Come my house?

Hospitality is big here. After a first-time, five-minute conversation on the street, you will almost certainly be asked, “Come my house?” There you will be offered chai, and an assortment of – sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet – snacks, all of which you must eat (no matter how spicy). Babies with kohl-rimmed eyes will be danced in front of you (and might well cry, frightened by your strange, white face); small children will fight to sit next to you.

At least, my first visit to Dimple’s house – the 11-year-old daughter of a local shopkeeper – passed something like that.

Our visits to the girls’ houses are not all like that, however. While we sat in Dimple’s pretty courtyard sipping chai, Guddi, an untouchable girl, watched from the arched doorway. Dimple and Guddi, both pupils at the Sambhali School, are alike in many ways: they are spirited, gregarious, and eager to learn. But Dimple Lodha is of the Vaishya (merchant) caste – as her surname indicates – and Guddi has no place within the caste hierarchy. An hour later, on leaving Dimple’s house, Guddi asked us, “Come my house?” We were late for our bus to Jodhpur, the last bus that Friday, but to decline would have been to tell this earnest 8-year-old she wasn’t good enough.

There were two goats in Guddi’s one-roomed home, which were shoo-ed out, and their droppings swept up when we entered. A camp bed on its side against the wall was turned over and we were entreated to sit down. Guddi turned on a cassette player on a shelf in the corner and began to dance for us, with one of her sisters. They moved beautifully, popping one hip, holding their slim arms in the air and turning their wrists elegantly in time with the (very loud) music. Once the song was over, she brought us a small, metal jug of water, which we had to decline, though it was hot and we were thirsty.

Guddi walked back to the school with us. I opened the mini-fridge, took out a new bottle of mineral water (ozonated and UV-treated), and took a long swig. Guddi was watching me; half-puzzled, half-hurt she asked, “But my house, you no water drinking?” I wondered how to tell her that though it looked the same, her water was, for my purposes, contaminated.

“Guddi!”, called Helen from outside, and she dashed out in time to catch a flying plastic ball. The water had, for the moment, been forgotten.

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Guddi

~ by Griselda Murray Brown on December 14, 2008.

3 Responses to “Come my house?”

  1. Magnifique! This is interesting blogging but who are you other than Helen’s friend? While the writing, and some of it is very beautiful, may well speak for itself, would we your readers not benefit from knowing something of the situation of its writing…we might be talking contextualism, ownership and authorisation here, perhaps no-nos for the post-structuralisms of the recently post-graduated of literary criticism, or something a bit like that if you get my drift.

  2. Hi Dad, or rather, Eric,
    Point taken. See updated version of ‘A Very Short Introduction’ with background information about the NGO. For more, see http://www.sambhali.org

  3. I think Eric might be talking knoblocks! I know exactly how those visits felt and can taste the chai and sweeties – oh the jellabies (sp?) ! And I recognize the dreadful dilemmas over water too – our delicate western tummies can’t cope with the stuff unless it comes in sanitized plastic. The plastic really worried me while travelling in India. The villages seem to have no way of coping with it, it can’t be eaten by pigs or cows and as rural Indians get more prosperous there is more of it about in the form of carrier bags, drinks bottles and those tiny packets of some kind of barely legal stimulant sold in strips at the road side (what is that stuff?). Plastic clogs the rubbish dumps where of course it refuses to rot or at best it is burnt releasing black fumes and probably toxins as well. What to do , I’ve no idea. as travellers we tried to sterilize our own water and re-use bottles but this didn’t really work for long.
    I love hearing your littel vignettes of village life – more please when you have time.

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