drowning out our voices.
“Did you enjoy your wedding at all?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t, it was hard for me to smile. I don’t love her but I’m at peace. I have two healthy children and my life is full. I have perfect hands and feet and friends from all over the world. Savitri, life is good.”
A tear rolled down his cheek. “And for me, telling my story for the first time to you is a good feeling.”
I smiled and the sparkle returned to his eyes. We looked up at the starry sky as the parade started to recede.
We embraced and as the music became softer I felt a very distinct role at that moment. One of nurturance and understanding. Offering him the freedom to be himself. To let down his guard and share his pain. And I had found a connection in this town that had been alienating and harsh. I had found a softness and a warmth with a new friend who needed me just as much as I needed him.