Small town traveler making friends in Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer is a beautiful sandstone city in the Indian desert near the border of Pakistan.
Within the walls of this ancient fortress you will find anything that your travelling heart desires from guest houses to camel safaris, roof-top restaurants to textile shops, ornate temples to humble merchants, stunning lookouts to tacky trinkets stores.
As a traveler from a small town, walking around this bustling little city is a fun adventure.
Like anywhere in India, many of the locals want to talk for awhile, so you stop, and have a chat. Many are genuinely quite nice, and you get to know some really interesting characters. A few super friendly people convince you to come up to their restaurant where you meet fellow travelers and decide to sit and talk with the travelers and locals for awhile. You decide to take one up on an offer for some food and drinks with his friends. After all, this is what the small town traveler is looking for… other small towners’ and their insight into life.
Sitting with them at their place outside the fort, you realize that you’re supposed to meet up with a couple of your friends inside the fort in a few minutes. One of the guys’ brings you back, saying, “Brother, you go see girls and either come back with them, or come back just you… we like spend more time with you”
“Ya brother, I’ll see what they’re up to, and I’ll see you soon”
The girls show up at the meeting place a few minutes after you and decide to take you up on the offer, so the three of you head back to the ‘little party’.
The rest of the night becomes quite awkward as your Indian friends (who you now realize are all men) have little to say to the girls, and at times even ask you to speak to the girls on their behalf. For the second time an Indian tells you that it’s rude to say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ and you kick yourself for following your small town upbringing, then he tells you it’s rude to get up while others are still eating and you kick yourself for forgetting your small town upbringing.
The food is good, their hospitality great, but there’s a funny feeling left hanging in the air… one that can almost be accompanied by the words ‘sexual predators’. The night draws to a close and both you and the girls get home safely (after a slight detour by the guy who drove the girls which resulted in a slight meltdown). But still, a decent bunch of guys that you’ll continue to acknowledge and speak with on the street.
As any small town traveler that comes back to their guest house, you strike up conversations with many of the people working there and start to feel quite comfortable.
The next day, you take a good wander, stopping to take looks at all the book stores and textile shops, engaging in many more enlightening conversations with vendors in their shops and others in the street. After many little conversations all over the place, and tiny Hindi lessons en route, you come to realize that this is your type of place.It’s true that for many of the people to whom you speak, the conversations are but means to an end… making money. Nonetheless, you engage in some great conversations, and have little issue walking away without purchasing anything.
The following day, you walk around again. You see your friends from the restaurant, your friends that took you out for a few drinks and your friends in the book and textile stores and even that random trinket shop owner that gave you the run-down on the history of Jaisalmer. Many of your friends ask about the girls you were with (which is always a dodgy topic in India) but you manage to get out of those conversations quickly when you mention that they went on a Camel Safari.
The next day you also choose to venture into the desert on a Camel Safari, so you let all your friends know that you’ll be back in a day or two.
You return and oh, the conundrum that you’ve carved out for yourself.
Small town traveler trying to remember who his friends were in Jaisalmer
You don’t remember who you know, and who you don’t. Not wanting to offend anyone who showed you hospitality or just simple friendliness, you decide to be amicable with anyone who acknowledges you.
Aie, aie aie… what a long time to takes to walk down a street in India with this ‘small town traveler’ approach.
At least 50% of the men you see greet you with ‘my brother’ or ‘my friend’ so you have to enter some sort of conversation, it’s painful when you realize that you haven’t spoken to this person before, and you’ll have have to stop to talk to them from now on…
Oh, the horror of having so many friendly people around!
Where did your sentiments from Pushkar go?
What happened to thinking that it’s not possible to make a true Indian friend?
Oh, you and your small town traveler mind!
Sure, most of these people still have economic interests at the root of the conversation… but they are genuinely happy to wave to you every day, shout ‘namaste bai, ap kaise ho’ and show their friends when you can respond with your hideously limited Hindi: “Tiika” or “Bahut acha”.
The more you walk, the more people you stop and speak with… the more people you stop and speak with, the more you commit to speak with in the future… this cycle of pleasantries and conversation is seemingly endless and for some reason it rings true for you.
As a small town traveler, this is certainly a place that you could stay and hang out for awhile (after all, you’ve been offered free lodging and food at least a handful of times now) and make your daily conversational rounds every day. Then again, you remember that you once thought there was more to life than just talking to people on the street… so you might want to move on in the next few days.
And the small town traveler begins to think…
Sure, a lot of these relationships won’t last beyond the borders of this fortress, and many of the conversationalists have other interests in mind. You speak to the same book store owner, who knows you won’t buy anything, and he gives you all of his attention and advice regarding the best books to read in India, about India, by Indians, and why they’re seen as important. You realize that it doesn’t matter if his original interest in you was economically driven. It doesn’t matter if you will never see or speak to him again.
What you have is the present, and in the present, he shows you a little glimpse of the kindness in his heart that makes us all small town travelers, in one way or another.
With no past in common, no future together, is the present moment any less valuable?
Or is it the contrary? Is it’s virtue realized, elevated into the realm of ‘unconditional’…
A fleeting thought perhaps, but one that strikes a chord nonetheless…
You say your goodbyes and leave the bookstore… as you look up, you catch a man’s eye…
“My brother,” he says shaking your hand “How are you today?”
You either already know him… or you’re certainly about to.