She sits there, the old lady, crosslegged, in amongst the onions, potatoes, leeks and cabbages. This is her life, selling vegetables at the local market. Images of her as a child are conjured up in my mind, carefree, barefoot, running freely along the dusty village roads. The only place she has ever known. The only way of life she has ever known. I am here to buy some ginger, she nods her head, takes out her hand scale and obligingly measures me out 20 rupees worth. This is all alien to me, but for her it is the norm, although maybe not serving me who stands head and shoulders taller than her minute figure. Her sari is a brilliant green and she has numerous jangling bracelets, which make a pleasant accompaniment to the background sounds of the market.
Next to me stands an intrigued young man, with dark inquisitive eyes. His shoes are worn, his clothes rather threadbare as he stands and openly stares. There is no threat. As westerners walking through their early morning market we are a novelty. Something different to break the daily routine of their day.
Walking past all the stalls, there are no shouts of persuasion to come in and buy, with threats of broken promises as experienced in the more tourist orientated towns visited. Here the ladies are incredibly persistent with pleas from every shop “Come buy” “Yesterday you promised” “Why do you not want to buy from my shop” They are first class sales people who eventually wear you down with their persistence and your own underlying feeling of guilt, knowing full well that when you say, “Tomorrow” you know inside you don’t really mean it.
In the cities, there is a predominate feeling of maleness which made me do a bit of google research. 52% of this 1.3 billion population is male and on chatting to just a couple of these men, so this is by no means a true reflection of the mindset of all the testosterone driven people, women must stay and tend the home while they go out and work. This is very evident in walking around the big cities, where you may only see 1 woman out of 20 men crisp, collared shirt clad men going about their daily business. The women you come across are obviously from more forward thinking families and their mode of dress is very westernised, whereas out in the rural villages you will only see the ladies wearing their brilliant coloured saris. Against the backdrop of the poverty which is around every corner, a splash of colour will catch you eye to reveal a woman just living life, oblivious of what an eye capturing picture she makes.
Unlike what is portrayed in the movies, there are not street urchins begging for wares on every corner. There are the little con artists though who will “innocently” forget to give you your change and act ignorant when asked for it. Personally I see very few children, in the cities and for the children in the villages, the novelty of seeing a group of Europeans strolling through their village is their entertainment for the day. Some are very shy and will not be forthcoming with a smile, whereas others will wave and great and stand and smile obligingly for a photograph. The occupants of the Dharvi Slum in Mumbai were, according to the guide, quite upset by the image portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire as they pride themselves in not asking for handouts and begging.
Walking around anywhere in India has its funny moments, from individuals who trying to be surreptitious, will stand just near you in order to supposedly take a selfie, but with you in the background. The first time this happened I was a bit suspicious, but you soon learn that all there is nothing sinister about it at all. Many will blatantly come and ask to have a photo taken with you. Just as a tourist I want to take photos of them, it works the same way for them.
All in all – the people of India are beautiful – I cannot find a more perfect word. Just that one word will do. Very seldom do you hear a child crying or throwing a tantrum and everytime you are rewarded with a smile and a gracious thank you. A humble people, who are extremely proud of their heritage, who are not afraid of hard work (the unemployment in India is 6,1%), making the most out of what they have. Namaste!